Don Carcieri, in office for the past eight years, is now in the twilight of his governorship. Barring an in-state crisis of some kind to place him front and center, his remaining days as Rhode Island’s chief executive will be a quiet time, as he finishes up and prepares to turn the office over to Governor-Elect Lincoln Chafee. As one of his first supporters, I believe he has done a pretty good job and I like the way he has conducted himself. I would hope that most Rhode Islanders will feel the same, and, considering the tough circumstances of facing a hostile legislature that worked to limit his power, would give him the credit he deserves.
In Don Carcieri the Ocean State had an honest and effective leader, a man of principle who wasn’t afraid to use his office and the limited powers granted him to move the state forward. Overall, he ran of pretty clean administration. He nominated solid legal minds for the judiciary bench. He took on government spending and mismanagement. He supported good government efforts like separation of powers, voter initiative, and getting legislators off boards and commissions. He fought against Harrah’s attempt to hijack our constitution while preserving Twin Rivers’ viability through a difficult period of bankruptcy. He supported the development of clean energy sources as a means to bring a new industry to our state. He fought back against the dominance of the public employee unions and their influence on Smith Hill. He worked to improve the Quonset Industrial Park and bring major corporate players like Fidelity and Amgen to our state.
On a host of critical issues Don Carcieri was on the right side, and none was more important than the tireless effort he made to rein in state spending and personnel costs. Though his budget submissions were always DOA, he had the courage to face up to the spiraling costs of state government and to get at the structural nature of the deficit. His outspoken warnings about those deficits were a healthy pushback against a Democrat-controlled legislature that did just about anything it could – and sometimes nothing at all – to avoid making the hard choices that would upset the special interests that have a lock on the legislature.
It can be argued that Carcieri limited his effectiveness with the General Assembly leadership by taking to the bully pulpit of the airwaves and creating a confrontational relationship with Bill Murphy, Gordon Fox and Joe Montalbano. I’m not sure of that. Remember that he faced a legislature that went out of its way to reduce his already limited powers, and he undoubtedly was wary of being co-opted. Can you imagine Charlie Fogarty attempting to get the legislative leadership to make tough choices? And the prospect of Lincoln Chafee’s more agreeable relationship with them is not raising my confidence level.
Governor Carcieri’s stands on some social issues did alienate him from many Rhode Islanders. The Governor is a strong Catholic and proud of it, and to be a card carrying Catholic politician these days means saying no to abortion and no to gay rights, including legal recognition of same sex unions. On the divisive immigration front, he played right out of Fox News’ playbook, which hardly endeared him to the state’s Hispanic community. He can also be faulted for not building a stronger Republican base in the state, but I’m not sure anyone can do that.
Considering the Democratic-Labor dominance of the state, the citizens of Rhode have been wise to elect a countervailing presence in the governorship. For the past 16 years that is what they have thought best, and the terms in office of Lincoln Almond and Don Carcieri have reaffirmed that viewpoint. Whether our “independent” next governor will prove to be so in practice remains to be seen. In the meantime, let’s give Governor Carcieri our thanks for doing the best job he could, and to wish him well in his future endeavors.