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On the State of the State

Governor Carcieri's final State of the State address was a speech for its time and place. And a real reflection, witting and unwitting, on the man who gave it and his tenure in office.

Carcieri came into office as a strong communicator with real potential. And there were flashes of that early promise last night. There was an appealing plain-spokenness and talk of the accomplishments that will endure: holding the line on state taxes (even as local taxes climb), cutting the size of state government, real progress on an offshore wind farm.

But there was also a window on his shortcomings. The governor acknowledged one: the state's economic crumble. It was impossible to avoid. But others, unacknowledged, hung in the air for anyone who has watched his run closely. His push for consolidation of municipal services and wage cuts on the municipal level sounded like a lecture from a frustrated teacher - faced with recalcitrant students, perhaps, but also unable to summon the skill to win them over.

Indeed, it is Carcieri's political failures - his inability to bend the state to his liking - that have held him back more than anything. Doing well in this regard is no small task, of course, for a Republican in a heavily Democratic state. But it is a requirement, nonetheless, for success.

And the focus on taxes and municipal aid spoke to a larger affliction for the governor and, to be fair, the state's entire political class: a too-heavy focus on parochial concerns, a lack of real vision. While neighboring states have tackled health care reform and gay marriage in recent years, Rhode Island has settled.

Getting through our fiscal crisis will be Job One for the new governor. But then, there has to be something more.

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