We now know why the Rhode Island Health Exchange was so successful under the leadership of Christine Ferguson: for every person under twenty one who signed up, they threw in a free six pack. (Cue: laugh track).
Joking aside, Ferguson, former director of the Rhode Island Health Care Exchange appointed by former Governor Chafee was busted under the state’s social host law after police busted an underage drinking party at their home over the weekend. One teen was found intoxicated in the middle of the road and when police traced back the location where the teen had been, they saw through a glass door a number of underage teens with a large amount of alcohol. Perhaps she was having a graduation party for one of her kids or something but it’s not the 1960’s anymore and that kind of thing just doesn’t fly. The real question is was Linc Chafee’s son there? If you remember a few years back, Linc’s boy was popped for hosting an underage drinking party at the family’s Exeter property.
A Fox in the Big House
Gordon Fox is heading to jail… for nine months. That’s right, he accepts bribes, defies the public trust and he gets slapped with a 36 month sentence. Fox will report to the Federal Prison on July 7 and a lot of people are wondering why Fox is getting off so easy and they are right, he is getting off easy since federal sentencing guideline would have him serve at least 41 months.
The judge rationalized that Fox waived indictment and the statute of limitations, (this realistically was most likely to avoid a stay in state prison since the federal pen is much more amenable). Fox also received more than 50 letters of leniency citing to his public service and all the good he has done for the state. It’s like the Buddy Cianci syndrome all over again. Let’s look to the good, and forget about the time he back stabbed the voters that elected him, and those that supported him, in the back when he accepted bribes so that he could live large with the Smith Hill crew. The worst is Fox admits this. He told the court he got caught up trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Will Vincent D'Onofrio play Fox in the Netflix version?
In some sense it is sad. It is sad that the culture on Smith Hill is like the lifestyles of the rich and the famous with high-end Democratic fundraisers and nights out at the Capital Grille. It’s sad too because even if you were elected with the best of intentions it can quickly be lost as you try to blend in with the cool kids on Smith Hill. It’s sad too that fitting in with your lawmaker colleagues has become more important than the people that elected you. Even worse than that the voters and other elected officials try to justify it. “Well, look at all the good he did. Look at who he helped.” It seems like he was most concerned with helping himself first, then maybe some of his friends along the way. But let’s give him leniency and let the next lawmaker who defiles the public’s trust know that as long as they have the right friends and the right lawyer they too can expect leniency.
Overall, Fox probably does have regret and probably does feel bad but does that change the fact that he has just continued the long standing tradition of pay to play politics in Rhode Island? Is this what Rhode Islanders have come to expect? Well, at least he did some good. What about doing good and NOT lining your pockets at the same time?
Turn down the volume on those Speakers!
Outside of Fox’s apparent remorse this sheds an important light on a fundamental problem in the Ocean State; the power of the Speaker of the House. Don’t you think it is a bit absurd that the most powerful person in the state of Rhode Island is only elected by one district of the state? Then it’s a popularity contest among lawmakers who gets the top spot. I liken it to the election of Senior Class President. It’s all about who has the most friends. This isn’t to say that some of the House Speakers are not deserving but it is to say that voters should get a say in who becomes the “most powerful person in Rhode Island.”
It’s bad enough that our governors are elected by one third of less than half the registered voters who actually turned out to vote.
Checks and balances -- not cash and checks
In light of the Fox situation, Rhode Islanders should demand more checks and balances in government. Give the governor more power and take some away from the Speaker. For starters, give the governor a chance at the line item veto. At least then you start to spread out some of the power. Either way, Rhode Islanders need to demand more accountability and better checks on power. John Dalberg-Acton had it right, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Water over the bridge
By the way, the budget passed the House Finance committee and is now headed to the House floor next Tuesday. The so-called pro-business budget lowered the corporate tax but expanded the sales tax to include bed and breakfasts and vacation home rentals, that hurts the coastal communities. Left out of the budget was the infamous “Taylor Swift Tax” on second homes valued at over $1 million and also missing from the budget is Raimondo’s Rhodeworks Rhode Island plan to help fund road and bridge repairs. We can tax the small bed and breakfasts, but not the trucks. So, it looks like back to the drawing board on that, and hopefully quickly because the bridges in this state are not getting any safer and it is a problem that has persisted for far too long.
Here is an idea -- maybe the Governor can ask the people who hosted the Hillary Clinton Fundraiser to host a bridge repair fundraiser after all they did bring in $300,000 in one night.
Bond, Municipal Bond.
Lastly, kudos to Cranston and City Treasurer David Capuano for improving the city’s bond rating, while the Mayor gets all the public fame sometimes it’s the little guys behind the scenes that make it happen.
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