What’s rarer than an April snowstorm spitting cotton ball-sized flakes onto our heads the day after a sunny, near-60-degree Easter Sunday?
Bipartisanship in our government, of course.
While Rhode Island Republicans and Democrats probably have more in common than, say, Blue and Red politicians in Texas or Kentucky, there still exists a notable presence of partisan politics within the State House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 64 to 11 in the House and 33 to 5 in the Senate.
Time will tell if this partisanship has a particularly strong hold on politics in Rhode Island, as there are numerous gun control bills going through the legislature at this moment – and proposing restrictions on the Second Amendment, to state the obvious, is undoubtedly among the most polarizing of issues between those who identify as Republican and those who identify as otherwise.
That is why the story running this week on the so-dubbed “Gang of Five,” a group of both Democrat and Republican legislators in the Rhode Island General Assembly who are working hand-in-hand on good, common sense policies, is so encouraging and refreshing in a time where politics – more than perhaps ever – takes on the form of a competitive sporting match rather than an implementation of the will of the citizenry.
As even sixth-grade students can ascertain during their social studies courses, partisanship is an inherently dangerous concept. Voting based on which label is attached to a politician (does he play for my team?) is a fundamentally flawed way to view politics and make decisions. Some Republican ideals have merit, and some Democratic policies do too. Philosophically, politicians should succeed or fail on their ability to disassociate from the party’s line and evaluate ideas on that merit, not whether or not it came from someone on their team.
The Gang of Five is proving this is possible, and even in its infancy, this group legislators may have a profound effect on local governance. The gang consists of Republicans Rep. Kenneth J. Mendonça of Middletown and Rep. Robert Lancia of Cranston, as well as Democrats Rep. Evan Shanley and Camille Vella-Wilkinson (both of Warwick) and Rep. Moria Walsh of Providence.
The bipartisan group started as a result of Rep. Shanley looking into drafting a bill to create an inspector general for Rhode Island to weed out wasteful spending and try to de-bloat the more than $9 billion state budget. As good ideas tend to go, someone else had already thought of this and had introduced a bill. In this case, that someone else was Rep. Lancia. Despite their party affiliations, the two representatives sought to work together on a bill, which has since gathered 30 signatures from other legislators.
Any attempt to weed the state government back into a realm of normality should be applauded by all politicians in Rhode Island, regardless of your political party.
Rhode Island has less land to manage than any other state, and we have the second highest population density of any state (behind only New Jersey). Studies have shown we have the 4th-highest tax burden in the nation, yet we rank 27th in return on investment for those taxes. States with similar populations (Maine and New Hampshire) have budgets of $7.1 billion and $5.7 billion respectively. There is waste happening somewhere – and the current practices employed, an auditor general, is clearly not enough to find and eliminate it.
Other work important to the gang includes a bill to forcefully stop shaming practices of schools that – if a student cannot afford their lunch – force students to perform work duty or throw away lunch in front of their peers. This indecent act of shaming, regardless of how infrequently or frequently it occurs, should be a no-brainer to enforce. Kids do not have control over the financial conditions in which they find themselves in, and they should not be subject to ridicule for being in such a position.
To put it simply, working together should be the goal of any body of elected officials. Politicians were not intended to be given legislative power in order to play team sports based on political parties, or further the will of partisan lobbying groups. They were elected for the people, by the people. The Gang of Five should, in theory, be the Gang of 113.