Voters May Be Flooded
As I mentioned to Matt Allen, a few minutes ago, we’ve been largely untouched by the weather, this week, in Tiverton, but I was still a little surprised not to see notice that tonight’s Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates night at the Quonset “O” Club in North Kingstown had been postponed. It hasn’t been, and I’m here along with about thirty other people.
Organizer Steve Wright seemed exhausted. Apparently, he spent the night fighting basement flooding, but steeled his spine to fulfill his drive for better governance and an informed electorate. Perhaps one thing to keep in mind during difficult times: life and social institutions march on. If anything, trying times should remind us why we need rational government structures.
We’re still giving folks a bit of extra time to get here, and a few more people have filtered in, bringing the crowd to about forty people. Random words caught from general conversation are mostly flood related.
Steve Wright is running through the people who weren’t able to come (moderator, candidates, sound & video crew).
First opening statement from Larry Ehrhardt (R., North Kingstown): “Rhode Island’s in very serious trouble.” He’s running through all of the gloom — bad statistics, debt, liabilities, budget shortfalls, and so on. “The most important thing, now, is to watch the direction of the government of the state.” He’s referring to the elevation of Gordon Fox to Speaker of the Rhode Island House.
After reading from Rep. Corvese’s op-ed against Fox, Ehrhardt said: “What’s going on is a battle for the heart and soul of Rhode Island.” He suggested that people need to vote for conservatives of whatever party.
James Halley (district 31) is giving an opening statement that sounds pretty good (reasonable government, etc.), but now he’s talking about the return of authority to cities and towns as a good thing. Apparently, he was a superintendent.
Dawson Hodgson, a young Republican for the East Greenwich/North Kingstown/Warwick gave a good, right-leaning speech.
Now Doreen Costa (Republican from Exeter) is introducing herself in precisely the way that one might expect of a woman who has had her picture in the Providence Journal confronting Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI).
First question was concerning Chuck Levesque’s legislation to raise auto registration fees and receipts tax.
Ehrhardt answered by citing an exchange by email with a constituent who sent in a form letter supporting the legislation demanding to pay higher taxes.
Colleen Conley asked about ending the public pension system as a defined benefit system in exchange for a defined contribution plan.
Ehrhardt referenced his own non-increasing corporate pension from two decades ago.
Halley wants to look at the federal government’s model as a way of transferring from defined benefit to defined contribution.
Hodgston: “This is a huge, crushing structural debt that we’ll pass on to our grandchildren.” He says public employees deserve a good retirement program comparable to the private sector. He argued that the only way to keep the promise of the pension system is to transition it.
Costa: New employees to 401K. She cited her brother, who is retired at 57 from the Post Office with 80% pay.
Next question: Will you sign a contract to vote “no” on new taxes?
Hodgson: Will only raise one tax: public pensions coming out of the state will be treated as income
Costa: “I will not raise a tax. Ever.” The straw that knocked her into the race was the $7 fishing tax.
Halley: “I would not sign that.” Our tax system is “not equitable” because it relies on property tax and has too many exemptions for sales taxes. He wants room to reform that.
Ehrhardt: “As a matter of policy, I do not sign pledges.” He heeds his constituents, but he is against tax increases.
Will Ricci: What taxes would you say we should lower for economic development?
Ehrhardt: Income tax, particularly on the higher brackets. Corporate tax. Sales tax.
Halley: Noted business tax. Property taxes are killing us.
Hodgson: “Budget policy is part and parcel of tax policy.” “We’ve got to look at our spending problem.” Structural debt. There’s no easy answer. [Sure there is! — JK] He’s not optimistic about the chances of getting taxes down, because the people in government have made promises that we cannot keep.
Costa: Minimum business tax. Emphasized all of the various fees and requirements.
Somebody raised the exodus of the boating industry (directed at Halley’s comfort about taxing boat sales).
Halley’s sticking firm. Colleen Conley booed. “It’s the Ocean State!”
Next question: Unfunded mandates. Would Ehrhardt sign on to Trillo’s 10th Amendment legislation?
Ehrhardt didn’t cosign because Trillo didn’t ask. He’d rather we focus on state mandates, such as bus monitors. They’d be “easy fixes.”
