PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – When Congressman David Cicilline first ran for U.S. House in 2010, he won a narrow victory with 51% of the vote, dashing GOP hopes of flipping a Democratic congressional seat after Patrick Kennedy’s retirement.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Republican Party for the first time has opted not to field a candidate against Cicilline in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, leaving the door open for the 59-year-old Democrat to coast to a sixth consecutive term.
“I hope the fact that the Republicans didn’t have a candidate was in recognition that I have worked hard to deliver results for Rhode Island,” Cicilline said in an interview with 12 News.
The misgivings of the Republican Party, however, are not shared by two conservative independent challengers, Jeffrey Lemire and Fred Wysocki, who are both running long-shot campaigns to unseat Cicilline.
Lemire, a 53-year-old Providence resident and scrap-metal broker, is running on a pledge to make Rhode Island more business-friendly. To accomplish such a goal, Lemire said he wants to steer manufacturing jobs back into the state, and push local Fortune 500 companies – namely CVS Health Corp., Hasbro Inc. and Textron Inc. – to expand operations here and give workers more control.
“I want some type of employee-ownership program,” he explained. (Currently, CVS, Hasbro and Textron are all publicly traded companies.)
A self-described reformed drug user with multiple felony convictions, Lemire said he’s learned from his past mistakes, and counts himself lucky to be able to support himself without any help from state or federal subsidy programs. He sees Rhode Island as having an immigration problem, which he predicts will only get worse in the coming years because so many jobs — under his leadership — will be coming back to the country and into the state.
“The things they do to these poor immigrants is like human rights violations,” Lemire said, claiming undocumented people are coming into Rhode Island by the busload and getting exploited.
“I’m not blaming this on American people because I’m going to tell you something: Dominicans extort other Dominicans, Guatemalans extort other Guatemalans and Blacks extort other Blacks,” he added. “And obviously, whites extort whites, but they extort everybody.”
An avid supporter of President Trump and a sharp critic of Cicilline, Lemire said Trump’s tell-it-how-it-is approach to politics is similar to his own. He described the congressman’s job performance as “terrible.”
“I voted for Donald Trump not because he’s a Republican,” he said. “I voted for him because I like his politics.”
If elected, Lemire also claims he has a plan to remove Gov. Gina Raimondo from office, “not with a recall, but with handcuffs.” He criticized her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which he first called a “hoax,” then described as an obvious problem.
“I don’t want to go to Washington; I have to go to Washington,” he said. “I have the burden of a lot of people on my shoulders.”
In the northernmost part of the 1st District, which travels from Woonsocket down to Newport County through Rhode Island’s eastern communities, Wysocki is likewise running as an independent.
The 65-year-old self-employed financial adviser from Woonsocket bills himself as a more fiscally and socially conservative choice to Cicilline, whom he described as “very far left.”
“What I want to do is put the mindset of frugality into action and to hold down spending as much as possible,” said Wysocki, who unsuccessfully ran for Republican nomination in the district two years ago. (Wysocki lost in the GOP primary to Patrick Donovan.)
Wysocki said he understands the current need for robust federal spending to help keep the economy afloat during the pandemic, but he underscored that the public health crisis wouldn’t last forever. There should be a plan in place to rein in spending once the country returned to a semblance of normalcy, he added.
“I’m not pushing lowering taxes right now, I’m pushing lower spending and then taxes could come down,” Wysocki said.
Beyond fiscal policy, the Woonsocket resident offered a somewhat unique positions on issues related to energy and the environment. He said the country should go big on the development of energy-efficient housing and alternative-energy infrastructure. (He’s especially bullish about geothermal technology in warmer parts of the country.)
But he adamantly opposes fighting climate change, claiming elevated levels of carbon dioxide – or CO2 – will help make plants greener and the planet healthier. (That position contradicts widespread agreement throughout the scientific community that rising carbon dioxide – also known as greenhouse-gas emissions – represents a danger to earth and its inhabitants.)
“Increasing CO2 is making the world greener,” Wysocki said, adding that the earth is currently in an ice age, and could afford getting a little warmer. “It’s rather – let’s say – stupid to make it colder when it has been significantly colder in modern times.”
Wysocki, who said he supports Trump, accused Cicilline of jumping on the “bandwagon” of attacking the president for being a terrible person. He criticized the congressman as having little to his name in terms of legislative accomplishments.
“What I figure in a politician: it’s not what you try to produce, it’s what you can produce,” he said. “This is where he scores a zero.”
The Woonsocket candidate also went so far as to suggest – without any evidence – Cicilline might have convinced Lemire to join the race and siphon votes away from Wysocki. (Separately and unsolicited, Lemire leveled the same accusation against Cicilline and Wysocki.)
Wysocki was also critical of Cicilline for his support of LGBTQ rights, saying the congressman is only trying to earn “brownie points among various factions of the community.”
“He’s in favor of all sorts of pro-gay and such,” Wysocki said. “OK, nice, fine and dandy. But you’re more likely to get jumped or attacked in downtown Providence for being straight than you are for being gay.”
Cicilline, who entered office as the fourth openly gay member of Congress, is a longtime proponent of LGBTQ rights.
A co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus, Cicilline authored and introduced the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination of LGBTQ people in areas of education, employment and housing.
The bill, first introduced in 2019, is one of several pieces of legislation he highlighted that have passed the Democratic-controlled House but have so far failed to move forward in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“There’s a lot of really good legislation that we’ve passed that’s just languishing because the Republican Senate leader just won’t bring them to the floor,” Cicilline said, referring to Mitch McConnell.
A former Providence mayor, Cicilline said he hopes 1st District residents will vote to re-elect him on Nov. 3 because he’s “worked hard to get things done that improve the lives of Rhode Islanders.”
He listed four main areas of focus: meeting constituent needs, fighting for federal resources, standing up for Rhode Island values and advancing his own legislative agenda. The latter, he said, includes reducing prescription drugs prices, advocating for the protections of people negatively affected by the pandemic and making it easier for small businesses to navigate the bankruptcy process.
The congressman also highlighted his 16-month investigation of major technology companies like Facebook, which ended recently with a report and legislative recommendations. When asked about the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit against Google announced Wednesday, Cicilline said many of the Trump administration’s allegations aligned with the findings of his subcommittee.
“Google is a gatekeeper to the internet, and they are essentially a monopoly for search, and they use that monopoly to disadvantage consumers and crush competitors,” he said. “The complaint has a substantial basis, and it’s exactly what we found in our investigation.”
A supporter of Vice President Joe Biden, Cicilline said he would help implement a coordinated federal response to the pandemic if the Democratic nominee unseats Trump next month. If Trump wins re-election, Cicilline said his work would remain the same: “To fight for Rhode Island.”
Asked if he would support adding justices to the Supreme Court under a Biden administration, Cicilline said there’s a broader need to reform the court system. He accused the Republican Party of jamming through conservative judges, including U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump pick who is a stone’s throw away from Senate confirmation.
“All options should be on the table to rebalance the court appropriately,” Cicilline said.
Closer to home, when asked about his independent opponents, Cicilline said he didn’t know much about them.
“I have not actually run into either of them while I’ve been out campaigning throughout the district, so I really don’t have much information about them,” he said.
Political observers are skeptical Lemire and Wysocki will boast much support once the votes are tallied. Joe Fleming, a 12 News political analyst and longtime Rhode Island pollster, said the two challengers will pick up some votes — but mostly from people who “just don’t like David Cicilline.”
“Neither of the challengers of David Cicilline has much money at all, neither has much name recognition, so I don’t think voters have a clear picture of who is challenging the congressman at this point,” Fleming said. “It’s a very low-key race.”