On Chafee's Relevance

The death of Governor Chafee's two-tiered sales tax proposal and the gay marriage bill he advocated have prompted more than a few declarations of irrelevance.

But with Smith Hill Democrats set to caucus today, and a formal budget proposal expected in the coming days, it may be time to re-evaluate.

That budget, by most accounts, will include some sort of sales tax expansion. It won't be as broad as the expansion Chafee proposed. But he never expected to get the full package through, anyway. Rather, his plan served as political cover for the General Assembly - allowing the body to pass some lesser expansion and declare victory.

He set the table, in other words, even if he didn't deliver the meal.

The same might be said of the same-sex marriage fight. He didn't drive the process in the legislature; and he didn't get the gay nuptials bill he wanted. But his mere presence - he supports same-sex unions, his predecessor did not - represented a fundamental reshuffling of the political order that has allowed a compromise measure, civil unions, to proceed.

He is, in other words, quite relevant - even if the General Assembly remains the center of power. 

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