Putting Asses In The Seats

Good for show business . . . bad for government. And here in Rhode Island we have too many “asses” and too many seats.

The ProJo editorial board makes a good case today for expanding the three-day filing window for public office in Rhode Island, “Open up this window.” We should be encouraging vigorous challenges to our complacent and entrenched incumbents not erecting pointless obstacles.

But we may have cause for optimism. The piece mentions that while 28% of the legislators will be running unopposed this year, two years ago that number was 41.5%. That’s a promising trend.

Moreover, several powerful legislative leaders now face competition, including House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston; Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport; embattled House Finance Committee Vice Chairman John Carnevale,* D-Providence, who is being investigated by police for possible election fraud; and House Majority Leader John DeSimone, D-Providence, who has repeatedly failed to pay his taxes on time. Opponents have also emerged against Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, who after she was caught failing to file an accurate disclosure statement listing potential conflicts, famously declared on the House floor: “I am ashamed of this journalism stuff that’s going on in this state.”

I would suggest that one reason for the shortage of challengers is the size of the general assembly. It’s just too damn big. We could have more competitive contests if there were fewer of them. The number of qualified and motivated young candidates is just being spread too thin.

Why does a state the size of Rhode Island even need a bicameral legislature? Nebraska, with roughly twice the population of Rhode Island, has a unicameral legislature of only 49 seats. Rhode Island’s general assembly has 113 seats.

*Rep. Carnevale is currently being investigated by the state police financial crimes unit. He may not actually live in the district he represents . . . minor technicality. (ProJo 6.27.16)

(Seen here is our house chamber — empty seats awaiting empty suits.)

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