The morning of the middle day of the workweek is as good a time as any for unrealistic dreams about how our system of government could work. Yesterday afternoon, RIPR’s Ian Donnis tweeted:
Spox says Speaker Mattiello + @GinaRaimondo set to chat over dinner tonight. Truck toll plan is part of the menu
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a system in which the speaker would be forthright in public about his specific concerns, and then the issue would be discussed thoroughly through open meetings of the legislature, before insiders had ensured a predetermined outcome? Each elected official could make a public statement about priorities and principles, and others could respond to those statements.
Then the news media could cover the debate, and Rhode Islanders could consider it. Those with strong feelings could let their representatives know whether they think they’re on the right track, giving them a sense of what electoral consequences might result from a particular decision.
On the day of the vote, the speaker of the House would join with all of Rhode Island watching the red and green lights on the vote tally board with no certainty about which way the vote would go. At that point, the news media would report the results and everybody would plan their future actions accordingly.
Instead, we get this “chat over dinner,” with the speaker acting as the chief executive and decision-maker for his chamber of “representatives.” He’ll arrive prepared with some trades that would sweeten the deal for him and maybe protect or benefit some special interests that are important to him. The governor and speaker will devise a plan, which they’ll then run by the Senate president. If necessary, they’ll each turn to their respective special interests for feedback and negotiate a final deal.
Most legislators will simply assent to the plan because they’re content with the perks they already receive. A few who are particularly daring, who have an unusual amount of leverage, or who really, really care about some separate issue will make a play to be bought off. A small group won’t be brought into the loop and will play the role of opposition right up until the end, but their numbers will by no means be large enough to affect the outcome and necessitate real compromise.
There’ll be a show debate on the floor of the House. Good (if ineffective) points will be made. Things that are patently false will be said. Promises that amount to lies will be made (perhaps to be revealed with no consequences years later). The news media won’t focus on the falsehoods or promises and might not even bother reporting the final vote. Mainly, the articles and news segments will consist of prepared talking points issued through communications offices, perhaps with quotes from a regular corral of dissenting voices.
Instead of sparking electoral revolt, the forthcoming tolls, debt, and inevitable scandal will lead another wave of productive, motivated Rhode Islanders quietly to make plans to leave the state.