Voter Coalition: Burrillville

So the Crystal Lake Country Club in Burrillville (Burrillville? Maplewood? I found at least four different addresses for this building) is kinda hard to find. The PA system guy was late, and moderator was late, so even though it’s already 7:06 p.m., somebody just announced that they’ll begin the RI Voter Coalition program in 15 or 20 minutes, so there’s still time to get here.
7:09 p.m.
A professional photographer type just asked me if I recognized any of the candidates. I pointed out Treasurer Frank Caprio, a few feet away, Republican AG Candidate Erik Wallin, a few feet in the other direction, Republican Representative Brian Newberry down the center aisle: “No, no,” he said, “the governor candidates.” Everybody wants the big names.
Just spotted John Robitaille.
By the way wasn’t Crystal Lake the camp in Friday the 13th? Since I’m just killing time, I’ll mention that I actually went to Boy Scout camp at the site on which they filmed that movie. Yes, it was creepy, although only my friends with more permissive parents had seen the flick.

Treasurer Frank Caprio goes over the rules of the debate with the moderator and RIVC founder Steve Wright (standing to the left).

7:37 p.m.
Moderate Party Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Block gets an early taste of political events:

If Linc Chafee were here and sitting in the empty chair at left (from the audience point of view), the candidates would be sitting in perfect order along the political spectrum.

7:43 p.m.
The gubernatorial candidates are giving their opening statements. Moderate Ken Block went first, with an introduction of the Moderate Party similar to his presentation on Sunday. Democrat Frank Caprio went second, with personal anecdotes of what people have asked him to do as governor: “Cut the prices, change the menu, and get a new chef.” He closed with a call to “lower the taxes.” Republican John Robitaille quickly ran through his biography and qualifications, which is good, because it was more impressive than I’d known. Then he gave his “Three Rs”: Rescue (stop the bleeding, cut taxes) “This session of the General Assembly has got to get with it.” Reform (tax codes, education, “individual freedom plan” for social services. Time ended before he could give his “third R.” He closed with: “Never give up hope. Never give up hope.”
First question from the audience was what the third R is: Renew. Reference to the Independent Man.
7:51 p.m.
Second question: How will you work with or change the legislature.
Caprio: “I’ve been in government for years… You know you’re doing a good job as governor when you enter the State House and nobody wants to shake your hand.” He mentioned involving himself in legislative elections.
Robitaille: Cited Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan. Interesting that Robitaille goes with cooperation and coalitions, while Caprio went with confrontation.
Block: Need to run new candidates against Democrats.
7:55 p.m.
Probably about 100 people in the audience, but every media outlet is covering the event, so there’s no doubt the audience is much larger. That’s a lesson, by the way, for all you citizens who don’t go to these things. They’re a great opportunity for you to have a voice.
Next question: How stop the entitlement mentality.
Robitaille: “Teach the kids self-reliance, not dependence.”
Caprio: Tied the question to small businesses. He’s already met with many of the special interests and providers who benefit from the system, and there’s a lot of waste. “Cut money in the budget and have programs that help those who are most in need.”
Block: Well, well, well, Ken’s answer reflects my witness-leading question during our interview with him, when I asked him what we should do about our status as a welfare magnet.
8:01 p.m.
Next question: What executive orders to you plan?
Caprio: Increase the small business loan program of the EDC to “$100 million or even larger.”
Robitaille: Compel all cabinet members to comb waste out of the system.
Block: “I just want to say that I agree with Frank.” “But the very first thing that I would kick off would be an audit of the state’s computer systems.”
8:06 p.m.
“Why am I still paying 7% sales tax?”
Caprio: Small businesses can’t just raise their prices during hard times, and the government shouldn’t be able to, either. He’s talking about advertising our tax-free clothing. “We need to have our sales taxes driven down.”
Robitaille: “I personally like the New Hampshire model: There’s no sales tax, there’s no income tax, and the Tax Foundation has ranked the state of New Hampshire as the best tax environment.” He went on to note that NH’s unemployment is only 7%.
Block: “We have not had elected officials in the legislature or executive branch who’ve had the courage to step forward and say, ‘enough.'”
