Columns

Brundage ’15: Holding the Brown Democrats accountable

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, April 17, 2012

 

Before I begin questioning their platform, I first want to say that I believe the Brown Democrats are, in general, a positive force at the University. I attended a few meetings early on in the year and still receive their colorful emails. They have done incredible work with Marriage Equality Rhode Island, fighting Voter ID laws and helping their members earn political internships in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. Based on those I have interacted with in my political science classes, I believe the members have a solid dedication to the common good and, for the most part, the values of the Democratic platform.

However, I was extremely taken aback by their response to some of Mayor Angel Taveras’ comments during his Q&A with the organization in February. At one point, the conversation came to Taveras justifying why he believed Brown owed more money to Providence. His fundamental point was that everyone else was also being asked to pitch in. He pointed to the fact that five public schools in Providence had to be cut and that even the existing public schools and hospitals were being asked to contribute more.

Taveras then argued that he could only raise taxes so much, with the current average property tax amounting to about 4.49 percent of residents’ yearly incomes. This estimate can be assumed to be lower for wealthier property owners, seeing as the difference between assessed and actual property value upon selling disproportionately increases as the assessed property value increases.

This is the point where I was prepared to hear some major dissenting opinions from the Brown Democrats. As a moderate liberal, I felt pretty concerned that such a strong base of Democrats in Providence would elect a mayor who would dramatically cut funding for public schools, fire all teachers in the area so that they could be reevaluated for their positions the following year and refuse to increase taxes on its more affluent constituents in order to maintain a balanced budget.

Despite my thoughts, which I am fairly confident are well in line with the Democratic Party platform, not one member of the Brown Democrats spoke up. In fact, for the entire session, I felt uncomfortable with the level of amiability that existed between Taveras and the Brown Democrats because, upon further investigation, I am no longer sure what even qualifies him as a Democrat.

I can only guess why nobody spoke up. Perhaps the Brown Democrats were trying to be polite and noncontroversial so as to attract more guest speakers in the future. Maybe they are just a group of strictly moderate Democrats, though I hardly find that believable at such a liberal university. What I think is most probable is that everyone in the room was quietly considering that they might have a future internship opportunity under Taveras, and they wanted to steer clear of any controversy.

If my latter suggestion is in fact the case, then I am thoroughly disappointed. We do not need another generation sticking to the status quo of Rhode Island politics. These Democrats need to be held accountable. If the party is going to continue to support current or even significantly lower levels of government spending, it still needs to be willing to ask for higher taxes. If not, it will truly be the party of deficit spending and will not have my vote.The more frightening implications of the Brown Democrats’ support for Taveras is that if I were asked which group of young people I would most trust to run my government in the future, I would have previously said, with full confidence, Brown students. Now I am not so sure.

The United States government cannot continue down a path of fiscal irresponsibility and expect to maintain the approval of its citizens, let alone its credit rating. If future Democratic Party leaders are uncomfortable with questioning a small-city mayor’s decision to value maintaining current tax rates at the expense of its already terrible public schooling, then how on Earth can we expect them to question the high spending without increased taxes seen in the Democratic Party on the federal level?

I believe the student body needs to hold the Brown Democrats accountable. We are a highly educated liberal constituency – a constituency that will tend to support Democrats over Republicans. If the party members whom we will likely elect to lead the United States are represented at Brown by students who passively support massive education cuts to preserve the status quo tax rate for the wealthy, then that is what we, too, transitively support. I will not stand for that.

 

 

Matt Brundage ’15 expects more. He can be reached at matthew_brundage@brown.edu.