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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Do parties matter, Part 2

“Vote the bums out” – the drone of the anti-incumbents

Rep. Jim Langevin
By Will Collette

Every election cycle, there is a loud background buzz calling for voters to vote out every incumbent. This is presented as the only logical way to solve our deep-rooted political divisions and governmental dysfunction. Whether it’s Tea Partiers or progressive candidates like Second Congressional District candidate Abel Collins, “vote the bums out” is used as an emotional pitch to disgruntled voters[1].

It’s also easier than actually campaigning on the issues, which is one reason why it is a common refrain for most dissidents. And it’s also a destructive and mindless way of participating in the electoral process.

If you look around the Charlestown political landscape, you will see a broad range of incumbent elected officials who are all different when it comes down to what they have actually accomplished while in office.

Donna Walsh with another great incumbent seeking
re-election, Rep. Larry Valencia
We have General Assembly members who can each be judged on their merits and their records. Rep. Donna Walsh (D) has been in public service for much of her adult life and has earned the voters’ trust time and again on her record. It’s not for nothing that Senator Dennis Algiere (R) has represented the Democratic bastion of Westerly (and Charlestown) for many years and usually doesn’t have an opponent.

But then there’s Sen. Frank Maher (R), an incumbent who hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory. In his first term office, in 2009, while Rhode Island was mired in the worst of the recession, one of the few bills he ever sponsored was signed into law by Governor Carcieri. That bill was just what a desperate Rhode Island needed – the new law banning the use of the “three knock-down rule” in boxing.
Challenger Cathie Rumsey (D) thinks the 2012 election is about the
economy. Incumbent Republican Sen. Frank  (right) puts his energy into
 legislation to deregulate crossbows and antique weapons  (e.g., battle
axes, maces, etc.), getting the three knock-down rule in 

boxing banned, and getting February 6 declared "Ronald Reagan Day."


In this past General Assembly session, the only Maher bill that passed was a new law to deregulate crossbows, which were, prior to Maher’s intervention, regulated as firearms. For this, he wants another term in the state Senate. For that, I think you should take a good look at his opponent, Cathie Rumsey, and vote for her while throwing this genuine bum out.


I mentioned Abel Collins. He’s running as an independent. A staff member with the Rhode Island Sierra Club, Abel is a solid progressive and, under other circumstances, I’d be excited to support his candidacy. But he’s running on a “throw the bums out” theme against Rep. Jim Langevin, who has served the Second Congressional District well for a number of years. Why would we want to unseat an effective senior member of Congress? Even worse, why would anyone reasonable person want to open the door – a la Ralph Nader’s role in the 2000 Presidential Election – to a hard-right Tea Party Republican like Langevin’s likely November opponent, Mike Riley?

While there are some benefits to voters attached to supporting incumbents – experience and seniority, which often translates into the ability to get things done – there is no more magic to incumbency than there is in being a challenger.

It’s no secret that I am disgusted with our town government, which is totally controlled and dominated by the regressive Charlestown Citizens Alliance. They are running several of their incumbents for reelection, as well as some first-timers.

In the case of the CCA and its slate, incumbency or nonincumbency doesn’t matter, and that’s a good thing. Instead, we can look at the positions the CCA requires its candidates to uphold, and in the case of their incumbents, we can also look at their records.

On the Town Council, both Tom Gentz and Dan Slattery are almost through with their first and only term, and what a record they have provided us!

In Slattery’s case, it’s witch hunts, unauthorized investigations, secret records, attacks on Chariho, attacks on the working poor[2] and the godawful “Battle for Ninigret Park” and “Kill Bill” campaign of character assassination that drove former Town Administrator Bill DiLibero out of town.

In Gentz, we have an inept leader who seems to fall apart 30 minutes into each Council meeting, a crusader against affordable housing and a persecutor of small business. Even though Gentz says not to “name names,” watch the Clerkbase video of his vicious, personal attack on the owner of the Breachway Grill. Then check out the Clerkbase video of the incredible personal attack on the Ocean House Marina and its owner that led to the enactment of a town ordinance, sponsored by Gentz, that targeted this business.

And then there’s Y-Gate, the thwarted scheme led by Gentz to give $475,000 of your money to the Charlestown Land Trust in return for a worthless conservation easement on the Westerly YMCA’s abandoned campground.

Both Gentz and Slattery led the charge to protect wealthy, nonresident property owners from the insidious Democratic scheme to give permanent residents a Homestead Tax Credit.

Somehow, they would have Charlestown voters believe that it is mean and discriminatory to institute a Homestead exemption – even though Homestead exemptions exist in most of the states where our nonresident shoreline property owners make their permanent residence. Click here and here for examples.

Yes, Gentz and Slattery work very well together to protect the interests of Charlestown’s landed gentry to the detriment of everyone else.

And that’s just scratching the surface.
Then there’s Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, who has served on the Planning Commission for almost 16 years and is running for a new term that would take her to Year #22.

Under Platner, the Planning Commission has assumed powers it has no legal right to hold and has written ordinance after ordinance, all rubber-stamped by the CCA-controlled Town Council, that intrude into the lives of ordinary citizens and town businesses in a way that is almost inconceivable.

Prime example: the Platner Principle, which as articulated by Platner holds that you have no right to do anything with your property unless it is specifically listed as a “permitted use” in the town’s zoning ordinance.

I do not oppose Platner, Gentz and Slattery because they are incumbents, but because they have acted in ways that are bad for Charlestown. I have no interest in, or patience for, these blanket “throw the bums out” cries. But obviously, I’m fine with throwing these bums out – for very specific causes.

Charlestown’s government has been dysfunctional for the past six years. From 2006-2008, Charlestown was in gridlock while the CCA fought Jim Mageau for control. In 2008-2010, the CCA took control by sweeping in all their endorsed candidates. Then in mid-term, they decided they didn't like their own candidates and tied the town up in gridlock once again. In 2010 to the present, there's a town government split between the old CCA and the new CCA – and they still hate each other. Councilor Lisa DiBello, who also hates the old CCA, gave the new CCA the controlling vote. Six years of this crap is enough!

This needs to end. I don’t expect a mass outbreak of civility and public spirit. In a small town like ours, politics is often a blood sport. But I do expect government to operate in compliance with the law and eventually make decisions based on the common good.

While people will always find cause to disagree and argue, eventually arguments are supposed to get settled, hopefully in the interests of the common good.

The CCA has had its chance. Now that they have been in control for the past four years, their actions bear no resemblance to their rhetoric. They might have made a better showing of their time in power if they actually practiced what they preach.

[1] Every campaign season, we end up throwing at least some of the bums out and voting new people in. Remember all those bums who were tossed out of the US House of Representatives in 2010 and were replaced with Republican tea-baggers? Throwing the bums out not only failed, but made the Congress far, far worse to the point of dropping its public approval ratings to historic lows. Be careful of what you ask for because you might get it.

[2] Or more accurately, Slattery denies they even exist