What Is The Future Of The Rhode Island GOP?

Times are really tough these days for the RI Republican Party. With losses in the last election because of the Obama sweep (and the single party option in the polling booth that Democrats won’t give up) the Republicans are down to a mere handful in the General Assembly. Their numbers are so low they could hold a party caucus at a table round at The Capital Grille. Democrats hold more than 90 percent of the seats in the General Assembly, making the Republicans a non-entity in what ultimately gets done- or not done, as is more often the case.

Republicans aren’t even lining up to go after the nomination for governor in two years’ time. Steve Laffey, the former firebrand mayor of Cranston, doesn’t want the job after all; he says there’s no point to it because the legislature would never go along with the changes he’d want to make. Since the legislature is virtually all Democrats, he’s absolutely right. Former Senator Lincoln Chaffee, who was beaten in his reelection attempt four years ago simply because he was a Republican, is now an independent, and is reportedly interested in running for governor. The only declared Republican for governor is the stalwart state senator from Warwick, Joe Trillo. Good luck, Joe! (I have even heard a rumor about me being asked to run for governor! How I love rumors.)

Why Republicans can’t do better in Rhode Island is a mystery. After all, Democrats have certainly done us little good and much harm. In contrast, Rhode Island Republicans have a distinguished record of service at all levels of government, especially as mayors and governors, the unfortunate Ed DiPrete notwithstanding. As moderates generally, they are a far cry from those right wing Republicans of the heartland who take their marching orders these days from Rush Limbaugh.

Rhody Republicans are solidly for business growth and low taxes, naturally, and they believe that government should live within its means. They’re not automatically against stem cell research, the teaching of evolution, climate control, gay rights or a sensible approach to immigration. Governor Carcieri, whom I have supported and consider a friend, is in fact a bit to the right of a moderate former Republican like Lincoln Chaffee on certain social issues. He is, in my opinion, a great governor because he’s been willing to take on the special interests, and he understands that Rhode Island needs fundamental reform. It hasn’t been easy for him, and progress has been tough going every step of the way.

With moderate Republicans in danger everywhere these days (think Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania who just went over to the Democrats), it might be time for a serious discussion among state Republicans about their future in the Ocean State. Perhaps they should even consider forming a new party, because anything would be better for them than to continue calling themselves Republicans. Under a different name they could still put forth a platform that would be true to the values of moderate Republicans and, I believe, the wishes of an increasing number of Rhode Islanders who are fed up with the Democrats. A new party made up of former Republicans and joined by those who are against the Democrat status quo and looking for a new way forward, might be able to attract candidates and actually win some elections.

There’s no rule in place that dictates that elections in this country, at any level, have to be between Democrats and Republicans, and the fact is there are always fringe parties participating. In the quest for reforming Rhode Island, I am not talking about a fringe party, but rather a mainstream effort that includes Republicans, disenchanted Democrats and independents. What Rhode Island desperately needs is a Good Government Party, one that supports business development, promotes rational and sustainable tax and spending policies, and is willing to take on the Labor-dominated Democrats. It is Republicans who can lead such an effort, but, sadly, not under today’s Grand Old Party’s banner.