Dems McKee, Regunberg spar in heated LG debate

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – They may both be Democrats, but there was little common ground between Lt. Gov. Dan McKee and his challenger, state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, during their final televised debate on Friday.

The two candidates sparred throughout the half-hour taping over a variety of issues including health care, education, politics and ethics.

Regunberg – a two-term state representative from Providence – said he would champion a single-payer health system in Rhode Island if he gets elected.

“I’m talking to people every day who are putting off medical care because of sky-high deductibles. Families are getting strangled by premiums that keep going up and up and up,” Regunberg said during the debate at the WPRI 12 studios.

“For my opponent who has never really put forward real solutions to the health care crisis, he can stand with the status quo, he can stand with the private insurers and the drug companies, but I’m going to keep fighting to make sure health care is a right,” he continued.

McKee blasted the plan, pointing out Vermont attempted to set up a state-run health care system but abandoned the plan after state leaders there estimated it would be far too costly for taxpayers.

“Who’s got the experience, the management experience, the experience to run budgets, the experience to run numbers? He doesn’t,” McKee said. “He would actually create a very risky experiment – fiscal experiment – just to get his name in lights to accomplish something, and it would really hurt the state of Rhode Island.”

During a rapid-fire section of questions, McKee said he is voting for incumbent Gov. Gina Raimondo in the primary, while Regunberg declined to say if he will support her. Regunberg supported legalizing recreational marijuana; McKee opposed it. Both said they would sign a bill that would codify a women’s right to an abortion as governor. 

The debate became the most heated when the two candidates were asked about claims made on the campaign trail. McKee took issue with Regunberg for claiming he has taken money from corporate interests.

“He’s just way off base on that – he’s very dishonest,” McKee said. “He’s taken donations from lobbyists in the thousands … he doesn’t talk about that.”

“To be governor you need to have integrity, you need to have character, you need to be honest,” McKee added. “He’s had a very dishonest race.”

“Just because you don’t like a fact, it doesn’t mean you can call it dishonest,” Regunberg shot back. “I want to be very clear: My campaign is not taking a dime from corporate [political action committees], from oil and gas companies, from drug manufactures.” 

“That’s a strong contrast to my opponent’s campaign,” he said.

Despite their differences, both candidates agreed to endorse the Democratic nominee. The winner of the primary will face Republican Paul Pence, Moderate Joel Hellmann and two independents, Ross McCurdy and Jonathan Riccitelli, in the November election.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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