Fighting smear tactics requires pointing fingers
A new organization called Engage Rhode Island is providing much needed support for General Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s pension reform plan.
The focus of the group is to get people involved and pressure members of the General Assembly to pass the treasurer’s reform package. On their web page in the section titled “Why Reform?” they lay out specifically why they believe pension reform is necessary.
I couldn’t agree more with the group’s position. However, they also believe that, “We need to agree on a solution, not point fingers”. While that strategy is admirable, it will not provide Raimondo with the political cover she needs to get the legislation passed.
Public sector labor leaders are not timid about embarking on a campaign to smear elected leaders. One needs only to recall the conviction earlier this year of John Leidecker, the National Education Association (NEARI) deputy executive director, for cyber stalking former State Representative Doug Gablinske.
According to GoLocalProv.com, another union boss, Cranston Firefighter President Paul Valletta Jr., is taking a page from the NEARI playbook by referring to Raimondo’s efforts as a “scam”. Valletta claims “all the numbers are lies” and further exclaims that Raimondo simply is “not honest” and that she is only proposing pension reform as a means to further her political career.
Bob Walsh executive director of the NEARI has already denounced the plan and has promised legal action. AFL-CIO President George Nee has repeatedly argued that Raimondo’s reforms are draconian and labor will fight them through its own public relations campaign.
Apparently this is only the beginning of a sustained attack on Raimondo with the goal to convince Rhode Islander’s that her efforts are misguided, unfair and unnecessary.
Sometimes in the political arena, and make no mistake about it, no matter how much the treasurer wants people to believe her reforms are all about math, pension reform is political. Pointing figures and engaging in a fight with labor may be the most logical means to convince people to support Raimondo’s plan.
During the 2000 presidential race front runner John McCain suffered vicious personal attacks by George Bush supporters in South Carolina. In 2010 front runner Frank Caprio in the race for RI governor tried to stay above the fray with Lincoln Chafee. In the process Chafee defined Caprio by convincing people his family was tied to cronyism. McCain and Caprio efforts to fight back turned out to be too little too late.
Organized labor now is laying the blame for the condition of the pension plan on past and present political leaders. What they don’t say is that they endorsed and supported most of these politicians in exchange for them passing laws that defined current pension benefits.
To make matters worse labor also supported scheme after scheme by politicians that allowed employees to manipulate the system. Allowing enhance benefits through the purchase of pension credits, enabling questionable disability pensions, receiving retirement benefits after only 20 years of work, granting lifetime healthcare benefits and unrealistic compounded cost of living adjustments only escalated today’s problems.
Yet labor has never accepted responsibility for their failing to monitor the health of the system. And by brain-washing public sector employees into believing the system was infallible, they also ignored any problems. It was only a matter of time before the system’s faulty structure was exposed and now labor won’t accept it because it exposes their culpability. So instead they point figures and resort to the despicable tactic of personally attacking Raimondo for trying to fix it.
Labor has seen the warning signs for decades. However instead of being a partner in acknowledging the problem, identifying corrupt costly polices and proposing solutions to fix them, labor with its conflicted political supporters put some caulking around the leaks, slapped on a fresh coat of paint and masked the rotting structural problems for decades more.
It was bad enough that the state and local city and towns have for years been redirecting budgetary resources from all other programs in an attempt to stabilize the system. The fact is current state and local employees are now paying the price with sub-par equipment and staffing and along with taxpayers paying for retirement benefits for former employees that they themselves will never realize.
Organized labor shares much of the responsibility for these conditions. And now to attack the very politician, Ms. Raimondo, they endorsed for treasurer, who campaigned on fixing the system, is disingenuous.
McCain and Caprio learned the hard way that absorbing blow after blow of negative campaigning without a response is the fastest road to defeat.
Engage RI and all Raimondo supporters need not hesitate to attack and tarnish the reputation of labor leaders. They carry on the persona that they have been the guardian of the public employee pension system. The truth is that they are ultimately responsible for its failure and their promise of unsustainable benefits to public sector employees is the real “scam” and “lies” Walsh, Nee and Valletta have perpetrated upon all Rhode Island citizens.
That fact needs to be exposed and if it takes pointing a few figures back at them, so be it.
Robert Cushman is a former City Councilman and school committee Chairman. Join the discussion on “The Taxpayers Spin Political Column” on FaceBook.