State House Hopefuls Face-Off in Public Forum
Original article can be read here
The State House forum was among the 11 candidate forums held to help inform local voters. The forum wrap-up like the one below for the Newport Wards appears in the Oct. 8 edition and the At Large forum is in the Oct. 1 edition.
Five candidates for State House seats in the upcoming general election met remotely in an Oct. 8 forum to make their case to represent local districts in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.
Moderated by Erin Donovan Boyle, executive director of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce, the 90-minute discussion with candidates for District 71, 72 and 75 centered on how they will manage Rhode Island’s recovery from the ongoing pandemic.
Although there were instances of bipartisan agreement, the issues broke down along predictable party lines, with Republican candidates expressing support for lower taxes and decreased regulation, while their Democratic counterparts made the case for shoring up funding for current programs.
Republican Amy Veri, who is running for the D-71 seat being vacated by Dennis Canario, argued for an inspector general’s audit of state spending on Day One, suggesting that earmarked public dollars are not reaching their intended targets.
“I have watched our political leaders fail us time after time,” she said, pointing to the significant budget gap.
“Our politicians are rubber-stamping budgets without holding anyone accountable and without tracing where our money is being spent,” she said.
D-71 Democratic challenger Michelle McGaw, who won last month’s primary with 80 percent of the vote, is part of the progressive wave of candidates under the banner of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative. McGaw reiterated support for state income tax reform, characterizing the previous tax cuts implemented in 2006 as a windfall for the wealthy.
McGaw also supports greater enforcement of the 10 percent affordable housing threshold formalized under the Low- and Moderate Income Housing Act, which only a handful of Rhode Island communities have met. “We need to put some teeth behind that,” she said.
In the D-72 race, incumbent Democrat Terri Cortvriend is again facing Republican Ken Mendonca, a former representative from 2016 to 2018. Mendonca had sharp words for the state’s elected officials, whom he accused of “sitting on the sidelines” as businesses struggled. He called for special legislative oversight hearings to investigate the state’s response to COVID-19, claiming there has been a lack of transparency on Smith Hill, advocating for budget scrutiny with “everything on the table.”
“We have lived under the governor’s executive orders for six months as the economy continues to stumble and businesses fail,” he said. “[Elected officials] have abdicated their responsibility to their constituents and to the public.”
Cortvriend responded that a rush to cut programs across the board could have adverse effects on economic recovery. “I don’t think we are going to be able to cut our way out of this budget,” she said. “We have to be cognizant of our most vulnerable populations who have already borne the brunt [of the current crisis].”
Addressing the local reliance on the hospitality industry which has been hit particularly hard, Cortvriend added that those holding elected office should also be working with private industry to fill the skills gap in the state, which would lessen structural unemployment and provide the higher wages needed for housing. “Perhaps more job training needs to happen so people can more easily switch careers,” she said. “[We should be] providing young people and unemployed adults with a variety of opportunities to improve their skills.”
Patrick Donovan, the Republican candidate for D-75, did not attend the forum. Democrat incumbent Lauren Carson highlighted her experience as a three-term representative, saying that budget challenges required a realistic approach. Carson vowed continued support for the environment and infrastructure improvements and increased education funding, which requires both regional cooperation and federal economic injection, she said. She also maintained support for a statewide housing bond that could be taken up by voters after the new year.
“We are completely uncertain as to what the budget will look like,” she said. “We are waiting breathlessly for some kind of compromise at the federal level."