On the Results of the 2014 Elections


In his best showing for Governor of the four times he’s run, Bob Healey won two towns outright and secured an unforeseen 22% of the vote (for a measly $35 of campaign spending). This was not his best showing ever; that remains four years ago in 2010 when the Republicans essentially withdrew to make him their de facto lieutenant governor nominee, in which he got nearly double the number of votes (the Republicans tried a similar trick this year with Ernest Almonte for treasurer, with similar results: the Democrat won).

Who Healey’s voters are won’t ever really be known, but my theory is that many of them were liberals who refused to vote for Gina Raimondo and Allan Fung, knowing Healey was unlikely to win and disregarding his anti-liberal policy choices. There’s more to this that I’ll expand on below.

Finally, I think Healey’s always had something going for him, which is the elimination of the lieutenant governor’s position. The problem is that when separation of powers split the role of lieutenant governor and president of the Senate, the LG was left with nothing to do, except wait for the improbable situation of a governor dying or resigning. Many people will point to Elizabeth Roberts as an active LG, but it’s only through the good graces of Lincoln Chafee that she had anything to do beyond a bully pulpit office. Under a Governor Robitaille, she likely would’ve remained a marginal figure in policy-making.

Republican gains in the House:

A House Republican leader told me to keep an eye on House District 29 back when filing was happening, and I ignored that advice to my detriment. The loss of Lisa Tomasso is fascinating, because she’s a relatively centrist Democrat now being replaced by a conservative Republican (the district was previously held by progressive Ray Sullivan). Her fellow Coventry rep Scott Guthrie lost as well, and so I’m not sure how big a role the debacle in the Central Coventry Fire District played in their defeats.

Republican gains were astounding to me, because frankly, I predicted they’d lose seats. In this case, I think I underestimated turnout, which was significantly lower than in 2010. There were 307,511 votes cast in 2014 (as of now) versus 342,290 votes in 2010 versus 386,809 in 2006. So this gets me to the rule I think defines Rhode Island politics: Republicans win when Democrats don’t turnout. If the Republicans had actually been able to contest every seat this year, I don’t think we’d be talking about a Democratic supermajority in both chambers of the Assembly.

Watching some of the Twitter feeds though, I don’t think many Republicans appreciated what was going on with those races. A lot of the focus was on Newport and the attempt to unseat Teresa Paiva-Weed, but the really dramatic upsets happened elsewhere while Paiva-Weed won. The other thing was that even though Speaker Mattiello (a traitorous Democrat if ever there was one) was actively working to unseat Reps. Marcello, Tanzi, and Finn, he only managed to knock-off Finn.

35,000 votes is a lot to lose. Worse is the disappearing 79,000 votes from 2006. And I think since 2006, left-wing midterm voters have not had much to motivate them to turnout to the polls. You have to wonder what the results would look like if the General Assembly had four-year terms with elections happening concurrently with presidential elections.

I don’t think anyone is surprised at the defeat of Peter Palumbo in Cranston though. Good riddance.

The admirable, meaningless Democratic sweep:

Tying back to the last point, much was made of the Democrats sweeping all statewide offices last night, but the really important thing that happened was back in June during candidate filing. Over 40% of Assembly incumbents faced no primary, and over 70% faced no general election. The holding of Democratic caucuses to select the Speaker and Senate president after the election is meaningless: they could’ve held them the day after the primary or even the day after the filing deadline and achieved the same result.

The thing I’m seeing now is that most of the statewide officers are slightly to the left of the General Assembly as a whole, and the question is what ability they have to steer their priorities through the Assembly.

Control of the Democratic Party:

This will be the major question in 2016. If Joe McNamara is currently party chair, then it would seem the Party still remains a tool of the General Assembly leadership. But if McNamara starts following the priorities Raimondo sets, or is replaced by a Raimondo-selected chair, then she could start rebuilding the Party in her own image. Seizing the levers of power within the Democratic Party seems important, because right now it’s been serving many people who are at odds with the national party’s priorities.

The centrist consensus limps on:

I think the appeal of casting a protest vote for Healey was that it really spat in the face of the current party system in Rhode Island. The argument here is not that Rhode Island suffers from too much conservatism, or too much liberalism, but rather an excess of centrism brought on by our low polarization in the state legislature. I think that the parties’ candidates have failed to shift left or right as much as the state’s electorate has. I think this was the problem of the centrism of Raimondo vs. the centrism of Taveras in the Democratic primary that opened up a protest vote for Pell. I think the Republicans experienced this without a protest vote; Fung was accused of being a union supporter while Block was accused of being an Obama supporter.

In the end, Raimondo and Fung both played to their parties’ respective values, but they represented two ends of a narrowly-defined consensus: neoliberalism with social liberal elements for Raimondo or neoliberalism with social conservative elements for Fung.

Healey offered voters a way out. And I think liberals and conservatives dissatisfied with their respective standard-bearers took it.

Progressives need to start working together:

A problem on the left I think is its fractious nature (this used to be a primarily left-wing problem, but I think the right-wing is now growing more fractious as well). And I think the loss of Ocean State Action and any type of mediating round table for progressive causes is having a detrimental effect on their efforts. There is no progressive consensus offered to counteract the centrist consensus. Instead you have increasingly nebulous debates about what constitutes a progressive.

It doesn’t matter. The progressive movement needs to be a coalition of policy demanders that work together instead of engaging in politics that allow them to be played off one another to their detriment. Put that coalition together and you will have the values that make up a Rhode Island progressive.

In many ways, marriage equality was the last hurrah of the progressive consensus.

The Constitutional Convention:

The thing that surprised me most was the failure of the Constitutional Convention. I think this Cranston resident who spoke to RIPR sums it up:

“I think if you’re going to make a change, do it one amendment at a time, like I would like to see the lieutenant governor and governor be on the same ticket running together,” said Browns. “But I don’t think we need to have a whole constitutional convention to do that.”

Early on in the debate over the Convention, I said I thought one would be premature — no one was really working on laying out the case to voters why a Convention had to be passed or building a movement to build up pressure for one. They also offered small tweaks to the Constitutional as their flagship reforms, instead of large overhauls. The dominant pro-Convention voices ended up being conservatives who did not find the traction they thought. Making Ken Block the most prominent face of the pro-Convention side was probably a bad idea. Pro-Convention forces also splintered into at least three different groups, meaning they failed to find or use a single unified message.

And their response to legitimate concerns about the Convention was to shout “fear-mongering!” instead actually addressing those concerns. Instead of engaging and having a productive dialogue, the result was the groups like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the unions could see the pro-Convention forces were dismissive of their voices, and this did not bode well for their needs if it passed. So there was one anti-Convention group, and it spoke with a compelling message: A Convention puts our rights up for sale. Pro-Convention people never managed to break free of that frame, and so the Convention was the sole things defeated.

Also, Buddy lost… in One Providence:

See Alex Krogh-Grabbe for more.

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