Providence (R.I.) Journal, Dec. 3:

In dispensing advice to Governor-elect Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee urged her to develop a good relationship with the General Assembly. As Mr. Chafee noted, “Rhode Island constitutionally has a very strong legislature. . That’s a fact, the strongest in the country.”

PolitiFact checked out the Democrat’s statement with political science professors and others, and found it to be true. For example, a survey of the institutional power of America’s governors by Margaret R. Ferguson, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, rated Rhode Island dead last.

That is one more reason why it was very bad news that Rhode Island voters, swayed by an expensive scare campaign funded by special interests, spurned a Constitutional Convention. Such a convention could have made Rhode Island’s government more balanced.

Clearly, voters do want a more balanced system. In 2004, they voted in a landslide to amend the constitution to recognize separation of powers, making it harder for the General Assembly to wield executive as well as legislative power, the definition of tyranny in the eyes of this country’s founders.

But other reforms are greatly needed ”“ most notably, a line-item veto (something available in 44 other states to check special-interest skullduggery), strengthened gubernatorial veto powers in general, and term limits on legislators. The problem is exacerbated, of course, by Rhode Island’s one-party dominance and a system that concentrates power to an extreme degree in the person of the House speaker. Without a constitutional convention, it is hard to see many healthy changes being made in Rhode Island’s structure of government.

Still, going along to get along is no answer. Mr. Chafee has emphasized the weakness of his office by failing to provide strong leadership and getting easily sidetracked into divisive issues of lesser consequence.

Ms. Raimondo, by contrast, has already demonstrated her ability to get big things done, in championing pension reform ”“ with very limited constitutional powers as the state’s general treasurer. And, as weak as the governor’s office is, the position still carries with it the power of the bully pulpit.

Moreover, the General Assembly has demonstrated that it will act responsibly to help Rhode Island, as it did in passing pension reform. House Speaker Mattiello took some bold steps in this year’s session to improve the state’s economy, and he has made clear he wants to go further.

A governor focused on getting the economy going, and spurring the legislature to act on a pro-jobs agenda, will brandish significant power in Rhode Island. But to do so, she must stay focused on the economy.