Election 2014

Governor’s Race Heads to the Finish Line

Who should be Rhode Island's next Governor?

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So the ten million has been spent. The vanquished have been dragged from the battlefield. And two major candidates remain standing: Allan Fung and Gina Raimondo, plus a fascinating Cool Moose chomping quietly on the sidelines as the race for the governorship winds down to its precious final weeks.

The incredible amounts of money spent on the campaign depleted the war chests of both of the candidates down to single suitcase size. But lest you think this means a breather from non-stop TV spots and mailers, guess again. Fung has already received over a million dollars in state matching funds and has had visits from the biggest names in the moderate Republican camp: Chris Christie and Mitt Romney. Doesn’t get much bigger than that. Or does it? Turns out that Gina Raimondo has now enlisted Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg to help in her efforts to replenish the coffers. Obviously this race has gone national. Here’s where we are.

Allan Fung
Allan Fung remains optimistic that as voters from around the state hear more about his success in cutting expenses, balancing budgets and bringing jobs to Cranston, they’ll feel increasingly comfortable with him.

The Fung story is a compelling one: Growing up working in his family’s restaurant; Academic success at Classical, RIC and Suffolk Law; Being a successful prosecutor for the RI Attorney General before moving into the private sector as a governmental specialist for Met Life. He started his political career in the Cranston City Council and became the state’s first Chinese-American mayor in 2008. He was reelected, winning 76% of the vote in 2010 and 97% of the vote in 2012. Successful at “working with the other side,” his specialized skill set will be tested if he’s elected.

With there apparently being enough money left to broadcast his message, the next challenge for Fung is to reinforce his agenda of fiscal responsibility and economic development while separating his positions from the treasurer’s. The problem is Raimondo is not your typical progressive liberal Democrat and boasts a proven record of business success and job creation. And while he has worked collaboratively with the unions in Cranston, his flirting with right to work legislation during his primary certainly won’t send unions scurrying towards him despite their lack of trust in Raimondo. Very different groupings in this year’s gubernatorial showdown than we’re used to.

He has offered some new initiatives. One is a New Generations Seed Fund that will provide a $5,000 grant to young people starting up businesses, plus the waiving of the first three years of taxes. “The goal is to help kick start young entrepreneurs and keep them here.” He also would like to cut corporate and sales taxes here to insure that we are at least competitive with Massachusetts.

Fung also offers some thoughts about education. He feels the education commission could be less bureaucratic and should report directly to the governor. He also suggests that there be a “workforce development” component to our programs both at the high school
and college levels. But ultimately higher education ought to be able to govern itself.

One significant advantage Fung does have is that RI voters frequently vote for Republican governors to keep some modest degree of balance against the overwhelmingly single party legislature. It’s been over two decades since a Democrat has won the position. In fact the entire East Bay, except for East Providence, voted for Don Carcieri in 2006. The trick is whether Fung can convince the voters that he can be the fiscal conservative our struggling state needs and yet still work cooperatively with the Democrats without giving away too much to unions. He’s bright, hard working and likeable and shouldn’t be underestimated.

And one promise he vows to keep: No more distracting side issues like holiday trees.

Gina Raimondo
After emerging successfully from the most expensive primary election in Rhode Island history, Gina Raimondo now prepares to try and become Rhode Island’s first woman elected governor. Her margin of victory at 42% turned out to be larger than expected, buoyed in part by a large turnout of women, especially in places like the East Side. But it’s the women’s vote that remains an issue for Raimondo to be concerned about.

Speaking on the East Side recently, Brown political science professor Wendy Schiller discussed the problem. “Gina just doesn’t come across as someone who R.I. women automatically embrace.” She suggests one of the major reasons is money especially in a state where a lot of women work, many of them unionized. If you inherit money, it seems to be okay. If you earn it, especially on Wall Street, it’s not. Schiller admits to being puzzled by the reaction. But the reality is the jobs situation in Rhode Island is among the worst in the country and our business climate here has been in stall mode forever. This is forcing both genders to confront the obvious: “It’s the economy, stupid.” And here Raimondo is a heavyweight with arguably more hands on business experience than virtually any Democratic gubernatorial candidate since Sundlun.

She has come out firing with both barrels. “The Carcieri attempt to cut services while lowering taxes doesn’t work without job creation. It forces us to rely on what I call one-offs, things like 38 Studios, which are both desperate and dangerous. I propose we invest in our infrastructure and concentrate instead on our strengths... things like maritime science, industrial design, tourism.” She bristles at charges that she was in favor of the 38 Studio deal. “I was in the business and I warned everyone of the dangers of this kind of financing deal. The record is unequivocal on that,” she maintains.

Raimondo takes issue with Fung’s tax plan to cut corporate taxes. “I just don’t think it makes a big enough difference. I’d rather be like Massachusetts. They continue to focus on job creation and on cultivating the advantages they have.”

And what about the Planned Parenthood blow back? She says, “I respect my high school LaSalle’s decision to do what they’re most comfortable with. I’m proud to have been educated there. But I remain pro-choice and am committed to do what I think is right.”
She must be doing something right. She just got Brendan Doherty, a Republican stalwart, to endorse her over Fung. Good grief. Is that the ground shaking?

Bob Healey
And then there’s Bob Healey, the former Cool Moose turned moderate. In a state that has more than its fair share of unusual candidates, Healey has still earned a reputation as perhaps most interesting.

Appearances notwithstanding, Healey is smart, persuasive and passionately committed to the concept of third party candidacies. “Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have entered the race if Clay Pell had won,” he admits. “But Gina and Allan are so similar I felt I had to run.”

Healey was born in Warren and went to RIC, BU and New England School of Law. He’s practiced law in South America and Japan (and speaks the language by the way) and has always been a solo practitioner who also does a lot of pro bono work. He has run for governor or lieutenant governor seven times. His runs for the latter were on a platform calling for the abolishment of the office. His best effort was in 2010 when there was no Republican and he got 39% of the vote against Elizabeth Roberts.

His gubernatorial runs were in 1986, 1994 and 1998 with his best showing coming in his third try when he received 19% of the vote. At the Journal Follies in 2011, Healey was the mystery guest who dramatically announced his retirement from third party politics. The Moose is Dead. Long Live the Moose.

So what brought him back? First off, Healey wants to make it clear it was not Ken Block. “I was approached by others in the party who were desperately looking for a candidate since their original candidate had to drop out because of health. They came to me because they needed someone with statewide recognition, who hadn’t voted in the primary and could get 5% of vote to ensure the Moderates remain a party. Hell, I can get 5-10% on a bad day.”

“Next I had to make sure in my mind it was legal, it was in the best interests of everyone, and I had something to offer,” Healey recalls. I felt the answer was yes to all three so I put my name in.”

So what does Healey believe in? First off, new thinking. As he says it: “You can’t just put old wine in new bottles; it just isn’t going to work. Part of my new paradigm is funding. I don’t want your money. I just want your efforts as a volunteer. I’d love to show that a no money campaign can stand up to millions."

"My second belief is that the solutions to most of our political problems can’t be found on the extremes, but rather in the middle and involve common sense."

And lest you think Healey is a raving left-winger, he upsets the unions too. “I’ve never sought their endorsements. Why? Because I think unions should be like politicians. Every four years they need to be recertified by their members,” he suggests. For the record, Healey considers himself a social libertarian. “Let a person do whatever they want with their body as long as they know they will bear the consequences.”

Healey’s not going to win, but he certainly is going to enliven the debates.