A Political Party By Any Other Name

Q: What do you call a group of politicians who want to “win office and work to solve Rhode Island’s problems”?

A: A political party.

Okay, that’s not officially what the “Independent Coalition” of Jonathan Vallecilla, Ethan Gyles, Luis Vargas, Jim Roche, Bob Quattrochi, Lauri Archambault, Blake Filippi, and Karin Gorman is (running for both the House and Senate); but there’s not really that much difference between it, and say, the Democratic Party of Rhode Island (and possibly the Republican Party of Rhode Island). Both contain members with reasonably divergent opinions on economic and social policy. Both belong to a political identity that is highly ambiguous in the minds of Rhode Islanders. And both have a purpose that pretty much boils down to “hold power and do stuff.”

This is, ultimately, what a political party is. The problem with the Independent Coalition is that it cannot create an overarching identity — by its very nature it is an individualist enterprise. Yes, they can claim to reject partisan politics, but any group of people working towards a common purpose is ultimately a partisan group. You can dress it up in language; “faction,” “coalition,” “party,” whatever. Functionally, it works the same way a political party does.

Taken collectively, the candidates are mostly unobjectionable; or at least no more objectionable than many Rhode Island Democrats. Some of them could be classified as Republicans with Democratic elements (Gyles, Roche, Quattrochi, Filippi, Gorman), some vice versa (Vallecilla, Archambault), and at least one a straight-up Republican (Vargas). Their centerpiece is ethics reform. Read their issues pages, and you’ll find that many are concerned with the growth of the State’s budget in the last decade plus. Many also rely on the blue-collar parents routine (which is highly effective, remember).

Ultimately, the question becomes why you’ll vote for this group of folks who are labelled “independent” over the group of folks in the Democratic Party. And the case for that is unclear. Because while few may be thrilled by the vice grip Democrats have on politics in Rhode Island, it’s not exactly clear that the alternative would be palatable to Rhode Islanders. Furthermore, the problem in Rhode Island politics doesn’t seem to lie in excessive partisanship, as is often the diagnosis from independents, but rather in issues of incumbency and strangleholds on power. After all, this year the budget passed with bipartisan support, and incumbency is as protective for Democrats in Rhode Island as it is for Republicans.

The runaround being done here, of a non-party political party, doesn’t appear to be more effective than just voting Democrat. Yes, it’s not pretty, but that’s how it is. Sadly.

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