January 16, 2006

Notes on the Breakfast Table, Page 2

Justin Katz

Although I smirked at the bit-too-genuine surprise that he expressed regarding the credibility with which Anchor Rising is treated, I left the East Bay GOP Breakfast impressed with Bill Harsch. In constructing his message as he campaigns to become Rhode Island's attorney general, Harsch has hit upon the core idea that Rhode Islanders need to — and can be led to — understand: "This office is being wasted."

He was speaking, of course, of the office that he would like to hold, but one could substitute just about any position in Rhode Island government without diminishing the potency of the complaint. Those who occupy local and state government are servants; their offices are tools for self-governing, not merely honorary positions of privilege, and returning them to usefulness would serve as an unlegislated reform. A failure to act in accordance with this basic idea plagues Rhode Island politics — from the Democratic majority, through the Republican establishment, even tainting the RI GOP anti-establishment.

We can debate the degree to which this state's public policies accurately reflect the views of its citizens, but it doesn't take long observation of local politics to conclude that Rhode Island's government is only nominally representative. Newcomers to the state are correct to lament "Rhode-apathy," but that syndrome is ultimately a defensive response to the situation in which Rhode Islanders find themselves. The concentration of power in the hands of a few and the fact that, in Harsch's words, "these people [i.e., insiders] don't embarrass," lead us to "feeling shut out."

It is here that the officials-as-tools message should resonate. The structure of representative democracy in general and a few specific offices (such as attorney general) exist for the purpose of propping open doors through which the average person hasn't the standing even to draw response when knocking. We don't have to disrupt our lives in rebellion; we merely have to elect candidates who will use their offices toward the ends that they legitimately serve (fighting, if necessary, to fortify their authority). Among the ends that Harsch would like to pursue, for example, is the scuttling of "cosy insider deals" and monopolies run by companies with no embedded interest in the state.

Few among those who live here would argue with Bill Harsch that Rhode Island "has enormous promise, and we're being held back." Looking at the lack of seriousness with which our representatives conduct themselves — whether they are writing in ex-presidents on their ballots, seeking creds with the common man by admitting to having never actually worked, or trawling comic books for inspirational public plaques — Rhode Islanders must acknowledge that none are more responsible for holding back our state than we, ourselves.

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Harsch is a welcome presence on the Rhode Island political scene. He has expressed a committment to cleaning out the rat's nest of insider deals and would be a better administrator than Patrick Lynch.

He needs to work on coming across as a "common man" or the average Rhode Islander may not vote for him.

Posted by: Anthony at January 16, 2006 9:46 PM

I was also impressed by Bill Harsch's speech at the East Bay GOP Breakfast, which I also attended. I can safely say that I've known him longer than yourself, but even a person hearing him speak for the very first time can easily tell that he has the courage of his convictions and that he is running for the right reasons.

I certainly hope that the RIGOP will be able to give him more than token support in the coming election. As a supporter of his once possible primary opponent for AG, I am also relieved that he will not have to waste time and money on a primary. It's difficult enough to raise money as it is. He is an honorable man who realizes the potential of Rhode Island, and as you pointed out quite well, that the office of Attorney General can and does impact the course of our state more than people realize.

Right now, what we have is a man (using the term loosely) who is way too cozy with the House and Senate leadership, and the state Democratic Party, to be an effective unbiased enforcer of state law, when it comes to fighting corruption, consumer protection, regulating non-profits and numerous monopolies, and just standing up for ordinary Rhode Islanders. I certainly hope that people will not underestimate him because he may not have the money that Patrick Lynch and Co. have access to through a network of lobbyists, unions, and professional political hacks. He's in this to win. I think it's going to be a fun campaign.

Posted by: Will at January 17, 2006 1:02 AM

I agree. Harsch made an excellent point of explaining just how influential the AG office truly is, and how its importance is often underestimated, being used more as a stepping stone to higher office (though honestly, I cant think of any former attorney generals whove thereafter advanced their political careers---and I sincerely doubt Lord Sheldon will be the exception).

Anyway, hes running for all the right reasons. He sees the AG office as an area in desperate need of improvement and will gladly step up to the challenge. Hes like Laffey in that he has a vision for the position hes running for and has a plan to optimize its influence for the benefit of Rhode Islanders (not special-interests groups).

He has my support. However, my one big suggestion for Harsch is that he condenses his speeches. He made some fabulous points at the breakfast, but his speech was too long and at times, difficult to follow---this unfortunately will not translate well for the average voter. If Harsch is able to convey the same message in half the time, he should do fine!

Posted by: ian at January 17, 2006 4:42 AM

Otherwise, this "lack of seriousness" as displayed from many of our politicians makes Rhode Island the laughingstock of the nation.

It sends the message that all you need for public office these days is to be a member of the lucky sperm club ie. Club Kennedy, Club Chafee---and boom, youre in!

Posted by: ian at January 17, 2006 4:56 AM

I agree with Will and Justin. At some point this state is going to have to wake up and realize just how much it is costing us to elect people to office that have made RI gov't resemble part of their own family tree.

Bill Harsch has the experience, integrity, and independence that are sorely needed in our state leaders. His opponent, Patrick Lynch, brother of Dem. Chairman Bill Lynch, aspiring Governor/ Congressman/Senator/Spiderman, is the poster-boy for everything that's wrong with this state.

I think it's time for a change. As Mr. Harsch says I think it's time to get "Harsch on corruption"

Posted by: john b at January 17, 2006 5:53 AM

Didn't Harsch run as an independent last time out?

I've heard him speak once at a function in Warwick, and he did raise some interesting points.

I'm more interested in learning about what he, or any functioning AG, could do about 1. Casino legislation 2. the Roger Williams scandal and 3. the mild heart attacks I get when opening my gas, water, and electic bills

Posted by: mike at January 17, 2006 6:38 AM