January 10, 2008

Joe Amaral: A Test Case for the "Laffey Lesson"?

Justin Katz

During the commute home tonight (having worked some necessary overtime), I heard State Representative Joe Amaral — my representative — attempting to explain to Dan Yorke why he is the lone Republican in the House not promising to forgo the rub'n'tug grant system. His arguments were mostly about process and equity from town to town, but given his explanations about alternatives to rub'n'tug that he would support, I really don't think he gets what the General Assembly is doing wrong in the broader analysis.

It was edifying, of course, to hear Mr. Amaral extrapolate my neighborhood to his entire constituency. I imagine the rest of Tiverton (wealthier) and Portsmouth (wealthier, too), being not so "poor" (his word), wouldn't been as amenable a face to put on his argument that we need a few thousand dollars a year in legislative grants. I don't happen to be Portuguese (which is a feature that my representative emphasizes when characterizing his district), but I do work hard. I'm not wealthy. And I see that this entire rub'n'tug legislative regime is killing precisely the demographic for which Mr. Amaral is concerned.

Given the above, it seems to me that Mr. Amaral might be a good test case for what I've called the "Laffey Lesson," the central premise of which is that saving our state might require some creative destruction. We might have to knock down the Republican Party some in order to hone it to the edge that it has got to develop. And if the party isn't going to prove able to pull the state from the precipice, then perhaps it's best that its name not be associated with anything but precisely the chronic "no" of which Mr. Amaral complains with respect to his fellow RIGOP members (with whom he does not caucus).

Perhaps I should consider running for Mr. Amaral's seat next time around. How do you think I'd do, Joe? I very much doubt that I could win, but perhaps I could peel away enough of your votes to let a Whitehousian Democrat slip by. It might be that other conservative Republicans in the state would see the race as an opportunity to send a message to their own representatives.

Whatever the case, I'd suggest to Representative Amaral that keeping the rub'n'tug grants might come at more of a cost than giving them up. The question he'll have to answer for himself is whether he's more afraid of the wrath of those who benefit from the change that the General Assembly throws on the cobblestones or the wrath of those who understand how corrosive that charity system is to our entire state government.

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Everyone not with us this year is expendable. Better to lose the slot to a declared Democrat than have a stealth Democrat in the seat pretending to represent us.

A primary challenge against Joe is an imperative. And he'll just be the first of a few. The sooner someone declares that they will in fact be seeking the nomination for his slot the sooner the other supposed (R) members of government will get their crap together, get in line, and stand for something.

And I offer my services to whoever chooses to run.

Posted by: Greg at January 10, 2008 7:08 PM

Rep Amaral seems like a good guy.

It was a little frustrating listening to him, however, because specifics were missing from his comments.

He said sometimes you have to work with the other party to get things done(words to that effect). Okay, to a point.

And he seemed to be saying that the "chronic no" vote of some Republicans was counter productive because it is cast solely out of pique.

So this is where we need specifics. If that Republican is voting no on a substantive issue - a budget that once again emphasizes higher revenue over spending cuts - then s/he is doing the right thing. If it is a less important matter - designating February 11 RI Cauliflower Appreciation Day - does it matter that a legislator votes no?

My concern is that Rep Amaral was saying that you might as well go along with the majority on some things even though it is the wrong thing to do because there's no point in voting no.

And that would be very wrong. Your vote counts. And if you cast it to get along rather than to do the right thing, you are abusing your precious official power. Yes, even if Rhode Islanders are a little slow on the uptake that their high taxes and bad school systems and a serious absence of justice (etc) can be laid squarely at the feet of elected officials from one particular party.

Posted by: Monique at January 10, 2008 8:51 PM

Yes, the GAGA strategy (go along, get along) was one thing that bothered me in Amaral's answers (in addition, of course, to his presentation of his constituents worse off than they are, which was offensive). Even more worrisome, though, was his continued suggestion that he would support a related measure that (paraphrasing) got the money to his constituents via some other route. Moreover, the "might as well get mine if he's gonna get his" attitude is endemic in Rhode Island politics, and it's one of the character flaws that has brought our government to its current state.

