Warning Sign in a Once-Representative Democracy

There is a reason our political system seeks to divide and counter-balance power.  There is a reason emergency powers are (supposed to be) clearly delineated and strongly limited.

The latest warning sign that should give Rhode Islanders pause came during Governor Gina Raimondo’s fireside chat for Rhode Island children:

Another high school senior from Newport wanted to know whether the state’s colleges would open in the fall.

Raimondo said she has asked the presidents of all 30 colleges in the state to submit their plans for safely reopening in September.

The governor’s response made me think of Fall River’s indicted ex-mayor, Jasiel Correia.  As the city and state tried to figure out how to legalize a previously illegal drug, marijuana, somehow the power to approve licenses for the lucrative business landed singly in the hands of the young mayor.  And wouldn’t you know, he wound up indicted for allegedly extorting applicants for bribes.

Now, Rhode Island finds itself with a governor who has assumed the authority to review the business models and safety plans of every organization in our entire state.  Big and small.  Top to bottom.  Indefinitely.

That presents way too many opportunities to play favorites or to seek favors.  Presumably our governor, who is more mature and probably more intelligent than Correia, won’t resort to overt, traceable bribes, but that is the child’s play of corruption.  One can already hear from business owners who don’t want to speak up about this or that objection because they know the power the governor currently wields.

That sort of intimidation was already part of the toxic political mixture in our state, and now it is amplified a thousand-fold and with no contrary power to which to appeal.  Even without a large-scale economic reopening, the General Assembly must return to its work, end the declared emergency that has given the governor these powers (precedented only in dictatorships), and provide oversight and legislative authority for the actions that are taken.

An emergency calls for a unitary government because decisions must be made quickly and firmly.  A months-long process of reopening an economy demands deliberation and public feedback, not to mention the checks and balances of a representative democracy.

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