Rhode Island's roads and bridges have been crumbling for years. So why did the most powerful pol in the state, House Speaker Gordon Fox, team up Thursday with one of Rhode Island's top-two emerging political stars, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, to unveil a new plan for funding road and bridge improvements during a well-attended Statehouse news conference?
Gold star if you guessed "2014."
Fox is a close political ally of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, the other one of those top-two gubernatorial prospects. The two men used to share a law office on Dorrance Street. There's also a broad expectation among insiders that Mr. Speaker will deliver the state Democratic endorsement to Taveras during next year's race for governor.
That's a pretty good reason for Fox to offer a more nuanced public approach -- teaming up with Raimondo, for example, on a labor-friendly plan that would add jobs while addressing the Ocean State's distressed infrastructure.
Rhode Island hasn't elected a Democratic governor since Bruce Sundlun won his second term in 1992. Taking into account Lincoln Chafee's persistently low poll ratings, Taveras and Raimondo seem to have a strong shot at being the next governor. (Both Democrats remain publicly undeclared, despite growing evidence to the contrary.)
Targeting troubled Rhode Island's roads and bridges for improvement is close to unimpeachable. Yet for a reality check on how long this problem has existed, consider this excerpt from a 1996 story in the ProJo:
Worried that Rhode Island may be facing a major transportation crisis - with bridges so dilapidated that they might be barricaded andstretches of highway so deteriorated that the pavement might rip off in sheets - AAA South Central New England yesterday called for increased financing for highway repairs and maintenance.
"Study after study has shown that Rhode Island does notadequately fund its transportation needs," said Robert P. Murray, senior vice president, corporate affairs.
Back to the present: it's in Speaker Fox's interest to maintain good relations with both Raimondo and Taveras, since either could be the Democratic nominee in 2014. That's a reason for Fox to establish a body of public work and appearances, if you will, with each of the prospective candidates. This stuff doesn't take place in a vacuum. Armand Sabitoni of the Laborers International Union, who was part of Raimondo's transition team, keynoted Taveras' St. Joseph's Day celebration this week.
On a related note, Fox's selection of the next state Democratic Party chairman (with Ed Pacheco gearing up for a likely run for secretary of state in 2014) will be closely scrutinized in terms of what the pick means for Raimondo and Taveras.
These are delicate political matters. And they help to explain why despite expectations to the contrary, Fox has reason to chart a public path between the two rising stars of Rhode Island's Democratic politics.