This is a matter of principle, which is much more valuable than small grants filtered through a political machine.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 10, 2008 9:08 PM

I took his comments to mean "I sell my votes on multi-million dollar issues to the Dems for Skee Ball prizes for my constituents."

The equivalent of going to the casino and losing $30,000 at the craps table, winning back $1,000 at the slots and considering yourself richer for it.

Posted by: Greg at January 10, 2008 9:11 PM

I was entirely frustrated during the few minutes I was able to listen to Dan Yorke's show today. Rep. Amaral is exactly the problem with the RIGOP. He offers no alternative to the Dems.

I would have liked to ask Rep. Amaral a question if I had time to call the show. He boasted that he has represented his district for 12 years. For how much of the more than half billion dollar deficit is Rep. Amaral willing to take responsibility.

Run against him Justin. Like every incumbent, he's got a nerve even running for reelection.

Posted by: mikeinRI at January 10, 2008 9:47 PM

Rhode Island operates under a corrupt and oppressive regime composed of an unholy and interbred axis of the Mob, the unions and the Democrat Party.

Vichy RIGOP collaborators are almost as despicable as their French predecessors - differing only in degree, not in kind.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at January 10, 2008 10:44 PM

Sounds like we're in for a year of change - I'm suspecting both parties have insurgent elements willing to take on incumbents in primaries.
I'm for anybody of either party willing to take on the races that really count - against Murphy, Montalbano, Alves, Williamson, Corvese, Ruggerio, etc.

Posted by: rhody at January 10, 2008 11:46 PM

The afternoon that House Minority Leader Bob Watson mentioned on the Dan Yorke Show that the Republicans had voted at their caucus to no longer participate in the legislative grant process -- I knew exactly what he meant, when he used the words he chose to use. Remember, he is a lawyer. Call it semantics, if you will. Perhaps it would have been better for him to anticipate the possibility for unintended confusion, which apparently resulted from his lawyerly conciseness.

However, Dan Yorke inferred afterwards (until later corrected) that "all the members of the House Minority Caucus" meant all Republicans in the House. I've been aware, as have most other people that pay attention to that sort of thing, that Rep. Joe Amaral has not been a member of the House Minority Caucus since the "schism" following the 2006 election. Initially, 6 Republicans left the caucus temporarily, but then one by one they came back into the fold, with the exception of Joe.

I've known Joe for a while, since he occasionally has come to RIGOP events (though not very recently). He is a very good guy. The General Assembly is filled with "good guys" (or good fellas). That's the problem!

I'd much prefer principled guys (or gals) to good ones.

I would rather prefer that Dan and others focus on the positive actions of the super majority of the House Republicans, instead of the "rogue" one. I know it wasn't easy for some of the House Republicans to get their heads out of the trough, after all these years getting crumbs from the Speaker's table. They deserve a lot of credit at saying "no," and for hoping that the people in their districts value their principled stand against corruption and waste at a time when we just can't afford it, more than they value the potential to receive the occasional taxpayer funded mini-bribe via the feigned beneficence of the House speaker. The legislative grant process is nothing more than a revival of medieval feudalism, where a peasant has to beg a lord to protect and feed him in exchange for becoming his vassal or servant.

