Scott MacKay Commentary: Rhode Island's 2018 Campaigns Begin

Oct 27, 2017

Credit RIPR FILE PHOTO

The 2018 Rhode Island political campaign season kicked off last week with announcements on the Republican side of the campaign for governor and more.  RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay has some thoughts.


Ocean State Republicans appear headed for a four-way primary for the party’s nomination for governor. It appears Democrats will have a battle for lieutenant governor between incumbent Dan McKee and State Rep. Aaron Regunberg. In the state’s largest city, Providence mayor Jorge Elorza looks like he will face an intra-party challenge from newcomer Kobi Dennis.

While parliamentary democracies, notably Britain and Canada, are able to choose leaders in campaigns  that  last weeks, Rhode Islanders will join the rest of our country in the permanent campaign.

Before your eyes glaze over at the thought of a year of canned television commercials, let’s take a gander at the bright side. With campaigns beginning this early, by the time most voters begin paying attention, the pols shouldn’t have any excuse for dodging serious questions.

The best example is state taxing and spending policies. Over the years, candidates left, right and center have called for putting the brakes on state spending. When asked specific questions, they often mouth such platitudes as vowing to cut down on waste and fraud. Or say they will study the state budget after they win.

If you start campaigning a year before an election, surely you have time to take a deep dive into taxing and spending policies. Voters should view suspiciously candidates who won’t answer questions about how they will spend your money.

There is ample time, too, for development of policies to deal with the state’s most pressing issues, including children in state care, development of future energy sources, education, and developing a workforce ready to compete in a global economy. As well as how much money, if any, taxpayers ought to pony up to lure companies to the state.

For Republicans, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is the pre-primary favorite, particularly in a four-way race. But this isn’t anywhere near a done deal. Aspirants Patricia Morgan, Joe Trillo and Giovanni Feroce all have a chance because Republican primaries in the state are low-turnout affairs. Where else in America can a  candidate win a major party nomination for governor with as few as 12,000 or 15,000 votes?

This means any hopeful with a strong voter turnout effort can succeed. As recently as 1994, Lincoln Almond won a Republican gubernatorial primary over sitting Congressman Ron Machtley  without  running a t.v. commercial on a network-affiliated station.

So far, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has not drawn a primary opponent. She isn’t as popular as she should be, given the state’s low jobless rate. Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee may take her on, but early handicapping favors Raimondo. A rematch between Fung and Raimondo would draw national attention.  

The last time a challenger beat an incumbent in a rematch came in 1990, when Democrat Bruce Sundlun handily defeated the ethically challenged Republican governor, Ed DiPrete.

A campaign of substance would be enlightening.  Don’t count on it. In the culture war era of Donald Trump, everything seems to be political, from the Supreme Court to the Star Spangled Banner at football games.

Rhode Island’s political class has lately been ensnared in one of these tiffs. Joe DeLorenzo, a conservative Democratic Cranston lawmaker years removed from the Statehouse, lit up the twitter sphere with a talk radio attack on party liberals as “whack jobs” who brook no dissent from progressive orthodoxy.

DeLorenzo chastised South Kingstown Rep. Teresa Tanzi, who has accused an unnamed state lawmaker of sexually harassing her. Anyone who has spent much time at the Statehouse knows that Tanzi has hit a nerve.

Hypocrisy about men behaving badly knows no party. Many Trump fans have no problem overlooking his misogyny so long as they get their tax cuts and right-wing Supreme Court justices. Just as many Democrats looked the other way when their favorites, including Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy, treated women poorly.

It’s probably too much to ask, but wouldn’t it be nice if candidates focused on how they would compromise with the other side to get things done. Politics ought to be about more than a daily shout-fest.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday at 6:45 and 8:45 on Morning Edition and at 5:44 on All Things Considered. You can also follow his political reporting and commentary at our ‘On Politics’ blog at RIPR.org