|Charles R. Brayton, founder of |
A few days ago, David Scharfenberg of the” noticing the distinct difference between Rhode Island’s liberal federal delegation and its state legislature, which skews moderate (and as one reader has pointed out, significantly to the right of most Democratic state legislatures, with some Democrats more conservative than some Republicans). Mr. Scharfenberg explains his view: wrote a blog post entitled “
the split vote – elect a moderate local rep and a liberal federal one – seems to perfectly capture Rhode Island’s deep unease with its own politics: it is a liberal state uncomfortable with its liberalism.
I’d agree, but I don’t think it’s exactly right. Take the last election. In the race for Governor, Lincoln Chafee’s advantage mainly came from two places; the cities of
Providence and and a group I like to think of as
“Bay Progressives” (though there were probably liberal Republicans in there as
These are also places where David Cicilline did extremely well against John Loughlin II, though he was weaker in the
communities than Mr. Chafee. Mr. Cicilline’s advantage in Providence
overcame the lion’s share of his deficits elsewhere and pushed him to victory.
These are also the same places where David Segal performed well in the CD1
Democratic primary. Pawtucket
Basically, the central urban areas, with their minority and working class populations, tend to be strongest for liberal voters, and they can push elections to liberal candidates. The bay area also attracts large concentrations of well-off, highly-educated elites (as do the well-off portions of
and ). Pawtucket
They tend to be strong on green issues and liberal on social issues. This Urban-Bay coalition is a key part of the progressives who dominate federal politics. Their enthusiasm can make or break a liberal candidate running for statewide or federal office.
This isn’t to say there aren’t urban progressives in
or Woonsocket or North Providence, nor that
there aren’t equally important progressives in the more woodland areas of .
But their margins of support are less overwhelming, and there are fewer of
them. South County
tends to make up the deficit. Providence
There’s the actual tension. It’s not that the state is uncomfortable with its liberalism, it’s the historical tension that’s existed between urban core and country since the Industrial Revolution poured Italian, Irish, Portuguese, and Quebecois into the cities.
Rhode Island’s corrupt political machine politics got
their foundation; then under the control of Republican , the countryside prevented
the working poor and immigrants in ’s cities from getting the amount of political
representation they deserved. This is not a secret, the General Assembly’s makes
this pretty clear (and is a pretty amazing narrative of that body until about
Now, of course,
is roughly proportionate to its population; but that tension lingers. The
well-off countryside can easily view the urban areas as basically a charity
basket-case. No wonder they vote for more conservative legislatures. The
problem is exacerbated by the largely assimilated white countryside and the
as-yet unassimilated immigrant and second-generation Americans who inhabit the
Taken collectively, our state skews liberal; both because it actually is (even our Republicans are more liberal than their peers in other states), but also because the cities have a powerful voting constituency. In the General Assembly, the towns and villages have more distinct representation, the conservative ones can largely counterbalance the liberalism of the urban core. Their own progressives can be outvoted by the larger numbers of conservative voters. When progressives and liberals unite across the state, they’re a very powerful constituency.
And that’s why I think our federal politicians are so different from our state politicians.
P.S. This analysis has missed moderates, and that’s largely because moderates don’t pull the Assembly one way or the other.