I, for one, am glad that the House Republicans have taken a stand on something that can differentiate themselves from the Democrats for a change! (By the way, don't even get me started about the Senate Minority "Leader")

Posted by: Will at January 11, 2008 1:18 AM

Unless and until the media shines a daily spotlight on the activities of and demands accountability from the House Speaker the same way they do the much weaker office of Governor then nothing will change behaviorally on Smith Hill.
Yorke constantly pounding on a tiny group of House Republicans and a Constitutionally weak Governor may give him a rush of testosterone but it's completely irrelevant in bringing about positive change to the political dynamics of the State house.
The most powerful political office in the State of Rhode Island is that of House Speaker. The man who holds that office is rarely if ever held accountable by Dan Yorke or any other media for his behavior and his performance. The most powerful politician in Rhode Island is insulated from the external pressures of scrutiny and accountability. That office operates much like a dictatorship.
Wendy Collins didn't take down former Speaker John Harwood with her unfounded accusations. The media spotlight and the external pressure from that spotlight emboldened the minions under his rule to act against him. I have long maintained that constant media scrutiny on the office of House Speaker and demands for accountability from the holder of that office is the only thing that will bring about behavioral change in that building.
Because that spotlight and that demand for accountability would not only help to greatly inform the citizenry on how this state government really works but would also serve as a mechanism of leverage for the entire legislative body vis-vis its' leadership.
Sadly all we have now is a dictatorship that operates in the shadows and a media that is more than willing to go along to get along.
It's so much easier picking on the weak than going after the powerful.
Just ask Dan Yorke!

Posted by: Tim at January 11, 2008 7:33 AM

I think the Rhode Island Legislature is due for a change and young blood would do nothing but help.

Posted by: Roger at January 11, 2008 8:40 AM

Before we go on a purge to "purify" the GOP members of the General Assembly, let's not forget that the real problem is, as Tim points out, the majority.

Justin, if you happen to live in a district where you don't feel you're being represented adequately, you have every right to run. It's not like the seat is going to cost the GOP the majority or the Governor will lose a veto-sustaining minority (the two situations when I think it would be counterproductive).

But if the GOP is to make any significant gains, the overall focus has to be on running against vulnerable Democrat majority members, not starting an internal jihad against incumbent Republicans.

Posted by: Anthony at January 11, 2008 10:19 AM


Given the traditional Democratic leaning of the voting public and given how the demographic trends suggest the potential Republican base is shrinking and Democratic base is growing just how realistic are any significant gains for Republicans here in Rhode Island? Personally think maybe they can cut into the margins but won't make significant gains especially given the union pull at the local level.
Yes that party can and should do a much better job of organizing itself and they definitely need to weed out the corrupt double agents in their midst like John Holmes, Jackvony etc. but the Rhode Island Republican party will always be marginal and it's not their fault. This is a tiny city state with a small population very much set in its' thinking with a media that keeps the citizenry largely uninformed and routinely plays the go along to get along game with those in power who have brought us to the brink of bankruptcy.
A supposed good government media type like Dan Yorke has spent more time beating up on a small and powerless group of House Republicans over the past week than he has spent demanding a single drop of accountability over the past 5 Y-E-A-R-S from the man who runs the show in this state House Speaker Bill Murphy.
Murphy has been in power since 2002 and Yorke hasn't spent the time equivalent of one single show = 4 hours over that F-I-V-E year span on topics that scrutinize and/or demand accountability from the most powerful politician in Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy.
The Captain of the Titanic gets a free ride with all Rhode Island media.
All media!
Pure insanity!!

Posted by: Tim at January 11, 2008 12:39 PM

Dan Yorke is just as much a part of this state's power elite as Bill Murphy. As the great philosopher Michael Corleone might say, they're both part of the same hypocrisy.
Really, now, would Dan endanger his table at Capriccio by criticizing the Dem leadership?

Posted by: rhody at January 11, 2008 3:26 PM

It is not far fetched to purge the milquetoast RINOs......or at least put them straight with the discipline of a good primary. After all, the next couple of years are going to stink at the General Assembly. Why not run some principled candidates? If we lose with principle, then so be it. The Dems are going to burn in 2010 when the crap hits the fan. The 2010 cycle bodes much better for the GOP, so let's lead with a new cast of principled candidates who stand for something......the electorate will be hungry for a "contract with RI."

