The Future of Rhode Island

For Immediate Release, March 3, 2015

“CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS BUY INFLUENCE IN RHODE ISLAND POLITICS,” MARK BINDER SAYS. “WHEN WILL THIS CHANGE?”

“Gordon Fox is guilty, and I’m not surprised,” said Mark Binder, the candidate who ran against the former Speaker of the House in 2012. “From the first days of our campaign, I pointed to the corruption that seems endemic in Rhode Island’s political structure.

“At the time, nobody seemed to believe me. They denied it was happening. They made excuses. They said that it was just the way things are.

“Many politicians who are still in office turned out to support Fox. They campaigned for him. They walked with him. They stood in front of the polls on election days and told voters to vote for him. They felt at the time that the status quo was better than advocating change.

“The media was also complicit. During the campaign, I was faulted again and again for not being a serious politician. I was belittled for keeping my campaign grass roots and not raising a war chest. They dismissed our accusations of about ‘pay-to-play’ that are now vindicated by U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha. They even said that Fox was ‘by no means a dark force or a dirty politician… On the contrary, he’s a good man trying to succeed in an often cutthroat business.’

“And nothing much has changed. Campaigns are still decided, by and large, by who raises the most money. Campaign contributions buy political influence in Rhode Island. Licenses are granted, tax breaks are given and issues are decided when you give contributions to the right politicians.

“During the 2012 campaign, Gordon Fox lied. He lied to the press. He lied to the voters. Now he’s admitted his guilt, and some time in June 2015, he claims that he’s going to admit that he was wrong.

“He’s confessed to stealing more than $100,000 from his campaign fund, filing fraudulent tax returns, and taking a bribe for a liquor license. If you or I were charged with these offences, we would be facing decades in prison. Instead, he’s copped a plea in exchange for one year per charge. It doesn’t seem sufficient.

“In Rhode Island, voters have a bad habit of keeping people around who don’t deserve it. We brush away fault and blame, and shrug because ‘It’s the ways the system works.’

“The system still doesn’t work for citizens and taxpayers. Since being anointed as the speaker, Nicholas Mattiello has collected more than $100,000 in campaign contributions, even though he ran unopposed in the last election. Do those dollars really buy nothing?

“When will this change? How will this change?

“The General Assembly could police itself. It could eject members who accept campaign contributions that influence their votes. It could end the practice of late night back room deals. It could enact ethics and campaign finance reform.

“We could create a smaller full-time legislature that pays members a living wage so they don’t have to be wealthy or take bribes to survive.

“Will they? Probably not.

“The next election is in 20 months. We need citizens to start running today for these jobs on the promise of these changes. It’s time to stop voting for the devil we know and instead look for people who are honest and true.”

“During a televised debate, Gordon Fox accused me of telling tall tales. I didn’t. He was the liar.

“Keep that in mind the next time you see an ‘amateur’ taking on a pro.”

March 24, 2014

Almost two years ago I began a campaign for State Rep from District 4. Fueled by my outrage over the blatant irresponsibility of Gordon Fox, my state rep, regarding the 38 Studios disaster, I started a grass root campaign to unseat the “Speaker.”  Despite being outspent by 10 to 1, we came close to victory.

Two years later, Mr. Fox is now spectacularly under investigation for any of a number of probable irregularities that we brought up during the campaign. Even worse, the political landscape that enabled this man to exert power is in danger of remaining fixed in place.

During my campaign I realized that the ingrained habit of our elected legislature was to delegate much of its power to its so-called “Leadership” and then spend the remainder of the term begging for scraps.

Let me be blunt. Any representative who votes for the sort of “Leadership” that enabled Gordon Fox to abuse his power is betraying the interests of citizens. We, the people of Rhode Island did not elect you to submit to the whims of lobbyists and special interests and corporations. We elected you to serve the people.

I believe that Rhode Island is an incredibly fortunate and special spot on the planet. We are strategically located on an idyllic patch of coastline along the Northeast Corridor. We have Universities and farmland, and a population of creative and hardworking individuals who value freedom and innovation. We are small enough to know each other—sometimes too well.

For too long the political conversation has been framed by special interests. The purpose of our State Government is not to create jobs, however much that may be a method for getting votes. The purpose of our State Government is to create an environment where people can live and work and thrive. This means protecting our landscape and natural resources, paying for education that teaches beyond tests, and offering powerful reasons for people to live and work here.

We are a small city-state. We can’t compete with our neighbors on payoff-like tax incentives.

We can, however, reform our government so that it represents the interests of its citizens over the interests of businesses and cronies.  We can use the departure of the so-called “Speaker” to give individual legislators a more powerful voice. Today we are governed by a legislature that abdicates its power. Tomorrow that can change. We can use the opportunity of a Constitutional Convention to create a more balanced government with true checks and balances.

It would be easy for me to assume that the downfall of Gordon Fox provides an opportunity for me. Having come so close, many people have asked, “Are you going to run?”

Wouldn’t it be nice, I think, to throw my hat into the ring, coast to an easy victory, and then shake the foundations of power? A nice story, but a challenging, and by no means certain, reality to create.

I am a writer and a storyteller. I have spent more than 30 years developing a powerful and compelling body of work for children, families and adults. If you haven’t heard or read my stories of hope, laughter, love and adventure, then I my work there isn’t done.

But beyond my own selfish desire to write and sell my books and stories, I believe that the public interest would be better served by an open race, with excellent candidates, fierce competition and no one with a clear advantage.

Therefore I am announcing my intention at this time not to run.

The future, however, is something that remains always possible.

Thank you.

—Mark Binder