Next questioner is advocating for same-sex marriage.
Costa: Support civil unions, attended one recently. Marriage, no, for social and religious reasons.
Hodgson: Running for other reasons. Doesn’t trust government to legislate marriage. “If we have to legislate this, it should be for any two individuals.”
Halley: Agrees with Doreen. Supports individual choices for relationship, but marriage is opposite-sex.
Ehrhardt: Marriage is man and woman. Would support some sort of civil unions, but would also support a ballot question on marriage.
On to lieutenant governor, the only candidate to make it was Robert Healey. You’ll have to check the video to see his posture as he began. Casual. It’s like performance art.
“I believe in small government and oppose government waste, and in this case, the waste is the office that I”m running for.”
He’s especially incensed that there’s an entire highly paid staff to support the office.
“This office is like your appendix: you don’t really need it.” “When you think about the office, it sounds like you might need it, but you’re really wasting a million dollars a year of taxpayer money.” He promises not to take pay or hire a staff.
Colleen Conley called him a “forerunner of the Tea Party movement.” Her question was how he would eliminate the office.
He said his first step would to fill the office doing nothing and taking nothing. The people of Rhode Island would have to figure out a new system. He does affirm the need for a generally elected office that would take over the governor’s office. He questioned why the most powerful office holder, the House Speaker, would want to transfer to the office of governor. He thinks combining the title of lieutenant governor with some other office, like secretary of state.
Missed the question, but Healey’s saying that Liz Roberts’s legislative record before she became lieutenant governor should scare people when they consider that she could, in fact, become governor.
Now he’s reviewing his political history — as a small-government candidate for governor and a strong arm against the unions as a school committee member.
Given the lack of authority of the office, the questions have been kind of to other points, and lighthearted. The video will be worth watching, though.
“Talk is cheap, and I can do it for nothing.”
Now there aren’t any real questions, so Healey’s going through some of his past slogans, such as: “He won’t be there for you.”
He thinks he could govern “if I had to” because he was trained as a teacher, and has the experience and degrees to show for it. He know the law. He’s owned and run businesses. He knows what it’s like to work. “The beautiful part of it all is that I don’t rely on the Rhode Island economy for my living.” He does real estate development in South America with his profit from the sale of a liquor business.
Funny, he doesn’t look like Gatsby.
Will Ricci asked whether Healey would actually go to his office on a regular basis. He answered that he’d carry a cell phone, for which he’ll pay. In his answer, Healey also referenced a debate in the last season with a general and Liz Roberts, one of whom is retired on a pension and the other of whom is a trust fund baby, neither really needs the money.
He says he actually might have a shot, given the political environment, if the Republicans don’t run a candidate or even endorse him. He wouldn’t run for the GOP, though, because he wants to keep his creds as an independent.
Moving on to the second Congressional race. Zaccaria, Gardiner, and Clegg.
Michael Gardiner is up, and his purpose is to redefine the local GOP as a centrist party. The backstory, by the way, is that Gardiner is in some way associated with the infamous Bobby Oliviera, who’s been on a personal-attack binge by phone and by email, lately.
A number of the Republican stalwarts in attendance left the room while Gardiner spoke. Tepid applause.
Bill Clegg is up talking about, emphasizing that he’s running entirely on the economy and shrinking government spending. He’s running for Congress, as opposed to state office, because the problems are so much bigger at the federal level. He thinks we need to start repealing.
Mark Zaccaria says that he disagreed with all of the spending of the Bush administration, but he’s positively frightened by Obama’s follow-up. He wants to shrink government. Period. “Individual authority coupled with individual responsibility.”
Steve Wright uncharacteristically asks a question: about the Enumerated Powers Act, requiring each bit of legislation to cite its authority for its action.
Clegg emphasized a lack of responsiveness from government, and would support the act, but he notes the interpretational powers of the Supreme Court, which could take us in the wrong direction regardless.
Gardiner thinks the act is unnecessary, but hey, go ahead (paraphrase). Interesting note: I’m way in the corner, and of all the candidates, tonight, Gardiner is paying the most attention to my camera.
