The Ambiguous Middle in the General Assembly

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I’m not sure if the Providence Journal’s Political Scene crew is right to summarize the General Assembly’s left-right divide based solely on abortion and gun rights, but the reported numbers do raise an interesting question:  Are the relatively conservative legislative leaders on the edge of a progressive precipice, or are the legislators whose views aren’t explicitly known more conservative than they want to show in floor votes, thereby exposing themselves to progressive attack?

Cranston Republican Steven Frias seems to think the former:

Frias said his own analysis of the ratings suggests that “Mattiello is in the minority among House Democrats on abortion and guns, which helps explain why [he] has dropped the ‘firewall’ rhetoric.”

“Mattiello’s dilemma is whether to allow a floor vote where representatives will be allowed to vote their conscience on legislation related to abortion and guns. Regardless of what he decides, someone will feel duped,″ either the “House liberals … [or] the cultural conservatives who backed [him] for reelection thinking he would be the ‘firewall’ on abortion and guns.”

Frias’ argument: “If Mattiello betrays his culturally conservative constituents it would be a signal to cultural conservatives that they cannot rely on the Democratic House leadership and they should vote Republican in General Assembly races.”

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A corresponding dilemma faces quiet conservatives.  As long as legislators are allowed to remain fuzzy on these issues, relatively conservative constituents will continue to rely on the good graces of “firewalls” like Mattiello.  An unambiguous understanding of the danger would be clarifying as people make their decisions as voters, volunteers, and donors.



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