Paul Pence, a 59-year-old Warwick resident with a degree in physics and mathematics, has announced his intentions to run as a Republican candidate for Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor.
A political outsider, Pence has never held an elected office or been involved with politics prior to this campaign. However he feels that his extensive experience as a quality management systems specialist for the private sector gives a perfect pedigree to take on the role of Lieutenant Governor, with a fresh perspective of somebody who has seen the imperfections of government from the outside.
“I have been a change agent, a problem solver, throughout my career I have been put in situations where I need to make things better but I don’t actually have authority,” he said. “The Lieutenant Governor position is very similar in that it’s an administrative role…That means it’s a prime opportunity for somebody who is good at going in, finding problems and helping the people in that area solve that problem.”
Having no political experience, to Pence, is a plus, because he says he is able to observe the workings of government from the perspective of a taxpayer, while those who have been inside the political world for a long time are more apt to view things in a more traditional way. He would like to be able to suggest ways to make things operate more effectively, efficiently and responsively.
“People cannot see problems from the inside. That’s why taxpayers are frustrated. We’re on the outside and we see this stuff. The people on the inside say, ‘No we have to do it that way. That’s the way it’s always been, and it’s that way for a good purpose,’” Pence said. “I want [government] to be more responsive. That’s the part that taxpayers see. That there is efficiency and effectiveness that can be improved everywhere in the government.”
Pence gave examples of how government can be more streamlined and work more for the benefit of taxpayers, from how we request potholes to be fixed to a scenario where a new pest control company may have to acquire licenses for their business and also from the Department of Environmental Management to handle wildlife, even though the company may not necessarily operate anywhere close to natural wildlife.
He also pondered smaller examples, like why drivers still have to carry physical paper versions of their registration around when a police officer can quickly check an online system and ascertain the legality of their license, registration and vehicle tags before even getting out of their squad car.
“These are antique ways of thinking of how to do things, they’re redundant, they’re unnecessary and they add complexity into our lives,” he said. “As we get into a more customer-focused society – like Amazon delivering things directly to your door or Uber taking you where you want, when you want – customers and, in our case taxpayers, will tolerate that less and less.”
Pence works as a senior quality management systems and food safety specialist for Toray Plastics in North Kingstown. However for 15 years he has also been the publisher and managing editor of Rhode Island Roads online magazine, which he started in 2002 as an amalgam of freelance travel articles he had written while journeying around Rhode Island. He said at one point he logged about 140,000 monthly readers of the publication.
“I came to Rhode Island 20 years ago and fell in love with the state,” he said. “I explored every corner, from Long Lake to Little Compton, from the Carousel Horses to downtown Providence. I’ve been all over, and I enjoy telling people about what I do.”
Pence assured that during his campaign, and should he be elected, he would hand over the operations of the paper to someone else to ensure there are no conflicts of interest or perceptions of impropriety.
As for running as a Republican in Rhode Island, Pence said that he is not concerned despite the perception that Democrats run the state, as there have been a healthy number of Republican governors and legislators elected, and that he trusts the voting public in Rhode Island make their decisions based on individual merits and goals rather than just on party lines.
Pence stated in a press release that he agreed with the late Bob Healey that the Lieutenant Governor position has been a waste of taxpayer money, however he believes the position can be improved and reformulated into a “coach, facilitator and problem solver” role instead of a need to eliminate the position entirely, as Healey had promised to do during his campaign for governor in 2014.
Prompting Pence to run this year is his belief that involvement in politics should be a responsibility of every taxpaying citizen.
“It’s not a one man task, it’s something that everybody needs to get involved in,” he said. “Everybody needs to run for office and everybody needs to hold the state government accountable for what they do.”
As for the obvious question most will ask upon seeing his name, no, Pence is not a direct relative to Vice President Mike Pence. While he said there may be a distant relation, Pence said that’s as far as the connection goes.
“I do know that we don’t exchange Christmas cards so we’re not that close,” he said.
Incumbent Daniel McKee, a Democrat, announced he would seek reelection Tuesday at a press conference at Dean Warehouse in Warwick. He chose that location to focus attention on the importance of small businesses to Rhode Island and his efforts to support them. A progressive Democrat and state Representative from Providence Aaron Regunberg announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor last month.