An encouraging new force has emerged in local politics. Last month, the Moderate Party of Rhode Island received official certification after turning in over 30,000 supporters' signatures, well beyond the required 23,500. The party's ambitious short-term goal is to put forward a candidate for the governorship and every General Assembly seat in 2010.
The Moderates' platform contains many solid proposals that the current partisan system has shelved. The party suggests a carefully calibrated reduction of the excessive taxes that have helped make Rhode Island the seventh-worst state in the Union for business. To improve the state's lackluster education system, the Moderates offer a fair, multi-criterion teacher pay scale that will reward high performance and give underachieving educators the assistance they need to provide quality classroom instruction. To break with the state's dismal history of public corruption, the platform targets several prerogatives of state officials that enable graft without providing a significant public benefit.
These positions stake out a practical middle ground between Republican Governor Donald Carcieri '65 and the deep-blue General Assembly, which has 102 Democrats out of 113 members. Last spring, Carcieri advanced a radical proposal to abolish the state's taxes on inheritances and corporate profits. The Assembly's tax-friendly Democratic supermajority balked, and while the two sides ultimately reached a compromise on the estate tax, the much more important corporate tax remains unaltered.
But the Carcieri years will not last forever. The governor's final term will end in 2011, and his successor is likely to be a Democrat. With both the Assembly and the governor's mansion in their grasp, the Democrats will be dangerously unaccountable, threatening a return to Rhode Island's bad old days of stagnation and corruption under one-party rule.
Even a small Moderate bloc in the Assembly, backed up by a robust grassroots organization, would be well positioned to advance pragmatic solutions and remind overly comfortable Democrats that the two national parties aren't the only game in town.
The campaign to establish a third party in the political center may seem quixotic, and it certainly faces enormous challenges. The Moderates will never have the funding and publicity conferred by affiliation with one of the two major national parties. They will be spread thin across the 113 races for Assembly seats, and even strong bids may serve only to fracture the centrist vote or allow the Republicans and Democrats to write off moderate voters and commit to more extreme policies to stoke their respective bases. The Moderates should remember that they can be an enormously positive force for Rhode Island without being electorally competitive in every corner of the state. They can endorse centrist candidates from the major parties and publicize sound ideas that break with liberal orthodoxy without the ill repute of the Republican brand.
The woman who will be making many decisions crucial for the Moderates' future is Brown alumna Christine Hunsinger MPA '08, whose accession to the party's executive directorship was announced last Saturday. Her example is a reminder to us all that Rhode Island is more than a picturesque backdrop for our college years. It is a commonwealth facing troubled times, whose fortune is bound up with our own. We can't all be crusaders in Hunsinger's mold, but if we don't give back to the community around us, there will be a price to pay.
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