The Democratic Primary Where the Candidates Agree on Constraining Democracy

For those not interested in primary election GOTV tactics, here’s something big-picture to ponder regarding the Rhode Island Democratic gubernatorial primary:  The Democratic primary is where there is substantial agreement that the scope of democratic and representative decision-making needs to be narrowed (ironic, isn’t it?), so that special interests will encounter less interference with their ability to extract resources from the people, and all three Democratic candidates that have a chance of winning tomorrow seem quite comfortable with giving more governing power to private interest groups at the expense of elected public bodies and the people themselves.

The highest-profile example of this, of course, is how all the major Democratic gubernatorial candidates have taken Wall Street’s position on paying the 38 Studios bonds, i.e. the amount of debt is imposed on the people is determined by what bond traders say, not by what the state Constitution and state laws say. (Sorry Mayor Taveras, but a candidate who wants to pay the 38 Studios bonds AND isn’t sure that he wants an independent investigation into them is not taking a meaningful stand against Wall Street).

The other relevant issue is the continuing drive by unions in Rhode Island to override publicly elected bodies. Clay Pell is the candidate of binding arbitration for teacher contracts, which would remove appropriations decisions from accountable representatives of the people and allow unelected arbitrators to place long-term tax-burdens on the people. Gina Raimondo, supposedly the least union-friendly candidate in the Democratic field, helped pass a law as part of pension reform that creates a process by which the state retirement board – with 7 of 15 members directly selected by unions – can write legislation under certain circumstances with significant fiscal impact, that the legislature cannot refuse to pass. And all three candidates are willing to treat retirement benefits mandated in law as a subject of collective bargaining, despite a chapter of the law that reads “any and all matters relating to the employees’ retirement system of the state of Rhode Island are excluded as negotiable items in the collective bargaining process”.

In a liberal (in the classical sense) democratic system of government, what the law says is supposed to matter — and that is even when the finance industry and unions would prefer that it be different. The law is supposed to be binding on everyone, and because it is supposed to be binding on everyone, its creation is supposed to be the exclusive province of a body of elected representatives of the people; this is a core ideal of democracy dating back to a principle stated in ancient Roman times that “what touches all shall be approved by all”.

But Rhode Island’s ruling-class Democrats have ideas of government that are something less. They are willing to ignore prohibitions on burdening the taxpayers with debt without their direct consent, and to ignore direct language that places retiree benefits outside of the collective bargaining process, because special interests do not approve of these laws.  This kind of “leadership” is moving our system in a direction where certain privileged special interests are assumed to sit above the government, with a right to exercise powers that are above the law, powers that the government of the people never gave their consent to and cannot change.  On this critical issue of self-government, there doesn’t seem to be much to choose from amongst the Democratic candidates for Rhode Island Governor.

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