The Other White Meat

November 13, 2007

I’ve been thinking a bit more about my experience at the WW II Monument dedication and the idea of self serving politicians. Although they were on display in abundance at Sunday’s ceremony, we certainly don’t have a monopoly on the animal here in the Ocean State. According to a report by John Stossel, ABC’s resident Libertarian, the Lincoln Monument was established 50 years after Honest Abe’s fateful visit to Ford’s Theatre and George Washington’s monument was not built until 89 years after his passing. The “King of Pork”, West Virginia’s Senior Senator Robert Byrd, has over 30 buildings named after him as well as a bridge and telescope. That doesn’t include the myriad statues.

In Rhode Island, living politicians have self aggrandized in, admittedly, smaller ways. Senator Reed was displayed in the Journal, recently, standing next to the USS Jack Reed; CRMC’s latest addition to their fleet. While on the campaign trail in ’06 I learned that Thundermist Healthcare Center had named a building in Woonsocket after Congressman Patrick Kennedy. I was told by one voter that, although she “didn’t like Kennedy “, she “had to vote for him”. The reason for the misplaced loyalty cited:  She takes her kids to get their healthcare at Thundermist and didn’t want the Congressman to “take back his building” if he were deposed.

Now, let’s face it. The reality is that these “living memorials” come to those who dine at the pork trough. It is no coincidence that all of the aforementioned philanthropists are members of either the Senate or House Appropriations Committees, who “donate” taxpayer dollars. In a truthful world, the boat would be named the “USS Taxpayers” and the building would be more rightly named the “Citizens of Rhode Island Building”.  “Aprops”, to use the inside the beltway vernacular, is the uber-powerful committee that decides where to dole the pork. It makes the RI “rub and tug” that Matt Allen and Dan Yorke speak about on WPRO pale by comparison and it is most definitely a tool to keep incumbents in their seats. Rhode Island is known worldwide because of our penchant for it. “Family Guy”, a cartoon based in fictional Quahog, RI, has a student population that attends “Buddy Cianci Junior High School”. Coincidence? I think not.

I have a proposal. I’ll buy dinner at the new Fleming’s Steak House for the first member of our General Assembly to submit a bill that puts a moratorium on naming buildings after seated politicians. I’m not even asking that it be against living politicians… just the ones who are still in office. I’ll even write the bill. All you have to do is introduce it. A recent attempt in South Carolina by State Legislator Dan Greenberg to enact the “Edifice Complex Prevention Bill” was shot down soundly in Committee. Pols like their naming rights.

Recently, in Cumberland, I spoke at a hearing in favor of naming a new gym after Steve Gordon, longtime Cumberland High School gym teacher and wrestling coach. Steve and I were rivals for a short time while I coached at Bishop Hendricken and the competition between us was fierce. That said, if the measure of a man is the number of lives that he touches here on earth, Steve Gordon has no equal in his hometown. He is a truly dedicated educator who has helped numerous students achieve their potential in life. Despite that fact, there was opposition to the proposal, such that Coach Gordon eventually removed his name from consideration. I have no idea why there was opposition nor do I know who eventually had their name plastered to the side of the building. If you take the time to look around Cumberland, however, you will come across a number of buildings named after politicians who “came with the cash”.

So RI Legislators, let’s put an end to dinner at the “pork trough”. There just may be a steak dinner in it for you. If not… there’s always a meal in the cafeteria at “Buddy Cianci” Junior High.