RI GOP Fails to Oust Healey As Moderate Party Nominee

Robert Healey's Twitter avatar

Robert Healey’s Twitter avatar (totally taken from his Twitter)

This post is heavily indebted to the live-tweeting of Andrew Augustus (WPRO), Katherine Gregg (The Providence Journal), and Catherine Welch (RIPR).

The Rhode Island Republican Party has failed in its attempt to remove former Cool Moose Party leader Robert Healey from the November ballot. The Moderate Party (now sans founder Ken Block) nominated Healey for governor when their nominee James Spooner withdrew due to health reasons. Healey survived votes by the RI Board of Elections on three issues:

  • Whether Spooner properly withdrew (Unanimous passage)
  • Whether the Moderate Party acted appropriately in appointing Healey (4-3 in favor)
  • Whether Healey is an eligible candidate for governor as a Moderate (4-1 in favor)

Thus, Robert J. Healey, Jr., whose last two runs for governor netted him 9.08% of the vote in 1994 as an independent and 6.28% of the vote in 1998 as the Cool Moose nominee, will be the Moderate Party nominee.

I shouldn’t understate that Healey is perhaps the most successful third party candidate for RI Governor in its modern political history. Certainly, no one comes close to his staggering 9.08% in ’94, though his ’98 showing is on par with Ken Block (Moderate, ’10) and Joseph Doorley, Jr. (Independent, ’78). You can see why the Republicans might be worried. Healey has the possibility to draw a lot of votes off their nominee, Allan Fung.

They’ve really only got themselves to blame. Since ’98, when Healey concentrated solely on running for lieutenant governor with the goal of abolishing the position, he had done better than his runs for governor, but it wasn’t until 2010 when the Republican nominee dropped out in favor of Healey that he cracked over 120,000 votes. Had the Republicans continued to ignore the hirsute, eccentric Rhode Islander, I think it’s unlikely he would’ve continued to pick up steam. But now they’re faced with a candidate representing a party with a ballot line and who has appealed to a large portion of the Rhode Island electorate before.

The other problem here has been the Republicans’ willingness to embrace Ken Block. When Block attempted to shut down the Moderate Party to become a Republican, he seems to have severely miscalculated how difficult it is to kill a political party. Its accounts, bylaws, and website are either gone or hopelessly outdated, but the Board of Elections ruled that the party can still function — its members matter more than its founder’s intentions. This was always going to be an issue once Block ceased to be the Moderate Party nominee, whether there was an identity to the Moderates that extended beyond Ken Block. It appears there is. But had Block remained in power as the Moderate chair and sat this election out, it’s likely he could’ve gracefully smothered the fledgling party through inaction. Now, like Frankenstein’s monster, it returns to haunt its creator and those who surround him.

Another thing that would’ve made this totally irrelevant would be if the Voter Choice Study Commission had recommended some form of change from the plurality voting system we have now. Instead, it decided to reject changing the system. The 16-member commission decided only to recommend updating voting machines. EDIT: The always helpful John Marion informs me that the VCSC never issued adopted a final report, so I’m wrong.

It’s very possible that Healey could pull in over the 5% of the vote needed. Now, whether this will harm Republicans is another matter. While it would appear from the manner in which the Republicans challenged Healey’s candidacy they view him as a threat, I do need to point out that all three times he has run for governor, Republican candidates have won.

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