2016-11-23 / Around Town

A Newport Life in Politics

By Tom Walsh

Forty-one years ago, lifelong Newport resident Christopher Boyle walked into the Senate chamber at the Rhode Island Statehouse and began a political journey that shows no sign of ending any time soon.

Today, Boyle is one of the savviest Statehouse lobbyists with a client roster that includes local concerns such as Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Twin River Casino, Trinity Repertory Company and Family Service of Rhode Island, as well as national and regional clients such as General Motors, the power-generating firm Exelon Corporation, and the Propane Gas Association of New England.

Boyle, now 60, was a teenaged Senate page and Providence College student in 1975. Not long after, he was appointed clerk of the Senate Finance Committee and became the youngest person in that role. Boyle, whose late father, Francis J. Boyle, served as chief judge of the Federal District Court in Rhode Island from 1982 to 1992, later served three terms in the Rhode Island House of Representatives beginning in 1981.

He has seen Newport’s political climate change greatly over the years.

“Newport has changed drastically,” Boyle said. “The middle class is about gone, or it has at least been drastically reduced.” He said many of his Newport friends have migrated to Middletown or Portsmouth. “It’s a different electorate,” Boyle said. "It’s not as much a lunch pail as it was when I was younger.”

He added, “Today the city seems very sensitive to quality of life issues, and it’s less receptive to economic development issues. Now it seems as though there is a knee-jerk ‘no’ on many things. It’s just a different town than it was when I was elected, more of a resort town.”

Boyle’s political experience makes him a valuable lobbyist.

A graduate of PC and Boston College Law School, Boyle concedes that the general public often does not have a favorable view of lobbyists.

“In the history that I’ve lived, there have been some lobbyists who do try to cut corners,” he said. “But they get weeded out. They don’t last for long.” He described his style of lobbying as “policy driven.” And, he added, “As a lobbyist, you have to understand what you’re trying to advocate for. And, most importantly, you have to give honest information to the people you’re trying to advocate to.”

Some client industries are complex and require lobbyists to work hard to properly understand the information they need to lobby successfully. “Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, for example,” Boyle said. “To do the job right you have to get right into the weeds on health care issues.”

He said he does not try to alienate those he lobbies against. “I’ve never tried to burn a bridge,” Boyle said. He also said that there is nothing for a lobbyist to gain by holding a grudge against a political figure who won’t see things his way.

“My position with public officials is that whatever they decide to do, I will abide by it,” he said. “Legislators are very conscious of that. They’re looking for that.”

With Statehouse staffs limited in some cases, lobbyists can provide important information on often-complex issues. “With Blue Cross as a client, if there’s a question on health care policy, we can provide staffs with good, worthwhile information,” Boyle said.

When he segued from being an elected official to a lobbyist in the early 1990s, Boyle’s first client was Newport Grand, the North End slots parlor whose days are numbered now that voters have approved a casino for Tiverton.

Boyle called this one of the toughest issues he’s encountered. “I live in Newport,” he said. “I’ve tried to bring a perspective to the Statehouse about just how sensitive this issue is. It’s an emotional issue.”

He said he believes that the owners of Newport Grand understand that and will work with the city as the operation moves to Tiverton. “But beyond that, it’s private property,” he said.

Boyle was asked what he considers to be the most important thing he’s worked on for Newport in the course of his career. He did not hesitate with his answer. “Fort Adams,” he said. “That park has become a significant asset to the state.” Boyle is a former president of Sail Newport, the nonprofit sailing facility located at Fort Adams State Park.

“I feel very fortunate to have lived my entire life in Newport,” he said.

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