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McKay: Taking It

A few weeks back, I wrote a cover story on Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Ken McKay, who managed Governor Carcieri's two campaigns, served as Carcieri's chief of staff for a time, and served as right hand to former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

A lot of good stuff landed in my notebook that didn't make it into the story. McKay's recollections of his time as a soldier in Korea's demilitarized zone - and the bizarre agitprop that came out of a fake town, known as Propaganda Village, just over the North Korean border - would make for a nice little piece on their own.

But I focus, today, on a more local matter.

One of the chief critiques of Carcieri was that he didn't do enough to develop a relationship with Democratic legislative leaders - that he wasn't amenable to compromise. McKay disputes the narrative; he says the Democrats share plenty of responsibility for the poor relationship that developed between the executive and legislative branches.

But on a more fundamental level, he says his time at the State House taught him that compromising with Democrats, from a position of weakness, just doesn't work.

"There's nobody - Democrats or anybody in the State House that I came into contact with when I was in the governor's office - I dislike, or 'I hate that guy.' None of that. They're doing their thing," he told me.

"But after trying and trying and trying, I've learned that there's only one way this system works, and that is to fight it out and get the votes that you need. And if you don't have the votes, you don't get anything," he said. "The only thing that you can have in the State House is what you can take. That's it."

It is a worldview that helps to explain the energy he is throwing into the job. It also suggests the enormity of his task. It'll take nothing short of a political tsunami, after all, for Rhode Island Republicans to build majorities in the General Assembly - or even the sort of substantial numbers that would allow them to ally with conservative Democrats in a potent way.

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