Ornstein on Rhode Island's Senate Delegation

Norm Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, is one of the nation's most respected Congressional observers.

That explains why he and Thomas Mann, another pillar of the Washington establishment, caused such a stir last year with their book It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.

The tome placed much of the blame for Washington dysfunction on a Republican Party that, the authors argued, has strayed too far from the center.

Ornstein seemed a good person to interview, then, for my final Phoenix cover story on Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who's styled himself a leading critic of GOP intransigence in recent years.

I'll leave my analysis of Whitehouse's approach for the cover story. But I began the interview asking Ornstein for his general impressions of the Rhode Island junior senator's six-plus years on the job. At risk of looking a suck-up (I don't have much to gain, I'm soon leaving this gig), I thought I'd quote his response here:

Whitehouse has built an enormous reservoir of respect, because he's smart, he's a workhorse, he really does his homework, and he's an open and engaging and honest guy. I've never heard anybody, wherever they are on the political spectrum, cut him behind his back or say things privately to suggest anything other than that deep level of respect.

It's also true of Jack Reed. I think Rhode Island, actually, you could argue now - pound for pound - has the strongest Senate delegation, in terms of gravitas and respect.

It's not the first time I've heard that sort of thing from a national observer.

For a state too often mired in an amateur and ineffective politics, Ornstein's observations are a good reminder that Rhode Island is capable of something more.

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