8:10 p.m.
“If they ram this healthcare bill through Congress… what would you do to stop that?”
Block: Insurance is out of control. As a small business owner, he thinks about health insurance every day. “I would work to fix the healthcare system in our state.” He notes that the lack of competition allows the non-profit Blue Cross to have higher rates than the for-profit United.
Caprio. Insurance is out of control. Had a meeting with Blue Cross executives later. Personal anecdote about somebody whom this affects.
Robitaille: Cited the 10th Amendment. He’d surround himself with constitutional attorneys. Noted the salt-water fishing license that the federal government is forcing on RI: “That’s BS!” The healthcare bill is “bogus.”
8:16 p.m.
To Robitaille: “Where’s the Big Audit, and how would you do it?”
Robitaille: Went over the results of the Big Audit. 1st bucket: by executive order were done. 2nd bucket: by legislation, died in the GA. 3rd bucket: needed approval by unions, went nowhere. “I’m going to have a Lean Czar to trim out waste.”
Caprio: Trimmed waste in treasurer’s office, will do the same across state government.
Block: Techie answer about using software to analyze government expenditures and upgrading software.
8:21 p.m.
“Where do you think we are economically, and how do we fend off an out-of-control federal government from the governor’s office?”
Robitaille: We haven’t hit bottom, yet, but we’re probably close. The problem comes in 2012, when the states have to deal with the disappearance of stimulus money. The governor can use the bully pulpit, and citizens can tell Washington enough is enough. John’s doing better than I expected. Most refreshingly, he’s actually answering questions.
Caprio: Disconnect in Washington and main street. Another personal anecdote of a citizen small business owner whom he’s met recently. Make Rhode Island the state that other states feel like they can’t keep up with. Made a closing statement rather than addressing the question.
Block: His business has received zero stimulus funds despite doing business with public entities. The stimulus bill “has been a dismal failure.” As governor, he could only insist that the federal delegation cooperate with him. Posture yourself to survive the beating that’s coming. “We’re in a beating now, and it’s going to get worse.”
And that concludes the governor session.
8:29 p.m.
Attorney General Candidates are up. Probably half of the audience has dissipated, including much of the media. You know, everybody’s fond of talking about the importance of changing the faces in the less sexy offices across government, but everybody still wants to focus mainly on the center ring.
Moderate Party candidate Chris Little introduced himself and explained why he’s interested in running for office rather than learning to play golf.
Republican Party candidate Erik Wallin gave examples of public corruption and swung into the call-and-response “are you ready” opening that is his standard opening.
8:35 p.m.
First question is to Chris Little on bringing down health insurance costs. His answer has mainly entailed describing the job of the insurance commissioner. As at the Moderate Party events, I agree with much of what he’s saying, but I’m not sure what it has to do with the AG’s office. He says the office has authority, but I’m not sure it should.
Wallin blames the lack of advocacy from the AG, as well.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one of these potential AGs said something creative, rather than focusing on bashing insurance companies. How about exploring the constitutionality of expensive regulations?
8:41 p.m.
Question: Talk about the overlapping of the AG’s authority when it comes to state law and federal law.
Little: One example is Medicaid fraud.
Wallin: Would sign on to a movement to challenge the constitutionality of the federal healthcare legislation.
Question: How do you plan to fight illegal immigration? How can you assure us that you’ll keep your promises?
Wallin: Opposes law that would prohibit law enforcers from asking about immigration status. Would cooperate with ICE. He’s trustworthy because he’s not in this for the politics, but because it’s a calling.
Little: “I’ll start out by echoing what Erik said” with respect to the politicization of the AG’s office. Function #1 of the office is to enforce the law that’s given to you and to work with other agencies. If he doesn’t like a law, he’ll follow it, but he’ll advocate at the state house. He built his practice around the value of his word, and he’ll maintain that.
Question to Mr. Little: Opinion on 2nd Amendment?
Little: Not super familiar with 2nd Amendment’s relevance to the attorney general’s office. He encourages people to hunt on his property in South County.
Wallin: Is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment.

