September 29, 2005

An Even Livelier Experiment, 9/29/05

Carroll Andrew Morse

As an experiment of our own, AnchorRising will be liveblogging responses to tonight’s installment of “A Lively Experiment”, Rhode Island public television’s public affairs roundtable (Channel 36, 7:30 pm). This is not intended as a comprehensive review of the program, but as a supplement helping to add ideas and insights to the existing dialogue. My brilliant insigts are in italics.

This week’s host-of-the-week: Susan Farmer

Issue 1: The American Express Building

Bob Watson is boring the viewing audience to death with an “it’s all about process” argument. Maureen Moakley is not bothered by the process so far, what’s happened so far is just a first step. Guy Dufault said legislative leadership couldn’t tell the Governor about their plans because the Gov would have went public because the Gov is a pressmonger. Isn’t the bully pulpit part of the executive’s job? Whatever the merits of buying the building, Dufault is killing Watson on the process issue.

Dave Layman chimes in about substance! Is buying the building a good idea or not? Why does the state government need premium real estate in the networked age? And should government be buying up “Class A” property. Moakley says citizens should have Class A property for interfacing with government.

Farmer adds that even if the state buys the building, it still has to lease the land the building sits on for something like $18,000 per month.

Issue 2: Voter Initiative

Dufault says its “stupidest idea I’ve ever heard” Doesn’t he favor a vote on gambling? Unions would press a minimum wage hike. People will vote themselves mandatory buisness-provided healthcare. It’s a boondoggle everywhere they’ve tried it.

Watson says RI wouldn’t need voter initiative if better ideas came out of the legislature. He doesn’t outright endorse it, but says that it should be looked at very carefully. Farmer points out that VI can prevent good legislation from getting lost in committee.

Moakley states that few politial scientists approve of VI. Interesting. I've never heard that before. She claims cliams that people with money win the voter initiatives, and that the Republicans shouldn’t pursue insitutional changes simply because they don’t have enough seats in legislature. Layman states that 34 states have VI, and most have not gotten rid of it. Laughs at the idea that VI invites manipulation by big money, isn’t that what we have already?

Dufault says VI bypasees the electoral process. A tad incoherent there, Guy. VI directly involves the electoral process. As Dufault and Watson start into a partisan back-and-forth about who has better ideas, it's time for the hook on this issue.

Issue 3: Disaster Evacuation Plans

Farmer says that when she was RI Secretary of State, the formal evac plan for RI was “drive to NH”. Moakley says “they’re” workng on a plan. Moakley adds that it’s understandable that they’re still working on a plan, given how fast events occurred. Haven't we known at least since 1938 that hurricanes pose a serious threat to RI? Watson mentions that Aquidnick Island poses major concerns. Layman adds the danger is not just weather, we need to consider response to terrorism. Moakely says we need less disjointed processes between local, state, and federal govts.

Farmer reads an e-mail: Dufault sucked as host last week.

Moakley: Too many giveways as part of disaster relief, in the form of no-bid contracts, exemptions from environmental regulations, etc.
Dufault: Hypocricsy that Gov supports general VI, but opposes vote on gaming. 88% want right to vote on Casino! Dufault's gone incoherent again, basically arguing we should have a vote on a casino, but nothing else.
Layman: Giving 250 billion to the corrupt Louisiana political system is a mistake. He’s got lots of facts to back up the corruption charge.
Watson: Too much secrecy in govenrment. Mentions film commission. Probably true, bland as butterscotch.

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In between innings of the Red Sox game, I caught the discussion on #3. During which, Dufault tried to argue that the Founding Fathers were against such things as Voter Initiative and he threw out the old tyranny of the majority (or masses?) line. While he may be substantively correct on that point, the related point that he didn't mention was the fact that the Founders also never envisioned a permanent political class. According to their conception, the legislature would meet infrequently and be constantly turning over.

With that in mind, either Watson or Layman (I can't remember which, though I think it was Watson) brought up another interesting point. To paraphrase, one argument we hear against Voter Initiative is that there is a referendum every 2 years (legislative elections) in which the people can speak. However, as we all know, voters typically think that their own legislator is perfectly fine and that it is "the rest of 'em" that are doing a bad job, etc. As such, Voter Initiative can bypass this problem by making issues truly statewide.

Posted by: Marc at September 30, 2005 8:06 AM