PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Five candidates are in the race to come Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor.
Republican Paul Pence, independent candidates Ross McCurdy and Jonathan Riccitelli, and moderate Joel Hellmann are looking to unseat Democratic incumbent Dan McKee.
Eyewitness News asked all the candidates to complete the same questionnaire to find where they stand on some key issues.
A spokesperson for McKee said he would not participate in the questionnaire, and Pence did not respond to our request. Here’s what the others had to say.
YOUR LOCAL ELECTION HQ: Key Races & Ballot Questions » | Election Results » | Voter’s Guide » | Latest Headlines » | Eyewitness News Polls » | Eyewitness New Debates »
1. Why do you think voters should elect you lieutenant governor?
McCurdy: I have served my country as a military veteran and served Rhode Island as a public school teacher for over 20 years. I became a teacher to help build a better future and am running for office for the same reason.
I served six years in the Air Force, trained as a Russian linguist during the last decade of the cold war. I worked my way through Rhode Island College, graduating highest honors with a degree in Biology and began teaching at Ponaganset High School, teaching Chemistry and Alternative Energy classes. A passion for clean, renewable energy and the environment led to many innovative student projects including a hydrogen fuel cell rock and roll band, a fuel cell Model T hot rod, and a 7,000 mile transcontinental road trip fueled with biodiesel made from used cooking oil. These projects created opportunities including scholarships and made learning exciting, relevant, and fun, while bringing in a million dollar grant for an Alternative Energy Lab. Other projects include a Coast to Coast flight and fuel efficiency world record using aviation biofuel made from plant seeds. For my work in renewable energy education I received an Honorary Doctorate and the Presidential Innovation award.
Married with four children, I understand the challenges that working families face and support tax cuts for working families and the middle class.
I encourage voters to research the candidates’ websites (www.rossmccurdy.com) and their accomplishments. I am confident informed voters ready for change will find me worthy on Election Day.
Riccitelli: I will stand behind ALL THE PEOPLE of the state. I have a great deal of knowledge on the needs of our small businesses. I have a strong policy I have worked on towards tax reform and the needs of replacing the C.O.L.As to the pension system to assure the quality of life for long term care.
Hellmann: One of the biggest problems this state has in moving forward is that when politicians encounter fraud, waste or inside deals they cannot address it for fear of offending people in their party, both parties. I am “an equal opportunity offender.” For the last 20 years, I have been active in local politics, I have written op-eds and blogs of issues that face Rhode Island. I have stood in front of angry mobs, between the mob and elected officials. Angry mobs hell bent on rending them limb from limb. I have on occasion led groups of concerned citizens dismayed at excessive monies spent or lack of transparency. Both have not endeared me to different groups. It is scary telling people what they don’t want to hear. It takes courage to write an op-ed that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, something that is often lacking in politicians. I would rather fight for a lost cause than get elected by ignoring what needs to be said. Courage is important. “The loneliest Place in the world is to find yourself standing up when everyone else is sitting down.”
I have owned or run over a dozen businesses in many different genres. I have had hundreds of employees and the executive experience that comes with that. It is important that a governor knows what it is to hire and fire employees and negotiate the best price.
In addition, I have had 22 foster children. I adopted four children with various degrees of special needs. I have been the education advocate for 14 children. My kids had hundreds of teachers and have been at seven schools. I have served on appropriations for the town of Barrington. I was the finance chair for Bristol County Water Authority and served on tax revaluation and charter review committees. I have worn hats in the business world and in the world of social services. I am what much of this state is: a fiscal conservative and a social liberal.
2. In 2010, the late Bob Healey earned 39% of the vote on a platform of abolishing the lieutenant governor’s office. What would you tell those voters about why the office should continue to exist?
Riccitelli: First off, the office was created for a reason, unless we have “abolished” that reason and duties of the office that are listed on our Constitution then it should remain. The person elected to that office needs to step up and take a leadership role. Actually work with the governor and department directors. When I am elected lieutenant governor, Rhode Islanders will be excited and educated about the office.
Hellmann: The office should not exist. It should be combined with the secretary of state, or transformed into an inspector general position. But if I win, I can’t do that. And while my friend Bob Healey wanted to make a point about how superfluous the position is, and it was a brilliant way to draw attention to his campaign, if he had been elected there would have been nothing that he could have done that could accomplish it, and if he had resigned the cascading actions that would have followed would not have made him happy.
McCurdy: I have a deep respect for the late Bob Healey and reading his 32-page party platform provided excellent insight into his depth of knowledge on political issues. I do disagree with the position he held to abolish the lieutenant governor’s office.
Yes, it is possible for an officeholder to sit around shuffling papers for the three committees the lieutenant governor is tasked with chairing, while patiently waiting for the governor to die, become incapacitated, or go insane, but there is a much greater potential for the office.
The lieutenant governor can benefit our state and serve the people of Rhode Island by using the office and staff to serve as a bridge between the people and the State House and helping ordinary Rhode Islanders to have a voice in politics. The lieutenant governor’s office can serve as a governmental watchdog, helping to ensure bad legislation from special interest groups does not make it through, while supporting good legislation that will benefit all Rhode Islanders. The lieutenant governor and his office can promote and support projects and causes that will move our state forward and work with legislators to get good things done. I believe that the right person in the lieutenant governor’s office will be able to earn their pay and be a major benefit for Rhode Island.
