January 10, 2006

Vaulting over the Same Old Same Old

Justin Katz

Edward Achorn offers we sighted Rhode Islanders, today, our periodic fix of motivational disheartenment at the state of our state. None of it's surprising, including the feeling — at least in this overworked blogger — of desperation to do something to make Rhode Island a better place to live and a more fruitful participant in the United States of America.

The new thought that Achorn's piece brings to mind comes in the form of a question: Why is Steve Laffey, given his persona as a scrapper intent on righting difficult wrongs, campaigning to vault right over the tangled local brambles into the federal government? The way to begin improving Rhode Island's contribution as a member of the U.S.A. is by improving its actual health, the example that it sets, and the culture to which it contributes — not by shifting its column on a handful of Congressional vote tallies.

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And your point is???

Posted by: Jim at January 10, 2006 10:18 PM


What the hey are you talking about?

"sighted Rhode Islanders" What does that mean?

"not by shifting its column on a handful of Congressional vote tallies." What does that mean?

Illuminate us but please just say something we can understand. I think you are trying to say Laffey should stay put.

Just say it man.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at January 10, 2006 11:24 PM


I'll admit, I don't quite get the point either. I'm not sure how you made the jump from your initial observation, to bringing up Laffey's decision to run for Senate. What's wrong with Rhode Island requires more than the efforts of one man. It's requires a collective decision of Rhode Islanders to stop aiming towards mediocrity.

Mayor Laffey is running for Senate, because he feels he can accomplish substantially more for more Rhode Islanders, than trying to be a part of the state government. He has promised, unlike our current senator, to remain in touch with the people of Rhode Island -- instead of spending most of his time out of state, worrying about things that most Rhode Islanders couldn't give a rat's right rump about (Toby the grizzly bear comes to mind).

Mayor Laffey's election to the US Senate will mean far more to Rhode Islanders than a switch of a few votes here and there. If that's all it was about, I doubt he'd have as much support. It will mean that we've come to realize that we will no longer settle for mediocre, unprincipled leadership. It will also mean that we really will have the "strongest voice for the smallest state" in Washington.

Posted by: Will at January 11, 2006 12:35 AM

Apologies if the post reads cryptically; honestly, I didn't think I was being oblique. But the meaning apparently got across somehow.

No doubt that which is "wrong with Rhode Island requires more than the efforts of one man." The same is true of the federal government, however, and when other states' representatives are considered, the national scene is already the focus of more such efforts than is Rhode Island.

Laffey has been most effective at highlighting specific examples of what's wrong locally and offering straightforward solutions. That's a talent that could certainly be used at any level of government, but I disagree that our choice of U.S. Senator offers much indication of diminishing tolerance for "mediocre, unprincipled leadership." At best, it would indicate our embarrassment over the ambassador whom we already send to the Senate.

Whatever the message might be, I don't believe that Rhode Island will currently elect a federal representative to the right of Linc Chafee. What's needed, first, is for Rhode Islanders to come to understand the practical advances that conservative principles can bring to government, and that's a lesson best learned through local experience.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 11, 2006 6:21 AM

Well, I’m glad that Laffey’s message is easily deciphered. When your hear of RI being stuck in the “same old, same old” rut, and ponder which political figures have made a commitment to improve RI, I’m glad Justin that you immediately think of Steve Laffey.

However, it seems you are downplaying the importance of the U.S. Senate and the far-reaching effect it would have on RI to have a true conservative representing us at the federal level. It’s more than mere “vote tallying.” We’re talking just 100 seats, 2 from each state---a place for once WHERE RHODE ISLAND GETS EQUAL REPRESENTATION WITH ALL OTHER STATES. The U.S. Senate is therefore an excellent place to focus on “improving Rhode Island's contribution as a member of the U.S.A.”

Statewide, you have the option of Lt. Governor---a complete waste of talent given someone with Laffey’s credentials. He isn’t about “moving up the political ladder” (ie. start local, then go statewide, then federal…), he’s about fighting the status quo, mandating reform, making improvements… and it’s in the U.S. Senate where Laffey will have the greatest influence to accomplish these objectives.

Posted by: ian at January 11, 2006 9:33 AM


Re: "the ambassador whom we already send to the Senate."

The ratio in my humble opinion.
ambassador = 5%

The fact is, when presented with a successful and viable option, one who champions the causes of the voting public, one who keeps his promises, one who has an uncanny ability to rally the troops and define the issues articulately and simply, the people (dems, reps, indies) made the right choice and put the right man in the CEO seat in Cranston.

Insiders up and down the pipeline said it couldn’t be done. Its done!

