Just yesterday, Karen was asking whether or not changing the names of cities with racist connotations will start becoming commonplace as liberal activists continue trying to erase problematic portions of our history. I suppose nothing would surprise me very much at this point, but what if it goes beyond just cities and counties. How about if we change the names of entire states? That’s an experiment that’s already being put to the test. In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo has issued an executive order changing the name of her state because of its racist roots. Hoo boy. Break out the popcorn, folks. (NY Post)
What’s in a name? For the state of Rhode Island, years of acrimony over an official designation with connotations of slavery.
But change is brewing in the union’s smallest state, as Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order Monday taking the “first steps” to change the state’s full name: “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”
The “plantations” portion has come under increased scrutiny following widespread protests after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The order, Executive Order 20-48, will change the name to just “Rhode Island” in official communications from the governor’s office — including future executive orders, citations and letterhead. It also calls on all state executive agencies to remove “plantations” from their websites.
Before digging into this hot mess, help me out here for a moment so I don’t feel quite so stupid and out of touch. Was I the only person who didn’t know that Rhode Island’s full name was Rhode Island and Providence Plantations? I used to think I was at least fairly good at political trivia, but I swear I have no recollection of ever hearing that. Or maybe I did and my senior moments are adding up to more problems than I thought. (Would that qualify me to be Joe Biden’s running mate? No? Oh, well…)
Just to save you a search, Providence Plantation was the name of the colony founded by Roger Williams. It was later incorporated into the full name of the colony (and later the state) when four different colonies merged. And they apparently had slaves on at least some of those plantations at some point. A previous attempt to drop the plantation part from the state’s name in 2010 failed when the measure was opposed by nearly 80% of the voters.
But we now find ourselves once again asking just exactly how much executive authority Governor Raimondo thinks she has and what she really just did. Even as she was signing the order she admitted that she couldn’t “permanently” change the name because that would require an amendment to the state constitution approved by the voters. But she can “temporarily” change the name of the state and order every department to remove “Providence Plantations” from their web sites, letterhead and other devices?
Raimondo isn’t just overriding the legislative branch’s powers at this point. She’s overriding the state constitution. And on what basis? Sweeping executive powers are generally invoked during a state of emergency such as the current pandemic. And while she’s far from the only governor to use them, she’s really been cranking out the EOs using the pandemic as her rationale for doing so. But what emergency is the Governor responding to by summarily changing the name of the entire state? They’ve had that name for centuries and obviously some people found it problematic because they’ve tried to change it through the proper channels in the past. The tragic deaths of some Black citizens (in other states) and some protests and riots are not the same as a Category 5 hurricane making landfall or a virus that’s wiping out a measurable chunk of the population.
If Gina Raimondo is allowed to do this without challenge, then the state’s constitution is basically worth bupkis. She can call this a “temporary” move if she likes, but what is the limit of temporary? If the legislature fails to pass the motion to hold a referendum again or if the voters once again fail to support it, when does the name change back to what it was? Or does “temporary” mean for as long as she’s in office? Whether you agree that the name needs to be changed or not, this is yet another egregious overreach of executive authority.