Rod Driver

From the Providence Journal, July 28, 2008

Lackies of leaders

Legislature's spineless sheep in (in)action


THE PUBLIC has a low opinion of the Rhode Island General Assembly and particularly its leadership. But we generally assume that our own representative is not the problem. So we re-elect incumbents -- or promote them to higher office -- without looking at their records.

Those records are largely available on the General Assembly Web site ( but it requires some perseverance to extract them.

Here, for example, is what you can learn about the recent votes to initiate 24-hour gambling on weekends and holidays at Twin River and Newport Grand. Ignoring overwhelming public opposition, including the most explicit objections from residents of Lincoln and Newport, the General Assembly took up a bill to authorize all-night slot-machine gambling.

On April 29, the House "debated" floor amendments for almost three hours.

Rep. Russell Jackson's amendment would have required voter approval for the expansion. It was rejected.

Rep. Deborah Fellela's amendment would have raised the minimum age for playing slot machines to 21, as it is in Connecticut, New Jersey, Nevada and other states. That was defeated when Rep. Steven Costantino declared that such a restriction would cost the state $15 million.(Since the state's cut is 60 percent, Rhode Island youth aged 18, 19 and 20 must have been losing $25 million a year in slot machines -- before expansion of the hours.) After all amendments were defeated, except one supported by the leaders, the House easily passed the bill.
On April 30, the Senate followed suit.
On May 5, Governor Carcieri vetoed the bill.
On May 6, without notice, leaders of the House and Senate proposed overriding the veto.

The House voted to override 51-16 as follows.
"Yes": Representatives Murphy, Ajello, Almeida, Baldelli-Hunt, Brien, Caprio, Carter, Church, Coderre, Corvese, Costantino, Dennigan, DeSimone, Diaz, Ferri, Flaherty, Fox, Gallison, Gemma, Giannini, Handy, Kennedy, Kilmartin, Lally, Lewiss, Lima, Malik, Mattiello, McCauley, McNamara, Melo, Naughton, O'Neill, Pacheco, Palumbo, Rose, San Bento, Schadone, Scott, Segal, Serpa, Shanley, Silva, Singleton, Slater, Sullivan, Ucci, Vaudreuil, Wasylyk, Williams and Williamson. (For completeness, here are names of representatives who missed the override vote but who had supported the bill on April 29: Gablinske, Jacquard and Smith.)
"No": Representatives Coaty, Ehrhardt, Fellela, Gorham, Jackson, Long, Loughlin, McManus, Menard, Moffitt, Mumford, Petrarca, Savage, Story, Trillo and Watson. (Others who missed this vote but had opposed the bill on April 29: Amaral, Rice, Walsh and Winfield.)

A few minutes later the Senate also voted to override the veto, 24-8.
"Yes": Senators Montalbano, Alves, Bates, Ciccone, DaPonte, Felag, Fogarty, Goodwin, Issa, Jabour, Lanzi, Levesque, Maselli, McCaffrey, Miller, Moura, Perry, Picard, Pichardo, Revens, Ruggerio, Sheehan, Tassoni and Walaska. (Others who missed this vote but had supported the bill on April 30: Doyle, Gallo, McBurney and Sosnowski.)
"No": Senators Algiere, Blais, Breene, Cote, Gibbs, Lenihan, Metts and Raptakis. (Another who had opposed the bill on April 30: Connors.)

Such lopsided majorities are common, and the explanation is simple. Most of "our" legislators just follow the leaders. They know who determines their political advancement. Moreover, very few of their constituents are paying attention, and there probably won't be a serious opponent in the next election anyway.

So the professional lobbyists contribute regularly to the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate and the majority leaders. Then, when they want something passed or defeated, they just go to those leaders. That's enough. The sheep will follow.

As a result of this newest gambling-expansion bill, Twin River announced that it would immediately begin all-night gambling on weekends. There will now be even more opportunity for Rhode Island gamblers to lose their grocery money, tuition money, rent money, mortgage money or retirement savings. There will be more opportunity for family breakups, business failures, loss of homes and prison sentences.

All this to generate another $14 million for the state plus additional millions to help bail out the owners of Twin River (BLB Investors), who still owe $557 million on that facility.

Rod Driver is a professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Rhode Island and a former Rhode Island state representative.

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