8:54 p.m.
What are you going to do about public corruption?
Wallin: There’s a reason that people go to investigative reporters rather than the AG’s office, because they worry that the AG has become too politicized. Corruption affects small business.
Little: “You won’t find any difference in what I would say.” Highlighted the reluctance to go to the AG with corruption complaints. “Everyone would have confidential access to me.” Also brought up white-collar crime that he doesn’t believe is being touched in RI, as well.
9:00 p.m.
Third session, congressional candidates: John Loughlin, Mark Zaccaria, Mike Gardiner. All Republicans. Loughlin’s first district; the other two are second district.
As one might expect, the messages during the opening statements has been strong on defense, fiscal conservatism, and the need for noise-making in Washington.
9:10 p.m.
Question: Good speech about how “stimulus” is not stimulus and “reform” is not reform in current federal lingo.
Loughlin: “Now they’re even changing the language again, because ‘stimulus’ now has a negative connotation. Now it’s a ‘jobs bill.'” He brought up fraud in the numbers being used to claim success.
Gardiner: “Stimulus seems to be a time-released support package” to support Obama’s party. Wants a state-driven national marketplace for health insurance.
Zaccaria: “A real stimulus comes when we get the government out of the way” and let American people create wealth.
9:17 p.m.

Question: How can you make people serving in the military feel safer in military bases?
Zaccaria: Stop being the world’s police force and reallocate money to force protection.
Loughlin: “Too often politicians look at the military as an opportunity for social engineering.” Fort Hood was a result of political correctness. Also, draw down forward deployed forces, especially in Europe.
Gardiner: There was “probably” poor judgment in not picking up on the Ft. Hood shooter. Doesn’t want to criticize the role of the military for social engineering. “His neighbors must have said that the [Ft. Hood shooter] was an OK guy. He slipped through the cracks.”
9:25 p.m.
Question: How do we ween the American people off entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) before they bankrupt us?
Loughlin: Social Security is basically a Ponzi scheme. “The best welfare program is a good job that pays a good wage.”
Zaccaria: “Most people are asleep, and it requires us to say, ‘folks,’ here’s this problem.’ Then we have to privatize Social Security (just like the RI pension system). Democrats don’t want these reforms, because they might work.
Gardiner: Raise the age limit on Social Security. Privatization is part of the solution, but politically difficult to do. Incentives such as medical savings accounts.
[Editor’s note: Sheesh, I’m tired.] 9:31 p.m.
Question: Revisiting old legislation, especially with respect to trade.
Loughlin: Took the question in a climate-change direction, expressing doubts about Climate Change. Revisit every law based on bad data.
Gardiner: Went with the NAFTA angle, saying that he’s conflicted because “in my heart, I’m a free-trade guy.” But he knows a lot of people who feel as if they’re being put out of business. Doesn’t have an answer. Is listening.
Zaccaria: Have an entire session of Congress devoted to retiring laws. Must be able to trade and compete fairly within that economy; NAFTA puts additional restrictions on American businesses that don’t apply to other nations, especially in Mexico.
9:36 p.m.
Question: Concerned about the focus being off terrorism, such as President Obama’s acceptance of Hamas members in the United States and terrorism within American Muslim communities.
Zaccaria: Prevent terrorism, but realize that we live in a diverse society.
Loughlin: Rhode Island was founded on religious freedom. Differentiated between Muslim faith and radical Islam. Must realize that we’re at war with the latter.
Gardiner: Nobody has to swear into Congress on the Bible (in response to some members’ using the Koran. “I would use the Bible, because I’m fine with that.” [Not because he’s Christian?] Weird answer about the courage needed by police officers to be willing to take a bullet to be sure that the minority criminal was going for a gun…
9:44 p.m.
There’s supposed to be a session for General Assembly members. The audience has decided that it should be over, with only about five people remaining in their seats. This is going on way too long. Perhaps the RIVC should narrow the focus of each event, perhaps with two categories of candidates at each, 45 minutes allocated per.
Guess I’ll tough it out, though. There are only two GA candidates still here. (Brian Newberry was here with his son, who drew him away a while ago.)
Independent Richard Rodi, District 2 (Providence). First thing, when he gets home, tonight, he’s going to read the RI Constitution. A member of the audience just handed him a pocket federal Constitution.
Independent David Bibeault, Dist, 22 (Smithfield) is running because he’s “watched the General Assembly, and that’s definitely where the problem is.” The two biggest things that we have to cut in state government are public sector unions and the welfare industry.
Republican Sean Gately, Dist. 26, Cranston, is running for Rhode Island, for his family. He sees this election as a unique opportunity for change. Very passionate. Rightly.
9:59 p.m.
Will you pledge right now to never take a dime from a public-sector union:
Bibeault: Makes the pledge. Says he probably doesn’t even have to worry about making the decision.
Rodi: “I like this question.” “David Segal is my opponent; what pocket is he in?” Takes the pledge. “They’re ruining our state; they’re ruining our schools.”
Gately: “No.” (Meaning that he takes the pledge.)
Question: Their positions on the Central Falls high-school matter, and the pension debacle.
Rodi: Pension reform is critical.
Bibeault: “We need the pension replaced with a 401K system.” Describes Rep. Kilmartin’s run for Treasurer — he’s paid nothing into the pension system, because he’s only a legislator, but if he were to be treasurer for a few years, his pension would be calculated on that basis.
Gately: Focusing on the teachers’ unions. “Central Falls is a model for schools across the state.” Everybody’s taken pay cuts in recent years, except public-sector unions.
Question: General Assembly is essentially a dictatorship of the leaders. Can anything be done?
Bibeault: Get rid of legislative grants. Get the money out of the government.
[Editor’s note: It might not have the media draw of the governor’s race, but I’d like to see more forums related to the General Assembly.] Gately: Notes that most hearings in the State House are filled with lobbyists. Citizens have to start showing up. That’s why they’re “scared as hell” right now. He’ll help to shine a light as a representative.
[Editor’s note: John Loughlin and Mark Zaccaria are the only candidates for higher office who’ve stuck around. Good on them, as they say.] Rodi: People just have to vote. He offered an anecdote from the last election after which he heard from some of his lawn-sign displayers that they didn’t vote, because they thought he had it wrapped up.
Question: Would you be willing to get rid of the property tax.
Bibeault: Government does have some legitimate functions. “The key is to have the smallest possible government.” He says he’s fundamentally libertarian and would focus on user fees to support those limited government functions.
Rodi: Get rid of property tax on cars. “If I buy a loaf of bread and pay taxes on it, do I have to keep paying for every slice?” Sales tax back to 5%. “We have all the tools in Rhode Island to change this state and make it what it should be.”
Gately: His property taxes have increased from $3,500 to $13,000 something over the past decade. Property taxes are necessary, but we need to lower the price of schools and rework state funding.
10:19 p.m.
Question: How would you feel about a state-level audit of municipalities?
Gately: He’d like to see that, but people have to become active at local meetings. Lack of participation is the largest impediment. “If you’ve got a big spotlight, you need people to help hold it up.”
Bibeault: Cited the Caruolo Act. Get rid of state mandates, and if it’s truly something that the state must mandate, the state ought to pay for it. Privatize all schools. Give students vouchers.
Rodi: Noted the supplies lists going home with kids in East Providence because there’s no money for supplies. “Yes, these schools need to be audited.” The lottery was supposed to go to school funding. “Everything that has been allocated has to go back to what it was allocated to or go away and start fresh.”
Oops, my camcorder battery is out of battery, but I think they’re just doing a last-word political pitch.
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And now for the long, dark trip home…

