RIPR’s Ian Donnis just tweeted out a link to a Vermont news story on former RI House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino’s role in the 38 Studios debacle (Costantino now being commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access). Quite apart from the specifics of Costantino’s involvement in the venture capital scam, this statement succinctly articulates one of Rhode Island’s central problems (emphasis added):
Costantino, in a written statement Monday afternoon, told Seven Days: “My only involvement in the matter in RI was because of my former position in the RI legislature. I did not play any role in bringing the company to RI as did others in government. I was tasked with handling the legislation affecting the company by my superiors. After legislative activity, I had nothing to do with approving the loan to the company and have had nothing to do with the company ever since.”
The people of Providence elected Costantino to represent them! He wasn’t a hired employee working at the pleasure of “his superiors.” His “superiors” were the voters of district 8; the other politicians in the State House were just people with whom he had to work while serving the people’s interests. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Sad to say, but Costantino’s understanding of a legislator’s role is probably held by a majority of his former peers, and it’s certainly paid off for him. After leaving the General Assembly, he went on to a $140,000 job running Rhode Island’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and although I couldn’t easily find his salary in Vermont (and his predecessor, there, appears to have made a good bit less), he’s surely still in the six figures.
I wonder if the then Speaker of the House in Rhode Island recommended Costantino for “whatever role he would fulfill” in the executive branch, as current Speaker Nicholas Mattiello did for Donald Lally.