Republican Governor Tries to Get me Fired
by Patrick Crowley, Sun Apr 27, 2008 at 03:56:57 PM EDT
Now I must admit the ego rush was exhilarating when I first was shown the letter. I thought to myself “I really feel as if I accomplished something today.” But when the self satisfaction wore off, the outrage began to bubble to the surface. Part of it was “who does this guy think he is? I am a citizen of this State and I have every right to speak my mind to anyone who will listen. If he doesn’t like it, don’t read the blog, don’t listen to the radio, don’t watch me on TV. Or, at the very least, have the strength of character to call me up directly – don’t go to my boss.” Then, as is normally the case, my wife brought me back to earth. “Doesn’t he have anything more important to do?” she said to me, which translates into, “oh please, go do the dishes Mr. Important.” She was right, as usual. Aren’t there more important things in this state than what some 30 something, easily excitable, somewhat self absorbed (Ok more than somewhat) union organizer with trigger happy keyboard fingers has to say on the internet? Like the foreclosure crisis, the prison population crisis, the lack of affordable health care, the deficit, the lack of stable education funding and yes, the immigration issue? I shouldn’t be the one who is angry – you should be. Believe me; I’m not so important to occupy more than a nanosecond of any governor’s attention. But really, if the Governor proves anything by going after a critic like me – a middle class white guy with a good job and strong communities ties –he really can’t be believed when he says that his executive order wasn’t aimed at putting the fear of God into the immigrant community who don’t have the same protections that I have by virtue of my race, class, and most importantly, union protection. Anyway, “The Boss” did respond to the Governor, as requested. Here is what he said: ;
An Open Letter to Governor Carcieri
[Written in response to a letter from the Governor earlier this month]
Thank you for your letter. You specifically wrote to ask about comments made by one of our staff members criticizing your executive order regarding illegal immigration. You presumed that those comments reflected NEA’s position on the issue, and inquired about NEA’s position on the issue overall. I will address your specific questions before moving on to other issues.
First, you should understand that many of our staff members, in addition to their work at NEARI, choose to devote their free time to a wide range of community activities, many of which are related to labor, political, and public policy issues. We certainly encourage our staff to be involved in our community. NEARI President Larry Purtill and I serve as the official spokespersons for NEARI on statewide issues, and our locally elected officers and their assigned field representatives often appropriately comment in the press on issues generally related to local negotiations.
I realize that the media often fails to make the distinction between people speaking as individuals versus speaking for organizations with which they are affiliated. I know that you can appreciate this since one of your own cabinet members was fairly outspoken on the impact of your executive order. Certainly, your order has generated other strong feelings in the Rhode Island community, including from individuals associated with NEARI, but those views did not necessarily represent NEA’s position on immigration issues.
The National Education Association does adopt resolutions each year at its annual convention on a wide range of topics, including a position on the immigration issue generally, some of which touches upon your order. NEA’s resolution includes the statement that we oppose “any immigration policy that denies human and/or civil rights or educational opportunities to immigrants and their children regardless of their immigration status, hinders workers’ abilities to organize, imposes excessive fees and fines on those seeking legalization, or criminalizes individuals or groups who support or assist immigrants regardless of their status.”
There are clearly some items in your executive order that may be in conflict with NEA’s adopted resolution on this issue.
All of this belies what I believe to be one of the real sources of this controversy, and indeed, one of the issues that I do not think that your administration has fully appreciated over the last five years. Simply put, you must realize that government has the power to generate not only concern but real fear to the residents of our state.
Fear can be caused not only when legislative proposals and executive orders are promulgated, but also through public comments made by elected leaders and their supporters. Fear can be generated even when, analogous to the situation you wrote to me about, such positions may not reflect the official position of your administration, and is much worse when such actions do reflect “the government’s” point of view.
Your executive order on immigration is just the most recent example. When the leaders of every major religious faith in our state come together to suggest, as gently as possible under the circumstances, that your words have caused great fear in our community, attention should be paid to their message.
Without considering the issue exactly in this manner before this, I also think this concept illustrates the underlying cause of the tension between your administration and the labor movement, among others. Several examples come to mind from the past five years.
Early in your administration, comments such as “the party’s over” regarding public employee benefits served no purpose but to alienate hard-working public employees and fuel public resentment toward those workers – and ignored the facts on how these benefits were established over the years and, in the case of pensions, faithfully paid for through worker contributions, even when the state did not always meet its own commitments.
Over the years, your budget proposals have suggested taking away benefits from the most needy groups in the community – from seniors depending on Meals on Wheels, to the developmentally disabled, to children needing health care. These individuals, their caregivers and their families experienced palpable fear over the proposals. Another group, college-aged students, worries about rising tuition at the state university and colleges, which could put their own futures out of reach.
Last year, the fear of losing one’s job in tough economic conditions was hard enough without party officials making comments that 1,000 state lay-offs was “a good start.” This year, uncertainty over possible pension and health care benefit changes, additional lay-offs, furlough days, etc. has caused untold fear among your own workforce. This fear is compounded with anger when the only topic that seems out of reach is benefit cuts for the wealthiest among us.
The other problem with a workforce paralyzed with fear is that important work can get neglected, as elected leaders become defensive and workers become distracted. Governor, time moves quickly in government. Before you know it, Rhode Islanders will be focusing on electing your successor. The goal of every elected official should be to leave our state better off than when they assumed office.
We still have time to work together to improve and strengthen public education at all levels, to improve our economy by helping existing businesses to grow and focus on attracting the green jobs of the future, to address the real issues neglected by Washington such as universal health care, to continue and expand upon the work you have started to support our environment, to make sure that all of our residents feel safe, and to treat our public workers with the dignity and respect that they deserve, and, further, acknowledge them as the partner in these efforts that they truly can, and want, to be.
The National Education Association Rhode Island is still willing to join with you in working together to advance Rhode Island’s common agenda. That is our official position. But time is running out. Robert Walsh, Executive Director, NEARI