As far as first impressions go, Rhode Island has made a strong one.
I live in New Hampshire, a state with swing votes in its DNA. While the Granite State has voted Democratic all but once since 1992, the margins of victory are traditionally miniscule — for example, Clinton won by less than 3,000 votes in 2016. To see a state so firmly in the grasp of one political party like RI surprised me.
After all, I’ve been studying Rhode Island politics for only one week. The comparisons I’ve made to my home state are inescapable, and they extend beyond just presidential elections.
It’s interesting that so many voters in Rhode Island vote Democratic for national elections but Republican on a state level. Between 1994 and 2010, Rhode Island’s governorship wasn’t held by Democrats, with four terms of Republicans and one independent. Rhode Island is a very elastic state, meaning a large percentage of its electorate is not associated with a specific political party. 49 percent of Rhode Island voters are unaffiliated; that’s a significant chunk of persuadable voters.
Beyond voting, a common thread in preliminary information about Rhode Island was taxes. A Providence Journal article from 2007 reads, “Based on the overall state-and-local tax burden, Rhode Island ranks seventh highest nationwide, [a new] study says. When it comes to property taxes, Rhode Island's comparative tax burden is even higher, ranking the state sixth nationwide, the study shows.”
Of course, as I understand it, things have changed since then. “The Progressive Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that 31 states had a more regressive, less fair, tax system then the Ocean State,” Gary Sasse wrote in the Providence Journal on June 15. “Today Rhode Island is no longer the ‘tax hell’ Governor Carcieri referenced.”
Taxes are a hot-button issue in New Hampshire, too, but I thought that the Granite State was alone in this extreme fascination. NH sits on the other side of the spectrum, following its “live free or die” modus operandi, but it’s not all positive here, either. Republican Governor Chris Sununu just vetoed a budget from the Democraticly-controlled House that increased public spending by raising some taxes.
It was naive of me to believe New Hampshire was alone in this. No matter what state you’re in, there will be a violent tangle over taxes, no matter how high they are. That goes to the heart of the two certainties of life: death and taxes.
The most striking of what I learned, however, was the state of Providence’s education. I just graduated from a well-ranked high school, and seeing a district so dysfunctional — in a state, as a whole, that is so accomplished — shocked me. It represents a clear break down of bureaucracy at every level, from teacher to superintendent to mayor to governor.
“The most recent state test scores showed that 90 percent of students were not proficient in math and 80 percent were not proficient in English,” a US News and World Report article reads. This much is unacceptable — not to mention the atrocious conditions of the schools themselves. This issue is one that must be solved immediately; anything longer would be a direct failure of government.
Most of what I’ve learned about Rhode Island represents effective and present government. The elasticity of voters gives me the impression that Rhode Islanders are educated in local politics — a growing need in an age of disappearing local media. And with the exception of a few obtuse calamities, the Ocean State is in a good state politically.
But then again, I might be wrong. I’ve only been studying this for a week.
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