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POLITICS AS USUAL: Endorsements do matter

March 13, 2014

Editor's note: This column was first published in The Times on March 10.
Let’s start off by acknowledging that, by and large, political endorsements, particularly from an individual, don’t mean a heck of a lot.
But last week, former state senator and three-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Myrth York made a minor splash by announcing her support of Democrat Gina Raimondo. This interested those of us in the political/media complex for three reasons.
For one, York was a very visible backer of Angel Taveras when he was running for mayor four years ago, helping him win votes in the liberal East Side of Providence. Secondly, Raimondo, despite being a woman, has been running behind Taveras among women in the polls, and York might give her a boost in that demographic. Thirdly, and I think most importantly, York is a player in the Democratic Party’s liberal wing and this gubernatorial primary is being fought on the left. All the candidates are trying to “out-progressive” each other, and last week I described Raimondo winning York’s endorsement as winning the liberal kewpie doll. I thought that was a bigger factor than “the woman thing.”
Especially for Raimondo, who has been working — perhaps too hard — to establish liberal bona fides and shake off the reputation she earned during the pension reform fight as being a “Wall Street Democrat” and enemy of unions, having York in her camp gives her some liberal street cred. Perhaps the best way of looking at this is to say that having York on her side is a little boost for Raimondo whereas having her NOT be on Taveras’ side is an even bigger boost – it not only gives points to her, it takes some points away from her chief opponent.
But some perspective is in order here. First of all, for people who came to this state, or who grew old enough to become politically aware in the last decade, their first response is going to be “Myrth Who?” Yes, York was a three-time gubernatorial candidate, but those three times were in 1994, 1998 and 2002. York hasn’t been on the electoral radar in a dozen years. Also, while she ran three times for governor, she never won.
But there is “the woman thing,” and the Raimondo campaign seems to be worried about this. That has to be why, after establishing herself as an intelligent, capable and even gifted economic policy maker, she has been campaigning as Suzy Homemaker.
When Raimondo was talking about pensions and “truth in numbers” and “math, not politics,” it rang true; it seemed a genuine expression of what she had to offer in the worlds of politics and government. The other stuff – Tweets about pot roast and meat loaf, her announcement for governor where she talked about waiting for Santa Claus – doesn’t ring true. It clanks in the ear. Even if it is genuine, and I don’t doubt Raimondo when she says it is, it seems phony and forced. In politics, what something seems is always more important than what it actually is.
York said the fact Raimondo is a woman is not what swayed her to support the general treasurer. It was, she said, because, "I believe that she has the skills, the talent, the determination, the drive, the smarts to be a fabulous governor and lead this state forward.”
The fact that Raimondo is a woman and could become Rhode Island’s first female governor is a nice bonus, York suggested, but not the reason for her endorsement.
So, while York’s endorsement of Raimondo spiced up an otherwise slow news day, how much it is going to matter when Democrats go to the polls in the September primary remains to be seen.
The poll released last week by the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, R.I. PBS and our friends at The Providence Journal begs one big question.
The poll of 438 registered voters – note that, registered voters – found that only 2 (two, that’s not a misprint) percent gave state elected leaders a grade of excellent when it comes to effectiveness. A paltry 14 percent rated them as good in effectiveness. A full 43 percent called them poor in that category. with another 39 percent assessing them as only fair, a gentleman’s C.
Local officials fared only slightly better. A whole 5 percent rated them as excellent and another 40 percent as good. Only 15 percent gave them an outright poor grade while 39 percent said they are just fair.
The question this begs is: Who the hell elected these people? The poll only took account of registered voters, so why do Rhode Island voters elect and re-elect people they roundly believe are a bunch of bums?
Think about this next Election Day and next primary day when you are deciding whether to vote. The people who DO get out and vote cast their ballots for candidates who they think stink as leaders. Doesn’t somebody have to counterbalance the weight of dummies we euphemize as “low-information voters” who fill our elected offices with people who even they don’t think are any good?
People do realize they can vote for someone other than the incumbents, don’t they? Isn’t that the whole idea of elections, that we get to pick who we want to be our leaders?
Who does this poll show is the bigger bums: elected officials, or the people who vote for them?
Last week I went a little overboard and my writing rambled on past the amount of space allotted for this column. That happens, but in this case the point where I passed the cutoff point left off paragraphs that altered the meaning of what I meant to say. I had people asking me why I want the U.S. to go to war with Russia when that wasn’t at all what I was saying. So I will repeat that section today as it was actually written (I didn’t cheat and tweak it to represent subsequent events) below:
You can’t be even a casual reader of history and not be scared down to your socks about what is happening on the Crimean peninsula, part of Ukraine.
In a show of naked, bullying aggression, neighboring Russia swooped into the place with tanks, trucks and troops and has effectively taken over a significant part of a sovereign nation without firing a single shot.
That is scary because it has been the way wars have started for centuries.
Even more scary is that it begs the questions: what land, what countries, what peoples might Russian President Vladimir Putin have his eyes on next?
But by far the most scary thing about it is, what option does the Free World have except to meet force with force?
Nobody wants a shooting war. America has finally extricated itself from Iraq and is just starting to leave Afghanistan. The last thing we need is to engage the Russians in armed conflict in their back yard.
But World War II supposedly taught the world a lesson in appeasing an acquisitive bully.
If the rest of the world doesn’t stop Putin in Crimea, how is it going to stop him from going anywhere else in his dream of rebuilding the old Soviet empire? We called the Soviet Union a superpower back then, and that is what Putin clearly wants to reclaim.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem to believe that economic sanctions will be sufficient to bring Putin to heel. The rest of the world better hope they are right and give them whatever international help they say they need.
War, children, it’s just a shot away.
-Jim Baron covers politics for The Times.


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