Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Rhode Island's Primary Elections

Is the "Laffey Earthquake" a sign of things to come in Rhode Island?
"This wasn't a Republican primary tonight, it was a lot bigger. It was the people's primary," Laffey said at his Pontiac Avenue headquarters last night. "They said it was the battle for the soul of Rhode Island. This battle was fought tonight and the people won."

"An earthquake went off tonight in Cranston, and the tremors are being felt already from Westerly to Woonsocket," Laffey said.
Now, there were some problems at the polling places, but the margin of victory, 75% Laffey to 25% Reilly, is just too big for Laffey's victory to be totally attributal to polling place gaffes and fraud. I certainly hope that the people of Rhode Island made a statement this primary season. In addition to the Laffey win, we also saw a few incumbents lose in the primaries, most notably former RI House Speaker John Harwood. Now, there is a mixed message in these results. While the old guard may be changing, some of the new guard were supported by the current House Majority leader William Murphy and his "machine." However, some of his candidates didn't fare too well, either.
"We had a great night," Murphy said. "Democrats and independents went out and voted to be sure their voice was heard. They rejected the candidates of the old guard . . . we now have some fresh voices that are going to be campaigning in November and will be with us in January."

But Rep. Rene Menard, D-Lincoln, whom Murphy recently ousted as House whip, survived a three-way primary in the Blackstone Valley. Menard hopes to run for House majority leader on a ticket with Speaker hopeful Rep. John DeSimone, D-Providence.

Three Democratic incumbents loyal to the current speaker also fell to challengers: Rep. Maxine Bradford Shavers in Newport, Rep. Mary Cerra in Johnston, and Rep. Richard Aubin, a freshman Democrat from Burrillville.

Given that, along with the loss of an endorsed Democrat in South County and the survival of DeSimone's own Providence allies, Rep. Steven F. Smith, DeSimone declared: "I read the results as victory for change."

DeSimone may be correct, but a lot of the new guard will still be aligned with the current speaker, and ALL of them will be Democrats. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." The only way for real change is to change the party dynamics in the State House, meaning closing the seat gap between the Republicans and Democrats.

I voted to fill 2 vacant spots on the Warwick School Committee last night. (There were 7 candidates, we could vote for 2, and the top 4 would move on to fill 2 seats in the general election). I did research and decided to vote for two candidates who seemed to me to have real concerns as parents, were outsiders and believably pledged to put the kids first, not the teachers union. The other candidates were a former teacher, an incumbent school board member, a former-lawyer-now-college-professor, a practicing lawyer, and a salesman. Now, in the past, Warwick used to put candidates on the ballot alphabetically. After a hue and cry (it was once noted that to serve on the school board, your last name had to end in A, B, or C) random ballot placement was instituted. It doesn't seem to have mattered. The two candidates I voted for happened to be the last two on the ballot (with the salesman in the 5 spot). These were the three that lost, but ballot placement probably wasn't the only reason.

A quick review of the candidates will reveal that the 4 winners were: an incumbent (the chairwoman of the board), a lawyer, another lawyer, and a former teacher. Another important fact, though anectdotal, was that I was the first person to vote using the "green" ballot at my polling place, and this was at 5:30 pm. How come? Well, I am a registered Republican and there was no Republican primary in my district, so the only thing I could have voted on was for school board. (Though they did ask me if I wanted to vote in the Democrat primary. I'm not sure if Warwick allows for that, so I declined. I wouldn't have anyway because I don't think it would be the right thing to do [see update below]). So, I was the first Republican to come in and vote for school board. Now, perhaps other Republicans did vote in the Democrat Primary, but I would still think that Republican turnout was extremely low because of the lack of a real Republican primary. (School Board is a "non-party" position.")

The result was that Democrats overwhelmingly voted, and here I make a big, but safe, assumption (I think), that since most Teachers and Union members (hell, and lawyers!) are Democrats, they showed up to the polls and voted for a teacher, two lawyers, and an incumbent school board member. Now, I do agree with the positions the incumbent chairwoman has taken in the past, so I don't have that much of a problem with her. The occupation of the other 3 candidates does give me pause, however... a former teacher, a lawyer turned professor, and a lawyer. By the way, the occupation of the two candidates I voted for? Well, I didn't vote for the salesman (he would have been my third choice), but the other two were a former Providence Police Lt. and a Store Manager. Can you see a general difference between the two groups? (Here's a group is made up of two in private business and a policeman while the other group includes and incumbent and some mixture of teachers and lawyers.)

I guess the lesson to be learned is that it is extremely important to run candidates up and down the ticket in both primary and general elections. If this isn't done, then grass roots governing bodies, like the school board, will probably not reflect the concerns of average parents. Instead, in Warwick, we will have to choose two new school board members from a pool of an incumbent (not necessarily a bad thing), a former teacher (fox in the hen house!), a lawyer (of course) and a lawyer turned professor (not sure if that's good or bad). None of them have kids in the school system right now.

Note: I didn't include the names of all of these candidates, if you're real interested, go here for more details.

UPDATE: I did some poking around and here I found a clarification regarding me, a Republican, voting in the Democrat primary:

What type of Primary Election does the state of Rhode Island conduct?

Rhode Island has a 'closed' or party primary system. This means that you may only vote in one party's primary. If you are registered as "unaffiliated" you may vote in the primary of any party you choose. Once you vote in a primary, however, you are considered a member of that party until and unless you "disaffiliate". You may do this by signing an affidavit of disaffiliation at the polling place after you vote or by filling out a new registration form at any time. The disaffiliation takes effect in 90 days. If you indicated a party preference when you registered to vote, you may only vote in that party's primary.If you wish to vote in another party's primary, you must disaffiliate at least 90 days before the primary date.
It would appear there was no way I should have been allowed to vote in the Democrat primary as a Republican. So why was I asked? I doubt that any sort of corruption was involved (unless little old and middle-aged ladies have become an extremely nefarious and aggressive PAC). Rather, I suspect a lack of understanding of the voting laws. Perhaps this was the result of confusion over the new provisional ballot system? I'm not sure, but I do know that I'll make the State Board of Elections aware of my experience.

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