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Meet the finalists: Gov. McKee’s top picks for RI lieutenant governor

Politics - Government

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee is getting close to making a final decision on who will succeed him as lieutenant governor, a position that’s been vacant for nearly a month in Rhode Island.

McKee held interviews with at least some of his five finalists over the weekend, and while his office has declined to provide a specific timeline for when an announcement will be made, Target 12 has confirmed the governor told multiple finalists a decision could happen this week.

The decision will cap off a highly unusual selection process, as the lieutenant governor is normally elected by Rhode Island voters every four years. But because former Gov. Gina Raimondo left midterm to join President Joe Biden’s administration as U.S. commerce secretary, McKee ascended from lieutenant governor to the state’s top job earlier this month.

McKee, who gets to pick his own successor with confirmation from the state Senate, opened up the selection process to anybody who wanted to apply. As a result, upward of 80 people submitted applications or letters of interest, including five finalists announced last week.

12 News sent questionnaires to each of the finalists, along with requests to be interviewed on camera. Three of the five — Rep. Grace Diaz, former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and Sen. Louis DiPalma — agreed to participate in the questionnaire and participate in an on-camera interview.

Providence City Council President Sabina Matos responded to the questionnaire, but declined to be interviewed on camera. However, she did previously answer questions about her interest in the position in a live interview on 12 News.

Elizabeth Beretta-Perik, who serves as treasurer of the Rhode Island Democratic Party and is a major political donor, declined both requests.

“I am declining to participate in order to continue to respect the process established by the Governor’s office,” Beretta-Perik wrote in an email Monday.

McKee has never publicly prohibited applicants from discussing their bid for the job with reporters. When asked if the governor told her otherwise, Beretta-Perik said, “No they have not. I have just been following their process.”

For the finalists who did respond, 12 News has included their answers and full interviews below, in alphabetical order by last name.


Rep. Grace Diaz

Name: Grace Diaz
Home: Providence
Age: 64
Occupation: City of Providence MBE/WBE Outreach Director
Political Party: Democrat

Why do you want to be lieutenant governor?

Diaz: Today, the American Dream can feel out of reach for many Rhode Islanders. I believe that if you are willing to work hard and play by the rules, everyone deserves the opportunity to earn a living, access to high-quality public education and health care. For the last seventeen years, I have committed myself to serve my community and supporting public policy that provides a better future for all Rhode Islanders.

Throughout my time in public office, I have championed legislation benefiting marginalized communities—particularly those living in poverty, women, children, senior citizens, individuals that struggle with mental health and those seeking a path to citizenship. The struggles faced by Rhode Islanders are many of the same struggles I have encountered throughout my life.

Working in the City of Providence, I have seen what is possible when we support our small businesses. As lieutenant governor, I will work with Governor McKee to serve all businesses, whether in downtown Providence or on Diamond Hill in Woonsocket, in order to ensure they receive the support they need to successfully navigate the pandemic.

I want to be Rhode Island’s next lieutenant governor in order to provide a bridge between the community and government. And as lieutenant governor, I will bring a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves.

What qualifies you to be lieutenant governor?

Diaz: I am qualified to be the next lieutenant governor because of my experience in city and state government, professional background in management and leadership and my ability to overcome insurmountable odds. Currently serving as a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, I also serve as a member of the House Finance Committee where I directly participate in public debate and development of the state budget.

My time as a member of the General Assembly has shown me what parts of government work and what needs to be fixed. Working with Governor Dan McKee and the General Assembly, I am ready to cut through the red tape that has plagued Rhode Island for too many years.

Throughout my seventeen years in elected office, I have developed strong relationships with municipal, state, and federal officials. I plan to utilize my relationships to help execute strong public policy decisions that support the governor’s vision.

Lastly, my professional and life experience have prepared me to lead on day one. We must all be aware of the moment we face and the many challenges ahead of us. But by working together, we can seize this moment to provide a better future for our state.

What specific goals do you want to accomplish as lieutenant governor before the next election in 2022?

Diaz: There are three specific goals I believe we must face head-on as a state if we are to succeed: a successful coordinated response to COVID-19, support for small businesses, and increased access to high-quality public education for all children.

I share the governor’s goal to provide any Rhode Islander who wants to be vaccinated the ability to receive their first dose by the end of May. Should the state reach 70% vaccination, under guidance from RIDOH and health experts, we may be able to remove much of the emergency orders currently in place. And while Governor McKee has a robust and well-planned strategy, he will need key partners to build confidence within the communities of color. As a recognized leader in the minority community, and being fully bilingual, I can help to build trust throughout the community.

