Fellow Rhode Islanders, it is time to face facts. Our lovely state is in trouble. Little Rhody’s condition is the inverse of the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are major issues of high unemployment, horrible rankings for business climate plus state and local financial crises with no discernible solutions. We have become the little engine that couldn’t. It is broke and we don’t seem to know how to fix it.
How about a merger? Not a hostile takeover, but the creation of a new entity from the strengths of two neighbors, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
“No way!” the parochials on both sides of the current border will scream. Let’s block out the cacophony and look at the mutual benefits.
Immediately there will be unique opportunities for some of Rhode Island’s most iconic companies. Imagine the Alex & Ani Aquarium of Mystic. How successful would Del’s Lemonade stands be at every service rest area on the Merritt Parkway?
Politically, Rhode Island suffers from our lack of punch. Who in Washington cares about a paltry four electoral votes? How much can a mere two-person representation in the House accomplish in a body with 435 members? We rank 43rd in population and are one of the very few states which have experienced a decline in residents in the past decade, putting even our minuscule representative number at risk.
Merged with Connecticut, we’d have a population of more than 4.6 million, making us 25th in size. We would have nine electoral votes and seven House members. In this formula, Connecticut gains two electoral votes and two representatives. A political win/win!
Economically, Connecticut shines. According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, it ranks first in per capita income at $59,000. Rhode Island comes in at a decent 15th with $45,000 per capita. There are a number of folks quietly making good money in our state, however, nothing like the mavens from Fairfield County the Gold Coast of Connecticut. Most of these Wall Street barons and hedgefund hotshots have rebounded nicely from the Great Recession and are once again practically printing money. What a boon they would be to our economy!
But, with all of Rhode Island’s woes, you may ask, “What’s in it for Connecticut?”
Two words; beaches and tourism!
For a state whose entire souther border is coastline, Connecticut has an embarrassing paucity of beaches. That’s why we Rhode Islanders can’t get into our own state beach in Misquamicut unless we arrive before 8 a.m. We sit on Atlantic Avenue in our overheating cars swearing at all the Connecticut license plates filling up our lot. Oh, Connecticut tries hard, calling spits of land like Hammonasset and Attawan beaches, but it is not fooling anyone.
With the merger, it could also lay claim to the wonders of South County (I know it doesn’t technically exist), Newport, Little Compton and Tiverton.
As for tourism, Connecticut would go from flat line to full vibrancy. Really, how many people a year can you draw to that Mark Twain home in Hartford? I bet more people eat at the Brick Alley Pub in Newport in one month than find their way in a year to Samuel Clemens’s part-time residence in Connecticut.
For this obvious merger to work, some petty but potentially contentious speed bumps would have to be navigated. What to call this combined entity? I suggest the new 49th state (addition by subtraction) be named Fairland.
“Fair” pays homage to the economic engine Fairfield County, which will drive the new state, while “land” denotes the beautiful scenic landscapes that Rhode Island brings to the marriage. As for the state’s nickname, common sense should prevail. Nutmeg State versus Ocean State? Even the most ardent Connecticut native would admit defeat here.
Fairland’s capital city? My vote is Hartford. It is more centrally located. But, cheer up, Providence. One reason to give the nod to Hartford is because Providence can still survive as a nice, sometimes vibrant, mid-sized city, while Hartford, never fully recovered from the shrinkage in the insurance industry, needs the cache of capital status to remain relevant.
Which elected officials should govern? Well, you could field a football team, both offensive and defensive squads, with Connecticut and Rhode Island politicians who have done the “perp walk” over the past two decades. So let’s start fresh and declare new elections for all positions.
Time is wasting. We’ll have lots of signs to change and license plates to make.
Fairland, the 49th state!
Jim Raftus (firstname.lastname@example.org), an occasional contributor, is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland.