Last week you may recall there was a somewhat dyspeptic essay in this space about how people seemed to be getting too comfortable with the autocratic authority given to the Central Falls receiver. I suggested that we were giving up on democracy and learning to love Big Brother.
Well, on the very day that piece ran, the good people of Central Falls restored my faith in the public and its natural instincts to resist the iron grip of dictatorship.
We pay a lot of lip service in this country to the notion of freedom, democracy (note the lower-case d) and self-government. But despite the many and varied lessons history teaches us from the most ancient civilizations to the present day, the idea of a benevolent dictatorship still appears to hold a measure of allure for a lot of folks.
â€˘ Given the absolutely lousy year he had in 2011, if Gov. Lincoln Chafee suffers a sophomore slump he just might shrink to a little soap bubble and â€” pop! â€” disappear altogether.
â€˘ General Treasurer Gina Raimondo has the exact opposite problem. Whatâ€™s she going to do for an encore? Somehow I donâ€™t see her retreating to the normal obscurity of the general treasurerâ€™s office.
Iâ€™ll never forget the time, this was in the late 1980s, when an editor came up to me in the old Pawtucket Times newsroom and said, â€śSenator Pell just came in and asked if we wanted to interview him. You want to talk to him?â€ť
I was still a young reporter then (sigh), and was absolutely flabbergasted that the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just dropped by The Times, unannounced and virtually alone (he had one aide with him), and wondered if we wanted to chat about anything.
It is Christmastime once again; a time of peace on earth and good cheer, a time for generosity and caring about oneâ€™s fellow man, a time of family togetherness and gift giving, and a time to claw each otherâ€™s eyes out in a vicious brawl about what to call the decorated tree.
Itâ€™s a good thing our public officials have been watching.
Governor Chafee has been watching. House Speaker Gordon Fox has been watching as well. And Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has been on the lookout, too.
I know they have been watching because every time I or some other reporter has asked them about casinos, they always said they were keeping a close eye on what Massachusetts is doing about its casino proposals.
The stateâ€™s public employee unions are not happy with the comprehensive pension reform that is now going to slide through the General Assembly on the skids that have been greased by the leadership of that body. The citizenâ€™s groups like RISC and EngageRI, who have supported the reform right along, seem pretty contented.
So much for all that know-it-all talk about how the unions have all this clout on Smith Hill.
When she unveiled the massive pension reform bill a couple of weeks ago, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo went out of her way to make the point that politics was being taken out of the pension process.
â€śIt is going from the political to the actuarial,â€ť she said more than once. It was going to be about the numbers, not the politics.
The public employee unions apparently took her at her word.
Letâ€™s start with the premise, often stated in this space, that the state employees, school teachers, et al., are getting hosed by having their pension rules changed in the middle of the game. I donâ€™t want to keep having to say that over and over, so just incorporate that thought into everything that follows in this essay.