So, by all means, go after Amaral. Why not a real Republican run against Avedisian? He's not a Republican; he takes bundles of union money; and the Dems on the city council make him look more liberal than David Cicilline, and he's making them look good.

The Chafee-GOP alliance is dead. It died when Chafee left the party. So out with them. Let them run as independents, or better yet, Democrats.

Enough with this go along to get along stuff; it's just another way to enable the drunken spenders on Smith Hill.

Posted by: Jackson at January 11, 2008 9:16 PM


You don't what the hell you are talking about. You are the problem, Rep Amaral has been an awesome rep who has held fast to conservative Republican positions over and over. Prove your not a snot nose little sniveling computer blog geek and run your scrawny whiny ass against a Democrat like Wally Felag? No, you wouldn't do that, cause he would kick your butt, you are all talk - fool, grow up!

Posted by: Jim at January 11, 2008 10:09 PM

Well, I'm certainly persuaded to take you seriously, Jim.

You'll note, when you calm down, that I expressed doubt about my chances of winning. I suspect I'd lose in a head-to-head against Mr. Amaral, himself. The experiment is whether someone of my (and most AR readers') political minority status can have an outsized effect on elections by running against Republicans whom we feel to be too accommodationist. The objective isn't to win, genius, it's to find ways to shape our government even when we can't win.

Gotta love it, though: "Grow up" is the last refuge of the adolescent.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 11, 2008 10:20 PM


How did Rep. Amaral vote on the union power grab privatization legislation pushed through in the dark of night last June?


Yorke likes to portray himself as some type of outsider. Fact is he's very much one of the boys. Very cozy with the likes of Joe the barber and Tim Williamson. Both poster boys for ethics and good government eh? lol
Reality is Yorke has never directly challenged or demanded accountability from those who actually run this state namely the House Speaker. None of the media do and it's why nothing changes around here from year to year.
Yorke will spend days obsessing over and beating up the governor on issues and non-issues from A to Z and he'll demand action from a small and powerless group of House Republicans.
But what Yorke has never done and will never do is spend any amount of time demanding direct accountability from the most powerful politician in Rhode Island House Speaker Bill Murphy.
The media including talk radio is very much a player in this well oiled political machine. We wonder why nothing ever changes? Why people vote the way they do? Why the citizenry really don't have a good and accurate understanding of the true power structure in their state government? How could they? There is no one who tells them the truth. There is no one who scrutinizes the House Speaker or demands accountability from him.
Jeez he only run the place!
Runs it into the ground and most definitely has A-L-L the media's blessing to do so. Don't take my word for it. When listening or reading just make a mental note on how often you see House Speaker Bill Murphy held accountable for anything in state government.
After all he only runs the place!

Posted by: Tim at January 12, 2008 10:49 AM

Tim, you're right, it is remarkable the power possessed by the Speaker of the House.

Unless he intends to withdraw from politics and his powerful office in the near future, Speaker Murphy may want to consider using some of that power to correctly address the budget situation (i.e., don't advance RI's ranking as 7th highest taxed) and Rhode Island's abysmal business climate. Otherwise, he is going to soon find himself in the middle of a disaster/horror movie from which there is no escape.

Posted by: Monique at January 12, 2008 7:23 PM


Your wish for Murphy will come to fruition only if he experiences a moment of self enlightenment. Since there is no public scrutiny of/demand for accountability from the House Sepaker he's free to do what he wants when he wants and without repercussion.
Very troubling when more time is spent criticizing the governor over a half day long snowstorm than is spent demanding accountability from the House Speaker on that outrageous privatization legislation. A legislative act as corrosive and damaging to government reform as we've seen in a long time.
The media's reaction? ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz....
The Rhode Island media talk radio included is a full blown participant in this bread and circus. The voting public simply follow along.

Posted by: Tim at January 13, 2008 10:11 AM

And all this time I thought the "Laffey Lesson" was when facing deficits raise taxes.

Posted by: Phil at January 13, 2008 10:43 AM
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