Is your prediction based on hope or hopelessness. Put your hand to the plow, and do everything you can to do what is right, no matter what the cost. That is what makes this country great.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at January 11, 2006 9:42 AM

The thing is, Joe, that I'm not sure that putting Laffey in the Senate fits the bill for "what is right." Senator isn't a CEO-like position, for one thing.

For another, I disagree with Ian that the Senate is the ideal place for a local Rhode Island upstart politician who is "about fighting the status quo, mandating reform, making improvements." Rhode Island's equal status, in that body, makes it only more simple an analysis to note, as I did above, that other states are sending representatives to advance conservative causes. There aren't enough such representatives, to be sure, but in the long term, the nation as a whole would be better off if Rhode Island were to develop an intellectual culture that would send better Senators on a regular basis, not just as a result of some (unlikely) majority affinity for a kinetic personality who conflicts with the state's self-image. To that end, as I already stated, Laffey's talents are better plied locally.

Ian continues that Laffey "isn't about 'moving up the political ladder'" — an observation that I've made previously, and that has caused me some concern with respect to his motivation for the positions that he espouses. Ian also mentions the lt. governorship, a position that is arguably too weak in this state (particularly if additional powers could be siphoned from the legislature). It seems to me that a personality such as Laffey's might be ideal for a politician (working with the same-party/different-temperament governor) toward offering the service of expanding that particular position.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 11, 2006 6:47 PM

Reagan went from heading the Screen Actors Guild to two terms as Governor of California, then to the Presidency. Laffey goes from heading a highly-regarded brokerage/investing banking firm to two terms as Mayor, then hopefully to the Senate.

Two terms is ample enough time to effect change and put principles and programs in place that will carry over well into the future.

The founders set up our federalist system to ensure that small states like RI get the same two senate votes that any other state does. Given the small population and small physical size of the state, this means that mayors of the 3 largest cities get statewide exposure and therefore have the ability to run for the Senate without stopping to be a Congressman, Lt Governor, or Governor. You would see a lot more mayors of small/medium size cities jumping to run for the Senate if they were as visible statewide as RI mayors are.

After all, L. Chafee did not turn down his opportunity for the Senate to spend more time in the state as Lt Governor or Governor.

In a state where the number of voters per Senator (525,000) is less than the average size of a US congressional district (650,000), it is by no means unusual or self-serving for a two-term mayor with a strong record of accomplishment to run for the Senate.

I fail to understand the criticism of the Laffey "jump". Why not celebrate the fact that, because of the aforementioned population and geography factors, political talent at all levels can be recognized earlier in RI versus any other state with the exception of Vermont.

As an aside, if all Laffey wants is to become President (as some cynics have said), then he will have to enjoy a run as Governor after his first or second Senate term. Other than JFK, how many Senators have vaulted directly to the Presidency in the last 100 years anyway? (Truman doesn't count, by the way)

Posted by: bountyhunter at January 11, 2006 11:51 PM

Excellent analyis bountyhunter. You even managed to get Reagan in there, so double points for you.

I am also puzzled why Mayor Laffey is not held to the same standard as former Mayor, now Senator Chafee.

To me at least, it seems that people (not necessarily Justin) are looking for reasons to rationalize voting for Chafee again, even though he doesn't share the principles or the values of the average (as well as most) Rhode Island Republicans, or for that matter, probably a majority of the statewide voters, too. I still fail to understand how we can complain until the cows come home about our representatives in RI, and then reelect people to office without taking into account what they are actually doing in it. There is a big disconnect.

Laffey has actually had real accomplishments in his two terms as Mayor. He has a record to run on "I did this, this and this as Mayor, here's what I want to do in the Senate." What on earth has Sen. Chafee done, other than make RI the butt of jokes elsewhere? Can we demand better?

Posted by: Will at January 12, 2006 12:54 AM

I'm not holding Laffey to a different standard than Chafee. I'm also not considering the issue in context of his political career. Rather:

  1. As I've suggested previously, we haven't gotten much of a sense of his political philosophy; we've only seen his approach to administration, which is not directly a legislative function.
  2. With consideration of those talents of which we have gotten a sense, I think Rhode Island would be better served by having Laffey in local and state government for a while longer — at least until other figures arise within the state.
Posted by: Justin Katz at January 12, 2006 5:23 AM

Not much of a sense of his poolitical philosophy? How about:

Lower taxes, simplified taxes, sharply reduced spending on discretionary items, elimination of pork and corporate welfare, balanced budgets, renewable energy support, strong homeland security, better relations with western europe, no support for dictators like Chavez and Assad, much support for Israel, anti-unions, pro-environment -- these are positions that Laffey has spoken often of and in-depth about and is just off the top of my head. I am sure the list is incomplete.

