Quality of Life (and of “Constituent Services”)


Should a state senator be allowed to enjoy her summer despite the hardships of some of her constituents?  Of course, but that doesn’t quite capture a recent tweet from progressive Democrat Gayle Goldin:

Folks, this is an important constituent services update: I have created a list of ice cream places by @RISenate district. Still working on it, tweet your recommendations!

The controversy arose only because Good School Hunting blogger Erika Sanzi contrasted Goldin’s summer distraction with the heartrending concerns of those among Goldin’s fellow Providence parents who cannot afford the escape the public school system as the senator’s children have done via private school. Sanzi provides more detail in a post:

Last weekend I sat and listened to over four hours of testimony, mostly from Providence parents, about their frustration and even panic over the Johns Hopkins report on the Providence Schools. There was anger. Anguish. Pain. And a common refrain that the very same schools that had failed them as students were now failing their children. It was the 8th community forum of its kind, hosted by Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green and Mayor Jorge Elorza. …

The waitlist for Achievement First, a high performing charter school in Providence, is in the thousands and was slated for an expansion but alas, Goldin and others opposed the expansion. Now don’t get me wrong: Senator Goldin supports school choice for her own family —they chose to pay over $30,000 a year for their children to attend the best school for them. Goldin does not support school choice for poor families.

Apparently, a number of progressives, including local journalists, told Sanzi to lighten up, so she’s wondering whether she overreacted.  She did not.

It isn’t just that Goldin put up a fun summer tweet. It’s that she explicitly linked it to her role as a state senator.  “Constituent services” implies, well, constituents, suggesting that you have them in mind and are doing something for them.  That obviously raises the key question that Sanzi is asking:  Which constituents?

The minor controversy relates to something I’ve been noting for a long time. Often, when economic indicators show Rhode Island to be languishing, boosters of the status quo raise on the “quality of life,” as if that’s something shared by everybody. The high quality of life applies only if you can afford the amenities.  Music festivals, day trips to nearby islands, amusement parks, and more enrich our lives in Rhode Island, but they require luxuries of time and money that the state’s economy denies to many.  For kids, even ice cream shops require that their parents can get away from work and afford the treat.

This isn’t to say that we should all be wearing hair shirts and forbidding ourselves and others from enjoying our community. It does, however, advise some reflection. If you’re a politician in a city that has attracted national attention for the educational suffering of its children, a little distance between your public role and your casual summer levity would be appropriate, especially if you pay for your own children to avoid the problem and oppose policies to help others do the same.