3. If you were to be elevated to the governor’s office, what would be your top policy priority as governor?
Hellmann: The most pressing issue facing the state that will define the state’s economy for more than the next decade is local and state pension crisis. Providence owes over $3 billion in pensions and OPEB liabilities. The state stripped teachers and state workers of much of their benefits in the pension reform a few years ago because it was only funded at 62%.
Now due to both mismanagement and under funding, the state funds are at 54% funded. If this continues, Providence and other towns’ pensions will fail. The teachers will have to take another brutal haircut. The result is that hundreds of thousands of people will be forced to live on much less than they were promised. This will dramatically reduce discretionary income people will have to spend. This will cause a big down turn in the state’s economy.
And yet, Providence had no tax increase for the last three years, and tried to tax the rest of the state through the sale of Providence Water Authority to help bail them out. The state told cities to send in lower payments to the fund on more than one occasion. No one has made any serious attempts to address it. This is the biggest issue facing the state in the next decade.
McCurdy: If elevated to the governor’s office, my top priority will be to create jobs. This can be done with the construction and installation of offshore wind turbines off our own coast and along the entire east coast.
I will also put an end to the proposed Burrillville power plant. The construction of this unwanted and unneeded power plant will destroy 100-acres of pristine forest, burn natural gas and diesel fuel creating greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and require huge quantities of water. This project is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing and the opposite of what our top scientists advise.
Rhode Island is leading the nation with the first offshore wind turbines in America and we can continue this lead. Wind turbines will produce clean, renewable energy without producing greenhouse gases or the pollution caused by fossil fuels. With Slater Mill, Rhode Island became the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and with our coastal resources and manufacturing expertise we can be the leader in this Energy Revolution. With shallow waters and strong steady wind, the East Coast has been called the “Saudi Arabia of offshore wind” and it is right here for us to harness.
Offshore wind turbines are producing huge amounts of electricity in Europe at a cost even lower than nuclear and other traditional power sources. If they can do it in Europe we can do it here, and bigger and better because this is America.
Riccitelli: My top priority as governor, would be to overhaul the budget. Decrease state wasteful spending, which in turn would create a ripple effect of taxes being reduced, pensions getting repaired, more jobs, better roads… the list goes on.
4. The lieutenant governor serves as chair of the R.I. Emergency Management Advisory Council. What changes would you recommend, if any, for the Emergency Management Agency?
McCurdy: The mission of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency is to reduce the loss of life and property for the whole community while ensuring that as a state we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all natural, human-caused, and technological hazards.
Simply put, the Emergency Management Agency is tasked with being ready for anything and everything ranging from snow storms, flooding, hurricanes, power outages, nuclear war, and epidemics. I would definitely include our present opioid epidemic within the scope of the Emergency Management Agency as this is a terrible crisis that needs to be addressed before it gets even more out of control.
My first recommendation is a complete review of potential threats that we may face as Rhode Islanders and then develop up to date plans to address, eliminate, or minimize these threats. We need to ensure we have the best technology and equipment to deal with these threats and we need to ensure our public utilities infrastructure is running properly and ready for contingencies.
Riccitelli: As chairperson of any first response agency, RIEMA would continue to uphold of the highest integrity of response time and efficiency. I would expand more of a branch to the individual cities and towns to keep a systematic plan effective in the event of disaster or snow resources.
Hellmann: I don’t know everything the R.I. Emergency Management Advisory Council does but one thing that needs more attention is the state’s clean water supply, in particular making sure that each town has a secure redundant supply of water. The state’s water supply is very fragile. You can live without gas or electricity, but as South County found out, not having water destroys local economies and risk people’s lives. This is another issue that needs to faced and addressed.
5. If you knew someone who was moving to Rhode Island, what is the first place you would tell them to visit after they arrive?
Riccitelli: If someone were to be visiting our state for the first time during the fall, I would recommend traveling the backroads of the state, stopping at local farms and cider mills. Go through the northern part of the state, back down to Wickford for lunch. Federal Hill for some fine Italian cuisine. Take a stroll around the city of Providence, take in the serenity of WaterFire. It really depends on the person, who they are and their interests.
Hellmann: If you are moving to Rhode Island, go find a place that makes a great hot wiener, and order one all the way, preferably with a Del’s lemonade. When I lived in Los Angeles, I couldn’t get either of those things anywhere.
McCurdy: Take a walking tour of Providence. Enjoy Benefit Street’s historic mile of colonial homes and look over our beautiful capital city at Prospect Park, where the statue of Roger Williams is blessing the city. Enjoy the magnificent architecture of the East Side around RISD and Brown University and stroll along the unique shops of bustling Thayer Street. A gondola ride from Water Place Park will provide another wonderful perspective of our capital city and what can be better than lunch at one of the many world class Italian restaurants on Federal Hill.
I love this state and will have to recommend a visitor see more than Providence. A short drive will take them to South County and over the scenic bridges to Newport where the magnificent Cliff Walk and the gilded age mansions are an amazing spectacle. Dinner at the White Horse Tavern in Newport, the oldest continuously operating tavern in America, followed by a walk along the beach, will make for a wonderful Rhode Island day. There is so much of Rhode Island that a new visitor needs to experience, but this will be an excellent introduction to our beautiful Ocean State.