Once again, a Rhode Island lawmaker has resigned from his post after announcing a police investigation. RIPR Political analyst Scott MacKay has some thoughts on House Finance Chairman Ray Gallison’s abrupt departure from Smith Hill.
Rhode Islanders have seen this TV re-run way too many times. Lawmaker resigns under a cloud of corruption. Television and radio flashes the news around the state. Reporters tweet the latest to remind voters of the knaves and crooks who paved the way for the latest scandal.
A few weeks later, there is the inevitable scene from the granite steps of a state or federal courthouse, the perp walk of another Ocean State politician plea-bargaining to a prison cell.
Gallison is entitled to his presumption of innocence. Yet, whatever he did it must be egregious or he wouldn’t have walked without so much as a word in his own defense.
If convicted he will join a litany of jammed up politicians leaving the pinnacle of power in disgrace. To say that such behavior besmirches state government would be an understatement.
House Speaker Nick Mattiello of Cranston expressed frustration, anger and outrage. But Mattiello is the guy who appointed Gallison to one of the General Assembly’s top posts, and so shares some responsibility on this one. When Mattiello took over as speaker, he dethroned Rep. Helio Melo of East Providence as House finance chairman, and gave Gallison the job of vetting billions of dollars in state spending.
At the time, Mattiello knew that Gallison had paid a $6,000 ethics fine for failing to disclose that he received about $100,000 in salary from a state-funded college readiness program. You would think that would have disqualified Gallison from the top finance job on Smith Hill. So a legitimate question that Mattiello has yet to answeris why he chose Gallison for the job.
What Mattiello should have done is tell Gallison that if he wanted to be finance chairman, he would have to quit his job as assistant director of a non-profit, the Alternative Education Program, which has received tens of thousands of dollars in state money. It looks like Gallison was playing that old Statehouse game – no conflict with my interest. And it seems Mattiello looked the other way.
It isn’t enough to shrug this stuff off. Yes, other states have corruption in state legislatures. New York’s House speaker was recently sentenced to a dozen years in prison for influence peddling and other malfeasance. And former Massachusetts Speaker Sal DiMasi is still housed in a taxpayer-financed jail cell.
But New York and Boston are world-class cities with flourishing economies. Providence isn’t. Our struggling state, mired in the worst economy in New England, doesn’t need another example of political chicanery that could lead businesses to steer investments elsewhere. Has anyone noticed that Rhode Island’s capital city has very little private sector investment that doesn’t carry a taxpayer subsidy?
In the aftermath of the 38 Studios fiasco and former Speaker Gordon Fox’s bribery conviction, you would think that the Smith Hill crowd would beware of wrongdoing. To promote someone with Gallison’s sketchy past shows that Mattiello and his leadership team are not sensitive enough about chicanery.
Mattiello has vowed to advance a measure that would reinstate Ethics Commission regulation of lawmakers. That’s good, but it isn’t enough. Maybe it is time to pursue matching public financing of legislative campaigns, which has been successful in Maine and Connecticut. It’s past time for a law requiring random auditing of lawmakers campaign funds, which have been abused by too many politicians, including Fox, who used his as a personal slush fund.
Gallison’s mess has a silver lining for one group – the state Republicans. It provides them with another issue for this fall’s Assembly campaigns, and it gives voters an incentive to quell the apathy. Scrutinize your candidates. If they don’t have clean records, don’t vote for them. If your rep or senator doesn’t have a visible means of support – i.e. a real job – don’t check the box next to his or her name. We already have enough freeloaders at our majestic Statehouse.
Scott MacKay’s commentary airs every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45, and on All Things Considered at 5:44. You can also follow his political analysis and reporting at the `On Politics’ blog at RIPR.org