Reiterating his support for a constitutional convention and citing a “dire need for fundamental reform,” Republican gubernatorial candidate and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung unveiled a six-point plan Tuesday at the State House he says would balance power within Rhode Island’s government.
“We need a vibrant, two-party system of government to provide checks and balances and to ensure that every elected official has someone looking over his or her shoulder,” said Fung.
The mayor’s announcement came amid a flurry of activity at the State House, and following a stunning five-day stretch that saw Providence Democrat Gordon Fox step down as Speaker of the House and Cranston Democrat Nicholas Mattiello elected as his successor.
Standing in the Bell Room at the capitol as various groups held events and the House of Representatives was preparing to vote on the speakership, Fung said recent events, which began with the March 21 raid by state and federal law enforcement on Fox’s office and home, highlight the need for reform.
“Regardless of the outcome of the investigation involving former Speaker Fox, or what, if any, accusations may come to bear against him, the sudden resignation of a powerful elected official under a cloud of suspicion serves only to remind us all of the dire need for fundamental reform in the way that Rhode Island governs itself,” he said.
Fung’s plan seeks to restore Ethics Commission oversight of members of the General Assembly; establish line-item veto authority for the governor; institute term limits and prohibit legislative interference with administrative matters; put an end to any last-minute barrage of legislation and committee hearings without public notice and halt the enactment of controversial legislation under suspension of the rules; eliminate straight party voting through the master lever in all partisan elections; and implement a voter initiative mechanism “to empower citizens to force legislative consideration of specific issues.”
The mayor said he would work to institute the plan through legislation when possible, and through amendments to the Rhode Island Constitution when necessary. For example, Fung said that through “a limited repeal of the Speech and Debate clause of the Rhode Island Constitution, we would allow the Ethics Commission to prosecute misconduct by members of the General Assembly.”
“Without an independent body to enforce ethics standards and in light of the tremendous political power concentrated in the hands of a few, there is little or no accountability and that must change,” he said.
Fung called the line-item veto “one of the most effective ways to create a balance of power in Rhode Island government.” He said his proposal, which would also require a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to override a veto, up from the current three-fifths threshold, would “act as a ‘financial accountability’ amendment” to the state constitution.
On term limits, Fung called for Representatives and Senators to be limited to five terms and 10 years in the General Assembly. Putting such restrictions in place, he said, would draw candidates “more likely to run for the purpose of serving the people rather than serving themselves,” and would prevent legislators from accumulating the kind of “large campaign war chests” that create significant hurdles to challengers.
Citing the “dramatic step” taken by voters with the 2004 enactment of the state constitution’s Separation of Powers amendment, Fung said as governor he would “work to maintain and enhance executive authority to direct the administrative affairs of state government without interference from the General Assembly.”
“This is the example we set in Cranston with great success,” he said. “My administration will guard against inappropriate legislative involvement in any executive responsibilities. Strong executive leadership and a proper respect for both executive and legislative prerogatives has paid tremendous dividends to Cranston taxpayers, and I would exercise the same diligence as governor.”
Fung described the ability of lawmakers to operate under “suspension of the rules” as a practice that “makes a mockery of our legislative process.”
“We have seen the result and this practice must be stopped,” he said.
Fung said the “archaic” master lever “simply must go.”
“To restore a two-party system and begin to bring a balance of power, we must elect new people to office and that requires fair and honest elections,” he said. “The practice of straight party voting … creates an impediment to challengers that discourages greater participation and perpetuates the status quo.”
On the final point, Fung – stressing that “the power to influence the direction of our state must rest with the voters of Rhode Island” – said he supports “the establishment of a voter initiative process by which voters would have the authority to place a question before their representatives and senators in the General Assembly who would be required to vote on the question.”
“We are not a government of rule by referendum, but at the same time our legislators must no longer be allowed to duck the most controversial issues year after year through procedural maneuvering and legislative sleight of hand,” he said.
Referencing the shakeup in House leadership, Fung said as governor he would “work with the speaker and the president of the Senate to institute real reform, and if they resist the call to reform, I will use their resistance as a rallying cry to the citizens of Rhode Island.”
“We all must come together to make our voices heard and to demand a government structure that is fair, transparent and, most of all, accountable to its citizens,” he said.
Fung is facing businessman Ken Block in the race for the Republican nomination. Block has addressed the issue of government reform through recent statements and during a campaign event Monday night in Cranston.