Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) faces his first challenge from businessman Barry Hinckley (R) and the early polls show that the majority of the electorate seems very happy with the incumbent’s record. A Brown University poll taken 30 days before the election shows him with a commanding 29 point lead. Whitehouse defeated Senator Lincoln Chafee to win the seat that was in the family for 30 years. And undoubtedly, Whitehouse will benefit from the unwavering support of President Obama. Rhode Island voted 63% for Obama in 2008.
The race offers the electorate a pretty clear choice of philosophies. Whitehouse is among the most liberal (the buzzword today is “progressive”) Senators in Congress. “Whitehouse has voted 99% of the time with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which is all you need to know in terms of his independence,” says Hinckley. On the other side, Hinckley is unabashedly against big government, would vote to repeal Obamacare in a heartbeat, and is committed to pro-life, though he stops short of advocating the repeal of Rowe v. Wade.
As Barry Hinckley sees it, compared to the rest of the country, our state is a mess: unemployment #3; foreclosures #14; and residents below poverty level #30. In addition, 17% of all workers are union members and the State is the largest employer. He feels he’s the kind of person who can do something about it.
Barry Hinckley’s grandfather fought with the regiment of Minutemen in Concord, Massachusetts. He initially ran the family’s boat building business, Hinckley Yachts, in Maine before moving it to Rhode Island in 1991. “I saw firsthand the problems that rampant government regulation can cause,” Hinckley explains.
“The boat tax was targeted at the perceived ‘rich people’ who buy boats, but it was all of the workforce, the laborers who suffered as people stopped buying boats and jobs were eliminated.” After leaving the company, he founded Bullhorn Software, which he built to 175 employees.
Hinckley has been running hard for a while now and his theme is stop government from killing the private sector and small business. He wants to repeal or replace the tax code. He wants to repeal Obamacare and replace it with insurance options and competition, small business pooling and real tort reform. Plus he wants to eliminate pensions and exclusive healthcare programs and replace them with plans that are available to the rest of us. He also feels he’s the only candidate who has some experience in actually creating jobs and would be useful in helping the state work its way out of its current economic tupor.
The candidates are also quite different in terms of social policies. Hinckley is pro-life, but he also feels it is one more area where the involvement of the federal government is not warranted. His response to Obamacare? “Name me one program the government has been able to run efficiently.” He also believes in a simplified tax system and is against going after the wealthy who have already paid their taxes once. In short, Hinckley sees himself as a career businessman in direct contrast to an opponent who is a career politician.
Hinckley is 46, is divorced and lives in Newport.
A graduate of Yale University and the University of Virginia School of Law, Sheldon Whitehouse worked on the staff of Governor Bruce Sundlun, ultimately serving as the Director of Business Regulation for the State. He was then nominated as US Attorney under President Clinton in 1994 before being elected RI Attorney General in 1998. Whitehouse hails from a family with a long public service history, mostly in the foreign service. Elected to the US Senate in 2006, Whitehouse is respected for his legal experience and has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee; Senate Budget, Environment and Public Works Committee; and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
An unabashed progressive, Whitehouse is proud of his role in defending traditional Democratic values. “I see myself as someone dedicated to ensuring that the key issues affecting Rhode Islanders remain intact; I’ve been a staunch fighter for our protecting Social Security, Medicare and the Pell Grants.”
He is passionate about Obamacare and the need for there to be a health care plan that protects everyone, although he acknowledges that it’s not a perfect solution. Whitehouse wants to fix Medicare’s new prescription drug plan but would resist any attempts to weaken or privatize the program.
In looking back over his first six years in office, he sees his successes in three areas. “The first is defensive... where I have led the fight in our party to protect Social Security, Medicare and attempts to gut the important Pell Grants that provide so much help to students trying in need of an affordable education.”
The second area is what the Senator calls "deliverables." “We have been able to make improvements in our state’s infrastructure, in terms of roads and bridges through the Recovery Act. Some 11,000 jobs were saved in Rhode Island because of this. In addition, Rhode Island has also been one of the most successful states in the country in winning grants for both health information technology and education. I’m especially excited about the next round of funding which will help Quonset as we grow our offshore wind turbine capabilities there.”
And finally there are his ongoing struggles or what he labels his "Jericho battles." In this category, he puts his leadership role in trying to champion “The Buffet Rule” in terms of taxing the top 1% and the “Disclosure Act.” “You may not win the first time, but if you keep at it, sooner or later you will prevail.”