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14 years ago

“Erik Wallin gave examples of public corruption and swung into the call-and-response “are you ready” opening that is his standard opening.”
Serious question: does Wallin have Asperger’s?

14 years ago

You mean it’s two and a half hours into this thing and none of the candidates have been mauled by the audience or turned into pumpkins or anything??? How very strange.
Or maybe Chairman Lynch was wrong after all to advise certain candidates – including himself – not to attend such events.

14 years ago

I know you dismissed Block’s technical solutions, but management of billions of dollars amongst a million residents in the face of often conflicting hierarchies of tens of thousands of laws is a problem that a database is designed to solve. Ken built his livelihood on databases, it’s no surprise he sees promise in data, analysis, and subsequent action.
Finding out what policies work isn’t a question of our feelings or what’s been written by a conference of delegates centuries ago, but by analysis of data collected across different areas, at different times.
Our state has a big finance problem, but not big enough where we can’t honestly analyze what really works. I heard somewhere that economists are cheap these days.
It’s sad that there is no lively GA debate, that’s unarguably what needs the most change right now. Looks like the revolution of the Rhode Island right is over, with an unhealthy number of the GA running unopposed again. More progressive candidates have already begun the task of filling the seats of the Democrats who are seeking even higher office.
What are the non-progressives going to do, besides not vote at all?

Justin Katz
14 years ago

I don’t dismiss the importance of record keeping or the value of technology in doing so (and checking things). Waste is definitely a critical problem, but it’s not the critical problem. And at any rate, one can predict in advance the alliance of groups that will oppose and sabotage effective programs so as to preserve the waste. Let’s go straight to the inevitable battle.

Steve A.
Steve A.
14 years ago

I have to respectfully disagree with you Justin. I think in order to know the what and where you have to analyze. If you can improve on the way data is analyzed it makes it harder to sabotage the output. At least then you have a sensible way of approaching problem areas. A database will absolutely not identify everything, but it’s a good start prior to moving forward and plays a role in the inevitable battle.
On a side note, I think the candidates for Gov that made it all lean to some degree towards better fiscal management. I wish the more liberal candidates were there to get the view from the other side of the fence.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

I don’t know that I’d characterize what’s going on here as “disagreement.” I’m just skeptical that the established forces will allow such a database to be effective in the ways it needs to be (they’ll twist it and refocus it and such). I’m also not optimistic that the expense and effort will ultimately result in a critical mass of political will, as you hope. Look at legislative grants. Look at separation of powers. Look at charity check boxes on the tax form. Limited outrage. Obvious individual instances of corruption can generate heat… until the judiciary steps in and throws cold water on the momentum… but not broad, systemic problems, even when obvious.
Additionally, this sort of a talking point strikes me as treasurer-level, not governor-level.
The Moderate Party has the basic approach wrong. We need a firebreather, not somebody who thinks he’s going to apply rationality and analysis and move the public with it.

Steve A.
Steve A.
14 years ago

This is an opinion question for you Justin but open to anyone else. Do you think voters are ready for a firebreather? I know what you mean but I’m not sure that message could be embraced. I think it would be viewed as hostility and the message would be lost. I think good sound ideas will reverberate with those on the fence and those with deep political passion whereas the fire may scald those without similar passion. Just my opinion. Caprio and Chaffee both look like front runners and neither has much fire. Linc is barely lukewarm.

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