The Real Way to End Corruption in Rhode Island


Edward Fitzpatrick highlights an interesting flash of truth from former Governor Lincoln Chafee, who candidly stated something that everybody who pays attention already knows:

… Stanton zeroed in on the question of whether Rhode Island’s process for selecting state judges is transparent and accountable. And attention turned to Chafee’s appointment of former Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano as a Superior Court judge in 2013.

Chafee told Stanton he’d received heavy pressure from Senate leaders, who held up several of his initiatives after he bypassed Montalbano for previous judicial vacancies.

It’s a favor factory, over on that hill in Providence.  Governing the state on behalf of the people of Rhode Island comes a distant second to shuffling favors around for the benefit of insiders.  But if you want reason to believe that nothing will ever change, here, turn to the suggestion that Fitzpatrick and Common Cause RI Director John Marion offer:

So what can be done? Marion said it’s going to take public pressure on Governor Raimondo “to exercise her full authority to pick judges without the interference of Assembly leaders. With former Rep. Tim Williamson a finalist for a District Court vacancy, the governor has a choice — stand up for her power to make those appointments, or give in to the pressure to placate legislative leaders.”

If a great deal of targeted pressure is brought to bear, maybe the governor will make the tune skip the Williamson verse, but that doesn’t fix anything.  Frankly, it almost makes good-government activism another favor to shuffle.  If the governor doesn’t bow to the pressure, then folks like Fitzpatrick and Marion will, in effect, be promising to hold up other initiatives she might need their support to achieve.  To be clear: I am not saying that advocates for good government will therefore be just like corrupt legislators.  I’m saying that they will be working the system without changing its structure, and Rhode Island’s problems are systemic.

To fix this specific problem — and many more — what’s needed is a balanced political system in which competing interests have incentive not just to slip their own priorities into the mix, but to expose the corruption of others and to hold them accountable.  That means elections actually have to be contested.  It means it actually has to be possible for power to change hands in significant ways.  It means people in power have to fear the consequences if their corruption gives their opponents an edge in the fight for the reins.

Much must be done to achieve that end, but for starters, Fitzpatrick’s paper could get some ideological diversity in its news department and (therefore) reporting, and Marion’s organization could stop supporting campaign reforms that serve to regulate outsiders off the playing field.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    What is needed to “fix the system” is an actual, popular, desire to do so. I don’t see it. Massachusetts has a similar system of judicial appointments, I do no hear an outcry for change.There may, or may not, be more abuse here. When I was a kid,I spent a few moths in Florida where they have elected judges. I sued a woman in small claims for damaging my car in a parking lot. The judge hardly acknowledged my presence other than to ask “What is a kid doing with a car like that”. I didn’t think that to be justice at its finest.