Final Word (Maybe) on the Bob Healey Thing


Matt Allen was generous enough to keep me on his show for a full hour, tonight, talking about my ire at Bob Healey’s surprise bid to have a disruptive influence on the gubernatorial race.  A few thoughts.

One is how quickly people fall into the modes of behavior that I find so objectionable among progressives.  Just about every call against me, supporting Healey, was ad hominem speculation about what I’m really irked about.  I’m part of a “clique,” and in this case, I’m a mouthpiece expressing rage at not having had our rings kissed.  A person whom I’m genuinely pleased to see every time I bump into him around the state speculated that I’m not attacking a candidate in another race because he happens to be on the board of the organization for which I work.

That last one is the most discouraging.  It’s one thing for some random woman to call in and voice assumptions about my motivation.  But I’ve been laying out my beliefs for the better part of fifteen years now, criticizing the left, criticizing people on the right (not for nuthin’ is Steve Laffey’s book scornful of Anchor Rising).  If that doesn’t buy the credibility to avoid slaps from a guy who’s watched a lot of that happen, what in the world could?  What discourages me is that the answer may simply be: total, dogged agreement with a particular point of view.  (Talk about “cliques.”)

Two is a point that came to light today, so I haven’t mentioned it in previous posts.  In a long thread on Matt’s Facebook page, Marc Comtois points out that Healey told Dan Yorke, earlier today, that he wouldn’t have jumped in if the race were Pell versus Fung.  That alone illustrates that this wasn’t merely a bid to help the Moderate Party stay on the ballot, and one of the good guys, a list that I’d previously thought to include Healey, should have taken that as a warning sign.  Why should he get that power to decide that he didn’t like how the people of Rhode Island voted and then jump in the race?  Just because the empty-vessel Moderate Party had an ace of a technicality and he’s a local celebrity?

Three has to do with something that I heard a few times, including from Matt: That Healey’s just taking this opportunity to be heard, which is noble enough.  But the thing is, a guy like Healey doesn’t have much trouble getting heard.  This is about getting on the ballot as an option for the democracy that’s supposed to make our government representative.

Four, somebody thought it was a bit of a gotcha to call me a hypocrite for exploiting the system and voting in the Democrat primary.  Such folks won’t believe me, but I disaffiliated months before the deadline with honestly no thought of strategy voting in this primary or that primary.  For a variety of reasons — disagreement with the direction of the RIGOP, on the one side, and realization of agreement with some among the Democrats, on the other — I just determined that I ought to be unaffiliated.  In this case, I wanted to vote in some of the down-ticket races, and for governor, I voted for Giroux.  All of the more-plausible candidates were unacceptable, to me, and I wanted to add at least one more person to the list of voters saying that the views of the fourth candidate were not unacceptable.

In any event, cross-line voting (even for strategic reasons) is an expected part of the system.  It’s no more of a last-minute surprise than a progressive Democrat changing his mind and going with a centrist in the primary.

Five, a friend messaged me shortly after I got off the air and expressed things in a way that I wish I’d managed to do:

Having spent many years in a banana republic democracy, citizens don’t form into private associations, the way we do here, to effect change in government. Their apathy is precisely because, as you pointed out, they know that no matter what they do, the wealthy, the celebrities, and the insiders will change the rules and pull the carpet out from under them as soon as they make any progress.

That’s exactly the problem, probably the core problem, in Rhode Island.  The leadership doesn’t like that somebody made a valid motion in a committee and an ethics bill slipped through?  Nullify and redo.  Don’t like the way an ethics complaint will play out?  Declare that the Code of Ethics doesn’t really mean what it says (and without a hearing).  Those are just two examples that come readily to mind.

Whatever his reasons, Bob Healey didn’t like the outcome of the primary, so admittedly without any prior thought, and with no prior association with the Moderate Party, he took advantage of a very unique set of circumstances in order to slip through a loophole* and surprise the electorate with his name as the second on the ballot for governor.  I’m not saying he’s broken any rules; I’m saying that as a long-time advocate for voters’ rights and sensible government, he should have declined to add to the myriad reasons that Rhode Islanders have to feel like they can’t possibly learn the rules of the game enough to push back on people who are more prominent or involved than they are.

 

* I think the characterization of “loophole” is entirely accurate.  Healey’s move was made possible by the quirky existence of this shell of a Moderate Party interplaying with statutes that were written when no third parties even existed.

Note, for example, that 17-15-24, on “disqualification by activity in other party,” refers to “the opposite political party” — not “another,” but “the opposite.”  The loophole is created because the language related to party is stated in the negative (“he or she has not been a member of a political party other than the declared party”), rather than stating membership in the party and, further, the language about filling vacancies simply refers to the rules on eligibility for nomination.  

The statute for declarations gives independent candidates the same timetable as partisan candidates.  Yet, one of Matt’s callers suggested that the election really starts after the primaries, while the primaries are intended for the parties.  If that were really the way the law were constructed, why would independents be required to file as if they were running for primaries?  The clear intention is precisely as I described: So the parties can elect their nominees in full awareness of the landscape.

The Moderate Party, which for most intents and purposes merely exists on paper, has created a scenario for a small group of independents to behave as a party. They happened to have a sickly candidate for the highest statewide office, and they happened to seek out and enlist a prominent guy who happened to be unaffiliated and who happened to decide to break his tradition of running in another race under the Cool Moose banner in the spring.

That’s a loophole, and given Healey’s good-government instincts, he should have realized that taking advantage of it was no better than the sorts of things that he probably dislikes about the way Rhode Island runs.

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