Does the East Side really want to defeat Gordon Fox?

Oct 22, 2012

Mark Binder has run a vigorous and aggressive campaign for state representative against House Speaker Gordon Fox  D-Providence, on the city’s East Side. Binder deserves credit for his focus on Fox’s record and for turning up the spotlight on the things about the State House that makes voters’ blood boil – the wee hours votes on the controversial legislation, the 38 Studios fiasco, the lack of  transparency  that too often is the rule, rather than the exception, on Smith Hill.

But East Side voters, among the best-educated and most discerning in the state, ought to think long and hard before they decide to cast out Fox. Fox, one of the very few openly gay politicians in the country, has even been blamed by Binder and some of his followers for the General Assembly’s failure to enact full-fledged gay marriage rights.

Facts are stubborn things: what they show is the gay marriage failure had far more to do with the Senate and the deep divisions within Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s Democratic caucus. (And the fact that Weed  has been more DINO than profile in courage on this issue).

Fox forged a compromise, the civil-union legislation that has been a precursor of full marriage rights in some other states, most notably Vermont, which has had a civil union law since 2000 and marriage equality since 2009. Fox’s middle road didn’t please anyone on either side of this contentious topic, but it set the stage for moving to full marriage rights. Since enactment of civil unions two legislative sessions ago, Rhode Island’s civil and religious culture hasn’t changed. Narragansett Bay hasn’t dried up, the doors to the Roman Catholic churches have not  shut and there has not been any discernible impact on heterosexual marriages or divorces.

There is a much larger matter in this race that, for some odd reason, commentators and media coverage hasn’t focused on sufficiently: What happens to Providence if Fox were to lose?

The capital city is in trouble:  Failing, underfunded public schools. High property taxes that threaten the middle-class and city services. A budget awash in red ink.  A crime problem and fewer police. The neglect of such public jewels as Roger Williams Park (See Mary Grady’s wonderful piece on the park in Rhode Island Monthly). Citizens of a largely suburban state who flock to Providence for work, college, medical care, restaurants, Trinity Rep, Big East basketball, Waterfire, the arts, entertainment and shopping, but want  nothing to do with helping finance the city for keeping the streets safe and the lights on.

Does anybody who knows anything about the State House or how politics works in Rhode Island really think that Binder, no matter how well-intentioned, will have the sufficient clout, political experience or understanding of the legislative system to do anything to meet the needs of Providence?

Truth be told, Fox has delivered for the city as best he could, advocating for the school funding formula, increased local aid and a state pension overhaul that has saved money for hard-pressed city taxpayers. (Binder says he hasn’t read the pension bill yet? Hello Mark, the election is Nov. 6).

The State House is not a debating society. The decisions made on Smith Hill will surely affect Providence. Fox’s record isn’t perfect.  And, yes, he needs to pay attention to the criticisms that have been raised in this campaign, especially about the 38 Studios fiasco.

But anyone who believes that Binder can get nearly as much done for the capital city as Fox,  arguably the state’s most powerful politician, must believe that elephants can fly.