The state also needs to provide the necessary resources to support small businesses recover the ongoing pandemic. In addition to widely distributing and promoting vaccinations, the state Covid Relief Fund must be strategically positioned to get Rhode Islanders back to work. Specifically, we need to provide additional relief to the state’s small business community.

Lastly, as lieutenant governor, I will work closely with Governor McKee and the General Assembly to support an amended school funding formula to address the educational deficits our children face in our urban cities and towns by providing equal access to quality education to all children.

Please respond with one or two words to the following questions:

  1. Do you support legalized recreational marijuana?
    Yes, but only with proper regulatory oversight.
  2. Are you pro-life or pro-choice?
    Pro-Life
  3. Do you support charter school expansion this year?
    I support quality public education for all Rhode Island children.
  4. Do you plan to run for lieutenant governor in 2022?
    Yes
  5. If yes, would you run as Gov. McKee’s running mate?
    Yes

James Diossa, former Central Falls mayor

Name: James A. Diossa
Home: Central Falls
Age: 35
Occupation: Senior Advisor, The Policy Lab at Brown University
Political Party: Democrat

Why do you want to be lieutenant governor?

Diossa: I’d be honored to continue to serve the people of Rhode Island, and I believe in Governor Dan Mckee. I believe I can provide a true partnership to the governor, and support and help lead Rhode Island to a stronger future.

What qualifies you to be lieutenant governor?

Diossa: The past eight years as mayor of Central Falls has provided me the executive experience to best assist the governor with the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the state’s continued growth and improvement.

What specific goals do you want to accomplish as lieutenant governor before the next election in 2022?

Diossa: My priorities would be the priorities of the governor. Initially, I want to support every effort to open Rhode Island back up as safely as possible, from our kids getting back in to the classroom and our teachers feeling safe, to ensuring that our small businesses are fully supported, and getting the economy up to full speed.

Please respond with one or two words to the following questions:

  1. Do you support legalized recreational marijuana?
    I support Governor McKee’s proposal on marijuana.
  2. Are you pro-life or pro-choice?
    I support a woman’s right to choose.
  3. Do you support charter school expansion this year?
    Yes
  4. Do you plan to run for lieutenant governor in 2022?
    Yes
  5. If yes, would you run as Gov. McKee’s running mate?
    Yes

Sen. Louis DiPalma

Name: Louis P. DiPalma
Home: Middletown
Age: 59
Occupation: Undersea Systems Chief Engineer
Political Party: Democrat

Why do you want to be lieutenant governor?

DiPalma: I believe in Governor Dan McKee. I want him to succeed.  And, when he succeeds, RI succeeds.  I believe I can be true “lieutenant”, a force-multiplier.  We share the same values – the kitchen table issues important to Rhode Island families – education, job security, fair taxes, the environment and safe neighborhoods. I am excited about the opportunity to serve all Rhode Islanders, collaborating and working in true partnership with Governor McKee, in successfully navigating through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and restoring and growing RI’s economy.  And, this aligns with my pursuit of the LG office in 2022, where, in late 2020, I established a kitchen cabinet to support me exploring the office.

What qualifies you to be lieutenant governor?

DiPalma: My public service experience includes serving for the last 13 years as a state senator representing District 12 (Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton and Newport) and before that for 4 years on the Middletown Town Council. In the state senate, I have developed a deep understanding of the state budget and state operations in critical areas (including administration, education, health and human services, transportation, public safety and the multiple quasi-public agencies). 

Upon filling the position of lieutenant governor, I would assume the leadership of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC), the Small Business Advisory Council (SBAC) and Emergency Management Advisory Council (EMAC).  While some people seeking this office might have experience in one of the three areas, I have deep knowledge and direct involvement in each of them.  As it pertains to the LTCCC, as a 13-year Senate Finance Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chair, I continue to “address state policy concerning all forms of long-term health care for the elderly and adults with chronic disabilities and illnesses.”  I am well aligned to lead the EMAC based on my efforts collaborating on legislation with Gov. McKee, Chair of the Senate Special Legislative Commission to Study and Evaluate RI’s Electric and Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution System Infrastructure and my focus on Cybersecurity.  Additionally, because of my proactive involvement with the RI Small Business Coalition, alongside you and Chris Paris, the coalition leader, I am well prepared to lead the SBAC.

