Is Rhode Island really a blue state? Weighing the evidenceJuly 14th, 2011 at 7:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes
“Is Rhode Island really a blue state?” Projo health reporter Felice Freyer asked on Twitter the other day. I had the same thought after scanning recent headlines out of the Statehouse.
Felice pointed to two good examples: the legislative stalemate over abortion that blocked creation of a health insurance exchange, and Governor Chafee’s decision to sign a voter ID bill. Then there was the gay marriage debate, which ended with an unloved civil unions law that included controversial religious exemptions. WRNI’s Ian Donnis declared the losers in this year’s budget debate to be labor, liberals and the poor. The Democratic Party’s rising stars – Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo – have both been at odds with organized labor early in their tenures.
I don’t have any brilliant unified explanation for all this, but it sure is striking when you consider Rhode Island is by some measures the nation’s most liberal state.
“Blue state” and “red state” certainly can mask a lot of subtleties. Presidential elections are probably a poor proxy for state policy, and “heavily Democratic” doesn’t necessarily mean “heavily liberal.” The state’s center-left governor is a Rockefeller Republican at heart. Anti-tax groups like the Rhode Island Tea Party and the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition are energized and media-savvy. Organized labor’s interests aren’t always straightforwardly liberal. Plus, the financial squeeze from an age of austerity colors everything.
Sometimes I think slapping labels on politics actually make it harder to understand what’s going on. True, calling Rhode Island a “blue state” is helpful shorthand in some ways (Republicans really don’t win a lot of elections here) but not others (gay marriage was never the cinch it might have looked like on paper). But if you really want to know what’s going on, you should watch what policymakers and other elites do, not what they say – or what letter they stick after their names on a ballot.