November 28, 2014
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Right time to tackle government reform

Is it time for term limits? Are we ready to axe the master lever? Should we grant the governor a line-item veto?

Allan Fung, Cranston’s mayor and a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, certainly thinks so. Businessman Ken Block, his GOP challenger, does as well.

And while a more thorough review of potential changes is needed, the call for a constitutional convention, and for reforms to state government, is one we support.

Both Republican hopefuls reiterated their reform message following the dramatic series of events that led to Gordon Fox’s resignation as Speaker of the House of Representatives and Nicholas Mattiello’s ascension to the leadership role. Fox’s home and office were raided by state and federal law enforcement officials on March 21, and speculation has run rampant over the focus of the investigation.

Fung and Block, expectedly, put a decidedly partisan spin on their respective messages, decrying “one-party rule” as being at the root of many of the Ocean State’s problems.

The point is taken, and the heavy Democratic slant among the state’s leaders was very clear during the vote that made Mattiello the new speaker. In a chamber of 75 members, there are but six Republicans.

The focus on party ID, however, ignores the complexities of Rhode Island’s political landscape. The battle for speaker itself highlighted a divide in the Democratic Party between progressives and more centrist elements, one that resulted in a broad coalition, including five of the Republican members, behind Mattiello.

It is more instructive, then, to look at the mechanics of government, of ways to better its workings regardless of which party currently holds power.

Eliminating the master level is a common sense first step, as a means to foster civic engagement and encourage voters to explore all the candidates seeking office. Steps to promoting clarity, transparency and thoughtful debate in the legislative process would also be welcome.

The merits of term limits are debatable. Clearly, capping time in office would bring new voices to the table. Whether limits would truly lead to a greater focus on public service over selfish considerations among some lawmakers seems less certain. Such restrictions would certainly not eliminate the role of money in the process.

Strengthening the governor’s powers would also seem prudent, although the nature of any measures to that effect warrants very thorough consideration.

The best forum for such a discussion, it seems clear, would be a constitutional convention. As our state continues to face significant challenges, working to make government more effective is an achievable and essential component of finding solutions. The process won’t be easy, but the benefits could be dramatic.


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