The Real McKay in the U.S. Senate Contest

Mar 19, 2014

It isn’t a surprise that Rhode Island’s Republican Party is having a difficult time finding a credible candidate to take on Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.

Reed first won election to the U.S. House in 1990 and moved up to the Senate after the retirement of Sen. Claibone Pell. Reed has never lost an election and in recent campaigns has had easier and easier opponents.

Reed has arguably the safest Democratic seat in the Senate. Last time out he garnered more than 70 percent of the vote. Should his party keep the Senate, West Point graduate Reed would be in line to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Defense spending, especially for submarines built at Electric Boat at Quonset Point, is a very bright spot in a dark economy in Rhode Island. The submarine builder means more than 3,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs with stellar benefits in our state.

Then there is the Newport U.S. Navy campus that is anchored by the Naval War College. And the many high-tech spin-offs that the defense industry creates in the Ocean State, from Aquidneck Island-based consulting firms to such defense giants as Raytheon. This federal largesse brings in millions of dollars in payrolls to a state with an unemployment rate that has consistently been among the nation’s highest during the weak recovery from the recession.

Despite all this,  Reed shouldn’t get a free ride. In a healthy democracy no incumbent should. So far, the only Republican willing to come forward and run against Reed appears to be Raymond T. McKay, a conservative gadfly. A decent man, McKay also happens to be a city employee in Warwick. (So much for the vaunted private sector).

McKay holds a classified city job as a network and telecommunications administrator. His problem is that a Warwick city ordinance appears to disqualify him from running for office because he holds a classified, or civil service, rather than a political job.

Whether this ordinance is fair or not will probably rest with the courts. McKay has filed a request in Kent County Superior Court in Warwick to block the city from enforcing the rule should he make a run for Senate. the ACLU is backing McKey's bid.

"This should not be a partisan issue; this is a constitutional issue," states McKay. "I believe I have a right to run for office without the threat of termination of retaliation.’’

That sounds like a fine small d democratic rationale. But it really isn’t. It just shows that Republicans don’t have a serious candidate willing to leave his/her job and campaign full time.

Rhode Islanders of a certain age will remember what Jack Reed did as a young man with a promising future at a prestigious law firm, Edwards & Angell in Providence. Reed, a Harvard Law School graduate, in 1990 quit his job to run for U.S. House. He won a four-way primary and fought off a stiff general election challenge from an estimable Republican, environmentalist Trudy Coxe.

So Reed, a liberal Democrat, gave up a lucrative private sector job to begin a career in politics. Now a conservative Republican with a public sector job wants the right to keep his job while he runs for office.

Ah, the ironies of Rhode Island politics.