May 31, 2005

Laffey's Dilemma

Carroll Andrew Morse

Charles Bakst has a round-up of the thoughts of Republican big-wigs Lincoln Chafee, Donald Carcieri, and Ken Mehlman on the subject of Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey running for Chafee's Senate seat in 2006. The Republican establishment, not surprisingly, does not want Mayor Laffey to challenge Senator Chafee. Bakst’s column makes both Senator Chafee and Governor Carcieri sound somewhat condescending towards Mayor Laffey, with Chafee telling a potential opponent that he should be satisfied with “good opportunities…to run for state office”.

The problem is that there are not any good opportunities for Mayor Laffey to run for state office, not if he wants to make policies that make a difference.

In Rhode Island, there are 5 statewide level executive offices: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Attorney General. The office of Governor is a certainly a good statewide opportunity, but it is assumed that Governor Carcieri will run for re-election in 2006. Lieutenant Governor, on the other hand, is not much of an opportunity in Rhode Island. The problem is structural. In any system where the Gov and the Lieutenant Gov are elected separately, the Lieutenant Gov becomes reduced to a not-very-bully pulpit. The Gov can’t vest too much power in an office that might be held by the opposition.

The Treasurer and Secretary of State are elected bureaucrats. This does not mean that they are not important offices, but they are not policy making offices. They carry out policies made by the other branches of government. The Attorney General straddles the world of making policy and carrying out policy. This position, however, is largely closed to anyone who is not an attorney by profession, and no one is mentioning Laffey as a possibility for AG.

When Senator Chafee and Governor Carcieri talk of good opportunities for statewide office, they are not talking of good opportunities for Mayor Laffey to put himself in a position to make policy that has an impact. They mean that Laffey has a good opportunity to enter the class of professional politicians that have jobs-for-life guaranteed by the Republican establishment. Will that be enough for Mayor Laffey? It depends upon whether he got into politics in order to have a job-for-life, or to make a difference. In Cranston, he has been so successful at changing policies, both the city council and the state house are trying to reduce the power of the Mayor to change policy.

There is at least one other possibility that shouldn’t be completely discounted. If Laffey agrees to park himself in one of the elected bureaucratic positions or as Lt. Gov, he may be getting promises of support for a run against Jack Reed in 2008 or a run for governor in 2010. But 2010 is a long way away, and incumbent Democratic Senators are tough to beat in New England

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If Stephen Laffey thinks that GOP bigwigs have his best interests at heart, he's got another thing coming. Laffey should challenge Chafee, and if he does there's a good chance that Chafee will switch to the Democrats so as to give him a better chance at reelection (if Chafee decides to run in the GOP primary, he runs the risk of exposing ground on the left for the Democrat nominee to exploit). Senate seats do not open up very often in Rhode Island, and Laffey should view this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Posted by: AuH2ORepublican at June 1, 2005 2:45 PM