Laffey has taken a position on all the social issues you have mentioned, yet has not gone into typical Laffey depth on them yet. Do you really think the voters want to be bombarded with minutiae on everything right up front? And don't you think it is smart positioning for a candidate - in the early stages of the campaign - to strongly associate himself with several key issues that define him?

These other issues you mention would have already come out in-depth in a debate, yet we know why that hasn't happened yet.

Rather than complain, why don't you send Laffey a questionaire or interview him and post his in-depth answers on the blog? That would be the pro-active thing to do, wouldn't it?

Posted by: bountyhunter at January 12, 2006 10:53 AM

Hey we are way past analysing and discussing what laffey should run for. in case anyone missed it he announced for the U.S. Senate months ago. I have met the man and seen him in action and I am happy for him. I am sure he decided to to what is in the best interest of this state and the country he loves--America-- after discussing it at length with his wife.

His optimistic can do attitude and his sharp mind and relentless pursuit of the truth is why people compare him to Reagan. He'll be good at whatever he decided but he decided, not us.

Posted by: Stan the Man at January 12, 2006 6:51 PM

Your rationale is lacking. Chafee went from being a do nothing Mayor to the US Senate, where he has become a do nothing Senator. Let's be candid, the man is taking up space in Washington.
Your gripe with Laffey is that he didn't hang around to listen to you speak once, or someting like that - get over it.
Laffey has a record of immense achievement in the few years he has been Mayor of Cranston. He is far more driven, far more intellectual and far more of a leader than Chafee will ever be. Rhode Island is far better served by having Laffey in the US Senate than Chafee.

Posted by: Jim at January 12, 2006 10:48 PM

Sorry Justin, you seem like a nice enough fellow, but you are just plain wrong.

Dittos to bountyhunter, Will, and STM.

No amount of time could have prepared Chafee for the Senate. He’s probably a nice man, but he’s no Laffey. Yes he has the title, but the taxpayers have seen what can happen when a true reformer, who can actually fix things, is given the helm.

Laffey will surprise his opponents at every turn by out working them, out organizing them, and out positioning them during the campaign.

Isn't it strange that Laffey will have to embarrass Chafee into a public debate. You would think Chafee would be chomping at the bit to get this guy in the ring so he could articulate his well devised plans designed to help the people he represents. But he runs away. Why? He doesn’t have a plan.

And after Laffey wins he will set to work, just like he did in Cranston, pouring himself into problem solving and tackling the issues he believes are crippling RI and the country. And he will succeed, the same way he did in Cranston.

You will see it happen right before your eyes.


Posted by: Sol Venturi at January 12, 2006 11:22 PM

I'll tell you: in my years of blogging, I've never so much felt as if I was dealing with political activists rather than just interested readers. So many of you read as if you're writing from a pro-Laffey script. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that, but the commercial-a-minute discussion becomes easily tuned out. It begins to read like planted counter-spin, and frankly, nothing has made me less emotionally inclined to vote for Laffey than his supporters on this Web site.

I've little doubt that Rhode Island would be "far better served by having Laffey in the US Senate than Chafee." My doubt is whether Rhode Island would be better served by having Laffey in the US Senate than in state or local government. Obviously, as Stan points out, Laffey has decided that it would; a crucial aspect of democracy, however, is that the people of Rhode Island now get to decide whether he was correct to do so. My personal measure of the man will depend on his actions following a loss.

By the way, Jim, I've already disclaimed the notion that my opinion is based on a bruised ego. I'm content, at local political events, to sit back and observe. The problem at the event in question was not how I felt, but what I observed.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 13, 2006 4:29 AM

Justin, Laffey's supporters share his passion to improve Rhode Island.

The majority of us have lived here our whole lives and are ESTATIC that someone finally has come along with the right attitude to change RI's political landscape. Know what that attitude is?

It's called: "I have nothing to lose."

He has the talent, experience and intelligence to take him wherever he wants to go. “Responsible to all, obligated to none,” as they say… so, even if this Senate race doesn’t pan out for him, he has plenty of other options to pursue.

What this attitude assures is that Laffey is free to stand up to whomever, without fear of treading the toes of some political machine or the special interests. He’s the anti-puppet candidate whose accomplishments are based on true merit, not nepotism.

It really is a breath of fresh air on RI’s political landscape.

Otherwise, Justin, please be direct and say you don’t agree with Laffey, or hold some doubts. It’s better than taking the time to decipher these nebulous postings of yours… In truth, a lot of bloggers on this site are Laffey supporters and will disagree with you, but that's what makes a blog so dynamic.

Posted by: ian at January 13, 2006 7:09 AM