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Friday, August 23, 2013

Descent into madness

Wheels are coming off the local tea party too
The Republican Party “is acting as if the entire world is a GOP primary,” moderately conservative talking head Mike Murphy told Mike Allen of the Washington Post. “That is a very dangerous way to operate. We have massive image problems with the greater electorate, and the silly antics of the purist wing are making our dire problems even worse.”

Allen, in his piece titled “Republicans are their own worst political enemy,” then went on to list a number of examples from across the country in which what he called the “tea party wing” has become the biggest thorn in the side of the GOP “- more than anything Democrats have done,” he wrote.

Is a similar struggle going on here in the Ocean State in which the moderate wing of the GOP is being overshadowed by the conservative fringe? 

Let’s go through a partial list of ways in which the Rhode Island Republican Party has made news recently and ask yourself if to political outsiders the local GOP looks more like John Chafee or Barry Goldwater.

  • Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin says he joined the GOP. This comes after he led a very high-profile and divisive campaign against same sex marriage. At the announcement he was asked for his opinion on “abolishing the welfare state and encouraging private charity in its place. ‘I think Jesus would say that’s terrific,’ Tobin replied.”
  • North Kingstown Rep. Doreen Costa, one of the most fiscally and socially conservative legislators in the state, demands an apology after confusion over whom she asked the Bishop to punish at that same meeting. Cranston Rep. Art Handy chided Costa in a press release after WPRI reported that she and others asked Bishop Thomas Tobin if he could somehow “punish” legislators who supported same sex marriage. Costa insists she was talking about the congressional delegation’s support of Obamacare. “My conversation had nothing to do with the civil rights of the gay community as Mr. Handy said,” she said in a press release that did not address the larger issue that she was accused of asking the church to help meter out political punishment.
  • Tea partiers and other local hard-line fiscal conservatives led and promoted a protest over a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge that had already been reduced from $2 to ten cents  (that the state has said it won’t actively collect). When the tolls were set fire the day before the protest, both Matt Allen, of WPRO, and Justin Katz, editor of the Anchor Rising blog and employee of a anti-public sector think tank, both said the fire was a sign of how irate people were about the situation. Organizers distanced themselves from the arson but advocated for lawful forms of sabotage such as sending toll payments in checks to make collecting the fee onerous for the state.
  • Woonsocket group, RI Taxpayers organization sues the city of Woonsocket over a tax increase that was instituted by the state-appointed Budget Commission after two ALEC-aligned local legislators defied the mayor and City Council by defeating a similar proposal in 2012. At issue is that the city doesn’t have enough taxable revenue to pay school costs.
  • Right wing think tank RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity send out an email alert denying climate change. Yep, the same group that wants you to believe the doing away with all sales tax would be good for Rhode Island want to you to also know they think climate change is a myth.
  • GOP Chairman Mark Smiley and Anchor Rising blogger Patrick Laverty both accuse the General Assembly of focusing more on the so-called “calamari bill” than fixing the economy. It would be hard but not impossible to quantify but I’d be willing to bet the aforementioned conservatives in this post have talked about the so-called “calamari bill” more than the entire rest of the state combined, and well more than the General Assembly ever did. It’s certainly true that the talking point has more legs with the far right than the legislation ever did with the rest of Rhode Island.
Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.