With Wednesday’s primary election behind us, the stage is set for Nov. 6, when Rhode Island voters will go to the polls to elect a governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, U.S. representatives and fill other offices. The state’s current House speaker is also facing a tough re-election battle.
The final weeks leading to an election mark a time when the people of Rhode Island look for answers on some of the key problems confronting the state. Whatever we think of the people vying for these positions, it is important that they offer detailed ideas and are willing to debate the best ways of moving the state forward.
Some major areas:
• The economy:
Under Gov. Gina Raimondo, the unemployment rate has plummeted, and more Rhode Islanders have jobs than ever before. But is Rhode Island still trapped in its traditional FILO role — first in, last out of national recessions?
The governor, with guidance from the Brookings Institute, has identified key areas for investment to help make Rhode Island a magnet for high-paying jobs. How well is that plan working so far?
Should voters be worried that, according to a CNBC national survey, Rhode Island remains one of the worst states for business, largely because of its uncompetitive tax and regulatory environment?
What about economic development? Three major projects for Rhode Island — the Pawtucket Red Sox, a new state-of-the-art power plant in Burrillville, and a Providence skyscraper — ran into a buzz saw of negativity by some groups, along with weak or nonexistent support from leaders. Without economic development, Rhode Island will stand little chance of thriving economically and producing enough tax revenues to pay for compassionate government.
Why does Rhode Island have fewer housing starts than any other state? How can we spur housing construction?
What about skyrocketing energy prices and the region’s failure to improve the infrastructure to bring low-cost natural gas to New England? This puts the state’s businesses at a severe competitive disadvantage.
What can be done about the state’s tremendously high property taxes? Is it time to institute the kind of limits that worked in Massachusetts, via Proposition 2½?
Whatever progress has been made, Rhode Island’s public schools are not up to snuff. The performance of poor and minority students is terrible. A study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation last year, meanwhile, found that Latinos in Rhode Island have the worst prospects of those in any state.
This is shameful and unacceptable, but what is to be done? Are the weak and timid reforms advanced by Education Commissioner Ken Wagner enough?
The Rhode Island court system displayed an aversion to the First Amendment this year. Freedom of the press is the bulwark of the people’s liberties. In deciding who should be judges, politicians at all levels must weigh more than merely political connections. Jurists should understand the rights of the people and the case law surrounding the First Amendment.
It is long past time for a line-item veto, a reform that benefits 44 other states and one Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly support. Will politicians, who have long given this idea lip service, commit to placing it on the 2020 ballot?
We look forward to a hard-fought election, and a vigorous discussion of these issues, and others. They matter much more to the voters than most negative ads impugning an opponent’s character.