The R.I. Republican Party (RIGOP) stepped up its campaign to replace longtime Democratic incumbents, including Warwick’s Rep. Robert Flaherty (District 23).
In a press conference Monday in the State House rotunda, the party introduced 12 candidates, bringing the number of challengers to 18.
The RIGOP plans to challenge at least 50 incumbents, including Republican Rep. Daniel Gordon (District 71). The remaining 32 candidates will be announced by Wednesday of next week.
RIGOP Chairman Mark Zaccaria introduced the roster of newest candidates to an audience of about 30 crowded along the center stairway. Opposite the podium sat a small mock-up lemonade stand – an endorsement of simpler economic times.
In the 2010 General Election, no Republican candidates were fielded in 22 House districts, and the Democratic incumbent ran completely unopposed in 14 of them. In the 2010 State Senate race, the Republican Party placed no opposition in 13 Senate districts, leaving seven Democratic incumbents unopposed. “Any who go unopposed are too many, because [without a Republican] we don’t pose voters with a real choice unless we have [at least] two options,” said Zaccaria.
Flaherty, a Democratic incumbent who ran unopposed by the RIGOP in the 2010 General Election, will face first-time candidate John Falkowski, who was inspired to run due to Flaherty’s alleged sparse voting attendance – or lack thereof.
During the final session that lasted until 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 13, Falkowski claimed that Flaherty left early Tuesday night. Legislative records for the 2012 session show that Flaherty’s voting stopped completely on June 12 after 7 p.m.
As a resident of Warwick for over half a century, Flaherty has practiced law in the state since 1979. In the 2010 General Election, Flaherty ran against Timothy Howe, an independent, winning 59 percent of the vote.
Flaherty missed 370 floor votes between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of 2011, more than all five of Warwick’s Representatives missed votes combined in that period, according to a website run by the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (rhodeislandvotes.org).
Of the allegations raised by Falkowski, Flaherty responded that they are “unsubstantiated,” citing that he has an attendance rate of 95 percent.
“I’m going to run on my record and my involvement for over two decades, and my ability to continue to ensure that the citizens of Warwick receive their fair treatment under the state budget, and remain responsive to local issues as they arise,” Flaherty said in a phone interview.
Falkowski, the owner of Falcon Pest Service and resident of Warwick for 41 years, wishes to make the city, as well as Rhode Island, friendlier for commerce. He says his first action, as a lawmaker, would be to remove the $500 business corporation tax, a minimum fee on franchisees.
He believes that taxes on businesses lead to “hardship” for enterprises of all sizes.
“It doesn’t matter if you have one employee or 100,” he said at the press conference.
Another candidate, first-timer John F. Lindholm, or “Lindy,” of Wakefield, will be running for the seat of 15-year incumbent Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (Dist. 37 – New Shoreham, South Kingstown).
Lindholm’s campaign, branded as “Lindy4RI,” runs a website through lindy4ri.com. Taking donations of only $20 or less, the site disclaims, “Special interests: go elsewhere with your big bux!”
The Republican Party aims to correct the state’s financial problems, said chairman Zaccaria in a phone interview, by “creating a new matrix where business can flourish, to create more taxpayers, and to get past this high unemployment rate.”
The RIGOP has put the issue of collusion of politics and unions in its crosshairs.
Prior to the press conference, Zaccaria said that favoritism and the corruption it breeds poses a growing problem to the state as a whole – the current operation of Rhode Island state affairs, mixed with the agendas of powerful public service lobbies, makes for a dangerous cocktail of “revolving door” politics. Zaccaria cited the case of former House speaker-turned-lobbyist William J. Murphy, who declined to be re-elected in 2010. The new gig has earned Murphy at least $78,000 in 2012 alone, according to reports filed by the Secretary of State’s office.
“The first thing we have to do – what the election is about – is bringing us back from the brink of bankruptcy. We can’t get to other issues until we remove this large caliber handgun from our temple,” said Zaccaria.
The main problem comes in the form of pension management, according to Zaccaria.
“The legislature has failed to put a nickel away to provide for these pensions,” he said, “and they put a lot of muscle behind electing people who turn around and offer these sweetheart deals that the state cannot possibly meet.”
Zaccaria also wishes to see better use of departments and services, and points out success in a comparable state as an example. “New Hampshire,” with six times the area of R.I. and a higher population, “has less state employees, yet better services,” he said.
Based on U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data from 2009, New Hampshire has a 20 percent higher gross state product (GSP) than Rhode Island. GSP is the sum of a state’s industrial assets, or the value added by the industrial sector.
As of 2009, New Hampshire’s local and state public employees made up 11 percent of the total workforce in the state, compared to 12 percent in Rhode Island. The data comes from a 2010 study done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
And what about the third party ticket? Zaccaria says that some candidates run as independents because party-affiliation can show a negative image. In Rhode Island, Governor Lincoln Chafee, as well as Sen. Edward O’Neill (District 17), ran successfully as independents.
“There are a number of instances that we have people who have chosen to run as independents because they feel the Republican brand is a negative rather than a positive,” said Zaccaria.