In addition to two decades of public service, I also bring four decades of business experience to the position of lieutenant governor, working in the defense industry leading large-scale projects and teams of up to 1000 professionals, solving complex problems critical to our nation’s defense. In the wake of the current pandemic, Rhode Island will need proven, results-driven leadership to address these challenges, which have manifested themselves in every facet of our lives.

What specific goals do you want to accomplish as lieutenant governor before the next election in 2022?

DiPalma: I believe there are four areas which are in a class of their own:

  • Successfully navigate through the pandemic, including addressing “vaccine hesitancy” 
    • Rebuild RI’s economy, with a special focus on small businesses
    • Address the education gaps which manifested themselves as a result of the pandemic
    • Address equity and justice, across a spectrum of issues, which have long gone unaddressed

Additionally, I believe the following issues need addressing;

  • FY’22 budget and targeted investments of the American Rescue Plan
    • DD Consent Decree
    • IGT/Twin River Deal
    • Eleanor Slater Hospital
    • Hospital HCA/CEC – Prospect/CharterCARE (RWMC & Fatima Hospital)
    • Hospital Merger – Lifespan, CNE & Brown
    • UHIP
    • DCYF Consent Decree – Children’s Rights
    • DCYF Psychiatric Treatment for Adolescent Girls

Please respond with one or two words to the following questions:

  1. Do you support legalized recreational marijuana?  
    No
  2. Are you pro-life or pro-choice?  
    Pro-life
  3. Do you support charter school expansion this year?   
    No
  4. Do you plan to run for lieutenant governor in 2022?  
    Yes
  5. If yes, would you run as Gov. McKee’s running mate?  
    Yes

Providence City Council President Sabina Matos

Sabina Matos_1538682927392.png.jpg
Sabina Matos (WPRI/File)

Name: Sabina Matos
Home: Providence
Age: 47
Occupation: Chief of Program Development, RI. Dept of Administration
Political Party: Democrat

Why do you want to be lieutenant governor?

Matos: Community involvement and public service were part of my upbringing and are a focus for how I use my time and energies. Part of putting yourself forward for political office is a belief that you have leadership qualities that would be useful to the wider community, and a sense that what you value rings true with those who would put their trust in you.

From my years of volunteering on civic projects and in my time in political office I have learned that I am effective in identifying goals, mobilizing people, and accomplishing good things. The blend of experience,
knowledge, and personal qualities that I can bring to the office of lieutenant governor will help the State be successful in these challenging times.

What qualifies you to be lieutenant governor?

Matos: I will mention six qualifications:

  1. I am an ordinary person, living in a regular neighborhood in Providence with my husband and children, a family of modest means facing the same struggles as most Rhode Islanders.
  2. I believe in the American values of fairness, hard work, generosity, freedom, and opportunity for every person.
  3. I know how government works. As a Council member and eventually as President of the Providence City Council I oversaw the development of a $700 million budget, managed staff in city offices, and most importantly, navigated city services issues on behalf of constituents.
  4. I am conversant with the issues that matter to Rhode Islanders such as a healthy economy, accountable government, quality education, modern infrastructure.
  5. I am a consensus builder, listening to all sides, keeping an open mind, and able to forge effective compromises.
  6. I bring a wide and diverse perspective to governing to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table, and no one gets left out.

What specific goals do you want to accomplish as lieutenant governor before the next election in 2022?

Matos:

  1. Advance Solutions to Increase Safe and Affordable Housing: Many Rhode Islanders, especially young people and rising families are having a hard time establishing homes in our state. Lack of safe and affordable housing is not only a hardship for individuals and families, but it endangers the economic health of Rhode Island. Many people are working on this problem, but there is a need for better coordination of efforts and resources, and greater engagement of those outside of government and the non-profit world who can be part of the housing solution. A primary goal of the next months would be to convene the right people to create new pathways towards more safe and affordable housing.
  2. Making Equity a Tenet in the Life of the State: There is currently heightened awareness of inequities in our society and a real desire to overcome these injustices and ensure that our systems work well for all. In these next months, I would look at access to and delivery of government services through the lens of equity to even the playing field for those who have been marginalized.

Please respond with one or two words to the following questions:

  1. Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
    Yes
  2. Are you pro-choice or pro-life?
    Pro-choice
  3. Do you support charter school expansion this year?
    Yes
  4. Do you plan to run for lieutenant governor in 2022?
    Yes
  5. If yes, would you run a Governor McKee’s running mate?
    Yes

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

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