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Within a few short days, a small minority of Rhode Island voters likely will decide whether the state borrows $400 million for projects ranging from economic development to higher education to affordable housing. Can the state afford it? Can the state afford to not vote in favor of these referenda? We look to our leaders to help guide us.

We’ve heard consistently from General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who is a strong advocate for passage of all seven bonds, touting the economic benefits, and from Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, overseeing the election, urging voter turnout, and publicly supporting bonds that would directly impact the state’s economy. 

We’ve heard from those with special interest for one bond issue or another, from the ultra-right conservatives who simply tell us we can’t afford it to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council that says we can.

But where oh where are the governors? Yes plural, one in office and on a slow train to Washington and a spot in President Biden’s cabinet, and another poised to step in at the very moment the incumbent leaves the train station.

The governors – Raimonda and McKee – have distinguished themselves by their silence, something that has not gone unnoticed by some of those working hard to convince voters to approve the referenda.

As one affordable housing advocate said to us, Gov. Gina Raimondo did include the bond items in her budget, and the lieutenant and incoming governor, Dan McKee, well he’s been, at least publicly silent in comments about the bond issues.

Frankly, we would have expected real leadership from both Raimondo and McKee. These are big bonds, including upgrading our port at Davisville, readying commercial building sites around the state, supporting arts and culture, construction projects at the state’s colleges and universities, substantial funds for affordable housing, support for beaches and recreation and green projects, and more. All these contained within the seven bond issues.

Here’s the reality. This is an unusual election – March 2, not your usual time, and no candidates up for election. The expectation, clearly, a small turnout, meaning approval and rejection will hinge on how successful special interest groups are in turning out their supporters.

Here’s a look at the numbers as of Friday, Feb. 26, just four days before the March 2 election. Early voting has been underway for days, more than 90,000 mail ballots were requested, according to the Secretary of State’s website. As of Friday, according to the Secretary of State’s website: Early votes – 6,700; mail ballots returned – 64,128. Projection, perhaps the lowest voter turnout for a statewide election in over 50 years.

Where oh where have the governors been? I’m sure their teams will find nuggets, where they may have mentioned the bonds, but if so, they’ve been hardly noticed.

We looked at the web sites of the governors, and neither talks about the bonds. Raimondo’s in some cases woefully out of date – she has her 2020 State of the State address, but not 2021. McKee is vocal and tweets about his disagreements with Raimondo’s COVID approach, his support for small business, and weather-related items, among other issues. His transition team has issued various statements throughout the transition. 

You would expect the recognized top leaders of our state government, Raimondo and McKee, would be vocal in support – or against – passage of the bond issues. 

For voters, residents, to have confidence in their leaders, the leaders must lead. They need to be vocal on major state issues, whether in support or not. Their words matter, as we’ve heard so often nationally now. 

It’s disappointing that neither has apparently seen the $400 million bond referenda important enough to try and bring out voter turnout when because of the unusual nature of this special election, voter turnout is questionable. It’s disappointing that neither has apparently felt their position on the issues would make a difference.

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.