Next question is about something that happened on Facebook, but Gardiner talked over him refusing to answer. But it turns out that he wants to take the opportunity to rail against the 10th amendment, Colleen Conley, Helen Glover, and the state GOP. Boos. This guy is unhinged.
Clegg: “I fully support Facebook…”
Zaccaria: “I was proud to represent the 10th amendment rally.
Gardiner mentioned signs offensive to Langevin. Given Bobby O’s involvement in this thing, I’d wager that the signs were a plant by supposed “centrists” who wish to undermine conservatives.
Colleen Conley redirects to Gardiner regarding explicit threats from Bobby O. Smug look on Gardiner’s face. Gardiner’s defending Bobby O.
This is the dumb part of politics.
Steve Wright has intervened to stop the fighting and get back to relevant questions.
I’ll add this, by the way: I think the references to Bobby O’s past could be a little more charitable, but the type of political behavior in which he revels is really inexcusable and unnecessary.
Next question: What is your take on repealing the healthcare monstrosity?
Notwithstanding his opposition to the 10th amendment, Gardiner wants state-driven healthcare solutions that move out of the employer-based system.
Clegg: He would work to repeal, not only because of the nature of the bill, but also because of the shenanigans used to pass it. “It’s an abomination what has been done.”
Zaccaria hasn’t answered yet, but I’ll predict: ‘Hell, yes, repeal!”
What he actually is saying: “Even to think about spending that much more money that we don’t have is ludicrous. We absolutely have to try to repeal the bill.” If that’s not possible (or in the interim) Congress should simply not fund it.
The next question is about border control and the “shoving of amnesty down our throats.”
Zaccaria: Eliminate the economic incentives for immigrants to move here illegally, beginning with controls on businesses and smarter controls on legal immigration. We also have to mirror the history of Columbia in controlling drug cartels in Mexico.
Clegg: Supports eVerify and legal immigration. What’s going on in Mexico is a war, “one of the largest problems we have on the North American continent. That gives reason to maintain our own military to protect our own border, if we need to.
Gardiner: Speaking well of Chuck Schumer (D, NY). He supports the efforts that Schumer’s pursuing. “eVerify is fine.”
Will Ricci is attempting to redirect the question as one against Bobby O.
Next question: How improve our debt rating?
Zaccaria: Must address Social Security and Medicare. The former must move toward defined contribution. He also raised troops deployed unnecessarily in such nations as Germany.
Clegg: Education and healthcare outstrip defense spending. He’s a strong proponent of a strong defense, but regardless of the area, the question is what we can afford. Congress must look at every program and decide what to cut. He says that may require non-professionals, and he’ll only run for up to two two-year terms.
Gardiner: Lauding George H.W. Bush. Gardiner is blaming the right for hanging him out to dry for violating the “no new taxes” pledge.
Chairman of RI Log Cabin Republicans asked about the candidates’ positions on same-sex marriage.
Clegg: For civil unions. “Marriage is the province of religion, not civil government.”
Zaccaria: The definition of marriage derives from a religious sacrament. Thinks states should not issue marriage certificates. Definitely doesn’t support a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Gardiner: Poetic answer about loneliness and the need for family. “What if I were gay and an orphan? Would I have no right to a family?” Challenges whether traditionalists really believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “And I really don’t care if you like the answer.”
The Q&A is over, but they’re giving Michael Grassi some time to introduce himself as a candidate for General Assembly. A conservative speech.
4-pronged approach to fixing Rhode Island:
1. No tax increases.
2. Small business tax reform. Eliminate corporate taxes. Use the gas tax for what it’s meant to be used for. And the lottery, for education.
3. Create a competitive healthcare industry. In Rhode Island, we don’t have a choice.
4. His wife is a school teacher, but “the unions need to realize something in this state”: that we need pension reform. End the current plan.
Monique asked if he supports eVerify for the private sector. He does, and he uses eVerify as a business owner.. The illegal community receiving our money has to stop.
Next question: Do people in government have to start exposing corruption? The questioner believes so, because it’s criminal, not just slimy.
Well, they’ve run out my camcorder battery.
Steven Wright’s closing comment: “OK. Now go home and pump out your basements.”