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Lebovitz '14: A letter to Gov. Chafee '75

Dear Gov. Chafee '75 P'14,

Who says the political system is broken? While Washington is caviling in points of order, partisan mudslinging and the 9-9-9 plan, you have had quite an impressively busy two weeks. But despite the fact that you've come up with an education agenda, you're still bottoms up in your poll numbers and have an entire pension battle to wage. So I'm here with a pair of pom-poms and a bit of political foresight to bring some good cheer back to the Statehouse.

For those not paying attention, the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education voted Sept. 26 to allow the children of illegal immigrants to attend public colleges at in-state rates. To put it lightly, the issue of tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants is kind of a hot topic — scalding hot, like a cup of hot chocolate that can burn your tongue in a nasty way if you don't pay it too much attention. For example, Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry's fall — or should I say plummet — from the top of the primary field to fourth was partly caused by his support for a similar program in Texas.

Your political opponents are understandably incensed. Not only did you instate a political powder keg of a policy, but you also exerted an impressive display of executive power by essentially circumventing the entire legislature. So when you woke up to an article in the Providence Journal that ominously declared "Tuition policy fallout," there was no need to worry.

As I'm sure you know, politicians are incredibly protective of their territory. Look closely at the article — half of the legislators featured on the front page either support your policy or are whining about the fact that they didn't get a piece of the action. Holding grudges in politics is ill-advised if not completely jejune, so I'd predict they'll cool off in a bit.

But you do have to pass pension reform in the near future and are probably loath to anger your potential allies, so why not throw the General Assembly a bone? Declare that you're creating a panel of legislators to observe and report on the first year of the in-state tuition program's results. Be sure to note in the charter of the panel that a key function of the group is to compare the Rhode Island program to those in the other 12 states with similar arrangements. Maybe even drop a reference to Texas in the document. After all, Rick Perry is undeniably conservative.

The policy doesn't start until the next school year, so you won't see the final copy  on your desk until two and a half years from now. At that point, you'll be in an election year and will be glad to remind voters about your policy accomplishments.

But the best part about the timing of this education decision is that the looming pension problem is in fact a shield to hide your education agenda behind. The personal interest factor of pension reform and its subsequent impact on retirements is headline gold and will fill newspapers for weeks. One relatively constant rule in politics is that retirement takes highest priority. Legislators trying to focus on overturning your education agenda will find themselves drowned out by all the other politicians who want to proclaim that they will stop at nothing to protect our retirement.

I want to reassure you that your policy will persevere. Here's a worst case scenario: If another reporter asks you about the Journal poll, just call the paper out in its response bias. With large swaths of Assembly members not responding, Statistics 101 declares the nefarious tendrils of personal interest may be at work for such negative results.

The higher ideals the in-state tuition plan strives for shouldn't be underestimated or under-appreciated. It's just plain fair — seeing as I'm pretty sure those children of illegal immigrants had no choice about their parents' immigration status. But as President Obama learned a couple of years ago with health care reform, higher ideals don't jive with modern day political realities.

I don't doubt your political acumen, Governor ­— outflanking Frank Caprio's left in last year's gubernatorial election was a genius political move that would probably bring Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, to tears — but a grounding of the ideological in the cynical may help put you and your advisers at ease.

Or you could just catch that masturbator on Brown's campus. Talk about headline bait: "Police and Chafee '75 force premature end to masturbator's spree." I doubt you'd have to answer an education question in that presser.


Chip Lebovitz

Chip Lebovitz ‘14 would love to advise any other interested or uninterested Rhode Island politician. He can be reached at


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