Ethics Reform

Addressing the Elephant in the Room

“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
-Lord Acton

While the General Assembly seems to have finally been embarrassed enough to start the process of reinstating Ethics Commission oversight, it really is just for show. There is a term for this – it’s called security theater.  Just make it look like you are doing something – anything – to make the public think they are secure but in reality they are just as vulnerable as ever. Just think of the TSA, with the long lines and high tech scanners.  Yet 95% of banned items found their way past security in random tests. This is our current Ethics oversight…all for show with no teeth.

The root of the problem is not ethics oversight; it is the fact that the most powerful position in the state, the person in control (as most scholars will agree) is the Speaker of the House. The Governor is one of the weakest executive offices in the U.S. For all this power that the Speaker holds, the office is only accountable to his small State Representative district, each of which is approximately 1.33% of RI’s total population. That means more than 98% of the population has no say on who holds the most powerful office in the State of RI. If we want real reform on how business is conducted in the State House, the Speaker needs to relinquish some power and become more transparent. If that is not done, then Rhode Islanders must call for a Constitutional Amendment to make the Speaker of the House an At-Large seat in order for all Rhode Islanders to have a say on the person who has the most power in the People’s Government.

There is no need to add another seat; we do not need to create a second Governor, but something more akin to a Prime Minister.  For example, after the primaries in September, nominees for Rep from each party, Democrats, Republicans, Moderates, can throw their hats into the race for the speakership. They would then need to collect the needed amount of signatures to be put on the ballot, similar to other statewide offices. Come November, in order to win the speakership, the candidate must win their district and the At-Large race, and their party must have a majority of seats, ensuring the majority can continue to function in the lower house. Voters will pick one person from each party, the person with the most votes in the party that gains a majority of the seats, will win the speakership. The race can also be structured as an instant runoff, voters pick a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice, to handle the possible situation that the statewide winner loses his or her house district. This process will make the speakership accountable to all voters every two years.

This is what we need if we want change in the state house.