Secrets & Scandals

Secrets & Scandals: Reforming Rhode Island 1986–2006

H. Philip West Jr.

Between 1986 and 2006 Rhode Island ran a gauntlet of scandals that exposed corruption and aroused public rage. Protesters marched on the State House. Coalitions formed to fight for systemic changes. Under intense public pressure, lawmakers enacted historic laws and allowed voters to amend defects in the state’s Constitution.

Since colonial times, the legislature had controlled state govern­ment. Governors were barred from making many executive appointments, and judges could never forget that on a single day in 1935 the General Assembly sacked the entire Supreme Court.

Without constitutional checks and balances, citizens suffered under single party control. Repub­licans ruled during the nine­teenth and early twentieth centuries; Democrats held sway from the 1930s into the twenty-first century. In their eras of unchecked control, both parties became corrupt.

Secrets & Scandals tells the inside story of events that shook Rhode Island’s culture of corruption, gave birth to the nation’s strongest ethics commission, and finally brought separation of powers in 2004. No single leader, no political party, no organi­zation could have converted betrayals of public trust into historic reforms. But when citizen coalitions worked with dedicated public officials to address systemic failures, government changed.

[ See the Secrets & Scandals website for more information. ]