Ted Nesi opened his Saturday column, this weekend, as follows:
The most troubling reaction to the 38 Studios documents that I’ve heard has come from multiple State House insiders who’ve told me privately, “This is the rule, not the exception.” Their point: most of what we’ve seen in the documents – the backroom secrecy, the supremacy of relationships, the centralized power of top lawmakers, the absence of due diligence, the jarring incompetence of so many elites – is just business as usual on Smith Hill.
That was exactly what I wrote on Twitter when journalists and other folks with interest in local politics began taking to social media to express their astonishment at the revelations in the 38 Studios document dump a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, though, I think Ted stops short of what’s most troubling about the reaction of insiders. It isn’t the fact that the 38 Studios style of government is the norm in Rhode Island; it’s that “State House insiders” know it’s the norm and let it continue.
Honestly think about it for a moment. “This is the rule, not the exception,” and yet the public is astonished to hear about it? Where have the whistle blowers been? Where have the insiders been who can’t stand the sight of what they’re seeing and charge forward to throw a wrench into the ghastly machine? And now that the secret’s out (for the moment), will the public and the news media look with a more credulous eye on people who’ve been saying such things from the outside for years? Will glowing profiles of left-wing activists and union organizers now be replaced with glowing profiles of people who may not agree with the politics of journalists but are increasingly being proven correct in their analyses?
The existence of “the backroom secrecy, the supremacy of relationships, the centralized power of top lawmakers, the absence of due diligence, the jarring incompetence of so many elites” proves, in my view, that such a condition is the inevitable outcome of big government. When the powerful can dole out well-paying jobs to cronies and treat the judiciary as the ultimate reward for insider service, elected officials are less likely to pursue their jobs in order to actually represent their neighbors, but to climb the ranks to their reward.
And when we look to government to do things that Rhode Islanders aren’t doing on their own — like overcoming the barriers to economic development — decision-makers such as those on the board of the Economic Development Corp./Commerce RI, who are appointed, don’t forget, by insider politicians, accept the role in order to become insiders, not as a sense of public service. Maybe the system works somewhat for a generation or so, while people who once emphasized the “quasi” in “quasi-public” still remember that it hasn’t always been assumed that such things are the government’s job. But as it’s accepted as a basic part of government’s role in our society, and as the economy falls apart, with government employment as the last safe harbor, that sense of independent purpose dissipates.
This point is critical for Rhode Islanders to realize — at least to consider. Governor Raimondo is poised to make exactly this disastrous model the operating premise for all of Rhode Island society, and we can’t afford to be astonished, a decade or two from now, upon discovering that the perfectly predictable outcome has, in fact, occurred.