The Rhode Island GOP yesterday held its second in a series of recent news conference to introduce a batch of legislative candidates. The latest bunch was enthusiastic and their let’s-rock-the-status-quo messaging is potentially appealing in a state suffering from persistently high unemployment.
Yet the most striking thing was how the GOP plans to run far fewer legislative candidates — 40 to 50, according to chairman Mark Zaccaria – than in previous election cycles for the 113-seat General Assembly.
Back in 2010, the GOP ran about 90 candidates; In 2008, the number was 71.
When it comes to making rapid legislative gains, the best recent example remains 1983. That’s when voters, angered by a botched state Senate redistricting plan that wound up in federal court, tripled the number of Republican senators, from 7 to 21.
Speaking in the Statehouse rotunda, Zaccaria insisted the GOP is on to something with its less-is-more approach. He says the party will offer greater campaign training and financial support (a pot of about $45,000 to be distributed in mid-July) to its candidates than in the past. Zaccaria says this of the aspiration:
We at best are looking at trying to get both the House and the Senate into a configuration where there has to be a floor fight for every major bill.
Because right now, bills are cooked up in the office of the [Senate] president or the chambers of the Speaker of the House — they come out fully formed; the order is given to push the green button, and dutifully all the guys on the other side of the aisle do so and things get passed.
Heck, even the AFL-CIO’s George Nee said a few years back that Rhode Island would be better off with a more competitive two-party system.
But the RI GOP has been weakened for a long time by a lack of continuity (the short tenure as chairman of Ken McKay, for example); inconsistent support from former governor Don Carcieri; the split between more conservative and moderate elements; and the general difficulty in getting good people to run for office.
Thanks to Rhode Island’s deteriorating budget situation, 2008 was supposed to be the big year . . . Then 2010 . . . . and so on.
For a sense of the frustration among conservatives, consider these thoughts shared by Patrick Laverty, a frequent contributor to Anchor Rising:
I actually disaffiliated [as a Republican] a few months ago. When they voted to not close the primaries earlier, I lost interest. I see no benefit of being a member of the party. If I can decide on primary day which party I want to vote with, why should I affiliate? To me, it’s a semi-private club without benefits. So why should I align myself with them if there’s no benefit to doing so? They just seem to be spinning their wheels year after year with Operation Blank Slate to this year’s Strike Force. What the hell. Get rid of the dumb names and just get good candidates with funding and support.
The other example that threw me over the edge was the recent announcement from Zaccaria to hold a fundraiser on a ship on the water. Sounds like a great night and a great event. Except that it is in Fall River, MA. Really? Not a single usable boat or marina anywhere in RI? Really? This is the party that is the friend of small business?
There’s plenty of grist for the mill of Republican insurgents, including how the latest budget increases future deficits, and the legislative candidates unveiled Monday had some good talking points. Their general theme was how Rhode Island’s dour economy points to the need for change.
Still, if Rhode Islanders were really ticked off, wouldn’t we be seeing an increase in Republican candidates?