Rhode Islanders had the unique opportunity – a first certainly of this campaign season, and perhaps a first ever in recent times – to hear candidates for all the statewide elective offices from a single podium Thursday night.
Every declared candidate for the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, general treasurer and attorney general attended the meet-and-greet event sponsored by the newly formed Warwick Community AARP Group at the Buttonwoods Community Center. There were three exceptions – gubernatorial candidates Gina Raimondo, who was represented by her husband, Andy Moffit, and Allan Fung, as well as incumbent Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who couldn’t make it.
Following an hour of mingling with the audience, each of the candidates was given five minutes to summarize their platform, which was followed by questions and answers.
“This is incredibly impressive,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said in welcoming remarks.
The Rhode Island economy, education, the need to create more jobs, taxes and the legalization of marijuana were all topics touched upon. For the most part, candidates didn’t deviate from their already stated positions, and in contrast to a debate format there was little criticism between candidates.
And as Nellie Gorbea, Democratic candidate for secretary of state, pointed out, with the exception of Kilmartin, all represent “a new team.” New team members were prepared to show they could take on the responsibility and make the state a better place for it.
“The biggest thing we have to do is to be a better choice to do business than Massachusetts,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block. Block hit on taxes as well as governance and the need to give the governor line item veto power on the budget.
Angel Taveras, Providence’s mayor and a Democratic candidate for governor, talked about growing up in a family that didn’t have much money and how, as mayor, he was able to turn around a city facing a $110 million structural deficit. His focus was on the importance of education from “cradle to career” and to think of the long-term.
Clay Pell, also running as a Democrat for governor, talked about the importance of “standing up for those who need help” and making the state a place where people can thrive.
Moffit talked about how Raimondo knows what it is like to struggle and how she understands the importance of bringing back good middle class jobs to the state. He used the words “courageous and competent” in describing his wife and how she tackled the issue of pension reform.
Independent Thomas Davis, who owns a tree service company, said he “lives the economy every day … and some days are good and some are bad.” He said he became interested in running for governor after seeing what the Economic Development Corporation had done with 38 Studios. His aim is to bring manufacturing back to Rhode Island.
Todd Giroux, who is running as a Democrat for governor, spoke of his plan to create a revolving fund to help existing and new businesses.
Jobs were also on the mind of Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, who is running for lieutenant governor as a Democrat.
“I want to tackle the issue of the day and that’s jobs,” he said. He also placed education high on his agenda and said the lieutenant governor and governor should run on the same ticket. Such a change would require a change in the state constitution.
Also running as a Democrat for lieutenant governor, Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee said he looks to bring new leadership to the state. He targeted taxes, saying the state should end the taxing of Social Security payments. He also talked about keeping Rhode Islanders in Rhode Island, given that currently “this is not where you want to retire.”
All three Democratic candidates for general treasurer, seated next to each other, in one form or another talked of the importance of financial literacy. Frank Caprio said he has a passion for public service and that is the reason he is running for the job he held until declaring for governor four years ago. He said he would look to make for faster tax refunds.
“This is going to be a fun campaign,” he said.
Seth Magaziner zeroed in on retirement security. He said the state is “in the midst of a terrible pension crisis” and that he would work to ensure that retirees get what they are promised. He also hit on predatory lending, saying the “best thing we can do is to focus on education.”
Ernie Almonte spoke of core values, leading off with integrity. He aims to improve returns on state investments and to teach people how to take financial control of their lives.
Guillaume de Ramel, a Democratic candidate for secretary of state, said he wants “to make Rhode Island the most transparent state in the country.” He said he would do that by making it easier to navigate government records and improving accessibility.
Also a Democrat, Nellie Gorbea struck a similar note.
“I want to make government work for all Rhode Islanders … I pledge to shine a light on what government does and how it works,” she said.
Without incumbent Kilmartin present, Republican Rep. Dawson Hodgson was the only candidate for attorney general in attendance. He said he is in the race to “stand up for Rhode Island” and for the future of his family and the community.
“Nothing is going to get better until we restore our reputation,” he said. He went on the attack, saying Kilmartin is not up to that task as he “was the right hand” to Gordon Fox, who resigned as speaker suddenly after state and federal authorities conducted a search of his State House office and home.
The candidates entertained several questions, including what they would do to help students from taking on too much debt to pay for their education; how they might make it easier for businesses to operate in the state; where they stood on the legalization of marijuana; and what single thing they could do to assist the elderly.
Financial literacy was named by several candidates as a key to addressing student debt. And Caprio noted the role of the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority not only in providing guidance, but also in offering interest-free loans to those studying for particular careers, such as nursing.
Gorbea called steps taken by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, with an office of regulatory reform a positive. Other candidates likewise said business is over-regulated. McKee said fire code regulations that were dramatically strengthened after the Station nightclub fire have “hurt business.”
The question on the legalization of marijuana brought definitive opposition from Caprio, McKee, Davis and Almonte. Others took a broader view. Pell said he would want to look at the experience of Colorado and Washington. Giroux said he favored the lowering of the criminalization for the possession of marijuana. He projected taxes on marijuana could generate $50 million. Hodgson wanted more information. He said “the social cost is pretty high.” Hodgson also talked of the current crisis of overdose deaths from opiates and the need to train law enforcement personnel in the use of Naloxone, which counters the effects of opiates, to save lives.
Gorbea wants to also look at Colorado and Washington as well as conduct an informed policy debate before action is taken.
As for the single action they could take to help the baby boomer generation – AARP members – the responses paralleled many of the platforms outlined in opening remarks.
Pell said he would look to ensure that people are able to stay in their homes. Both Giroux and McKee cited the need to reform taxes. Magaziner cited the need to secure the retirement system while Caprio and Almonte named financial literacy as critical.