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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Who should RI Democrats pick for Governor in the September 13 Primary?

Five candidates offer wide variety

By Will Collette

With the start of early voting and mail-in ballots, some of you may have already made your choice. But for those of you who haven’t, I’d like to offer my opinion of the field.

The five candidates are accidental incumbent Dan McKee, term-limited Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, left-wing guru Matt Brown and activist Dr. Luis Daniel Munoz.

To be blunt as well as consistent with my past criticisms, I think Dan McKee has been a lousy Governor, a post he got by virtue of Gina Raimondo’s decision to go to Washington to become Joe Biden’s Commerce Secretary.

McKee was a lackluster, almost invisible Lieutenant Governor and only stayed in that office when challenged in 2018 by Aaron Regunberg who actually wanted to make something out of that office. McKee won the primary by only 2,466 votes. In my opinion, he would have lost if more voters actually cared about the office of Lieutenant Governor.

Other high-ranking Rhode Island politicos describe him as “lazy” and “stupid,” not able to focus on more than one issue at a time. It used to be McKee’s sole focus was charter schools. Now it’s “small business” (whatever that means) to the exclusion of all else.

I am especially furious at McKee for his COVID practices. In the name of small business, McKee ended all restrictions and pretty much has tried to make COVID invisible. He closed down state testing and vaccine sites. 

The State Health Department only reports statistics, such as they are, once a week now. (By the way, we remain at a community infection rate that is ten times higher than it was on July 4, 2021 and that only includes cases the state knows about, not those discovered on home test kits).

I blame him for people no longer masking and, frankly, not even paying any attention. Yet, ask yourself: can you remember any time during the pandemic when you’ve had so many friends and family come down with COVID?

McKee is in a statistical dead heat in the polls with his top competitor, term-limited Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. In many ways, Nellie is the opposite of McKee. He is as inspiring as Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup® while she is dynamic and creative.

She has also had eight years to show us an outstanding record as Secretary of State – running efficient, fraud-free elections, handling COVID’s potential to disrupt the 2020 election, expanding her department’s services and fighting hard for every citizen’s right to vote.

Her office is always coming up with innovations. I just ran across a new one where she tracks the early votes as they come in. Using this new RI Voter Turn-out Tracker, as of August 30, 33 Charlestown voters have voted early at Town Hall. No mail-in ballots for Charlestown has turned up yet.

Nellie has my vote without doubt or question.

Behind McKee and Nellie, there are three also-rans.

Helena Foulkes is the only one to break into double digits in the polls, largely based on her ability to use her considerable fortune to buy a lot of advertising. Her downside is that she takes the blame whenever CVS gets negative headlines, such as the recent court award of millions in damages against CVS for its role in pushing opiate drugs and contributing to our national overdose epidemic.

I saw her when she met with the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee and found her to be a knowledgeable and likeable person. I don’t see her as Governor, but I do hope she stays in Rhode Island politics. Her main hope of winning lies in Nellie and McKee attacking each other so badly that voters turn to her instead.

Behind her is the enigmatic Matt Brown, leader of the Rhode Island Political Coop. I think of Brown as an anti-Democrat, as his driving motivation seems to be the belief that Rhode Island’s entire political structure is corrupt and needs to be torn down completely and replaced by him and his followers.

Brown harbors a deep-seated grudge against the state Democratic Party. After serving as Secretary of State from 2003 to 2007, Brown declared for US Senate in 2006 seeking to unseat then Senator Lincoln Chafee.

That campaign ended on accusations that Brown engaged in a practice called “donation swapping” to evade campaign donation limits. In this case, Brown received large donations from state Democratic Parties as far away as Hawaii while Brown’s own high-roller donors sent equivalent donations to those out of state parties. He was exonerated by the FEC in 2007.

Brown left Rhode Island to run an anti-nuclear non-profit in Washington, only to return 12 years later to run against Gina Raimondo in 2018. That was an ugly campaign, as Raimondo reminded voters Brown was accused of political money-laundering. Brown called Raimondo’s charge “defamatory,” citing the FEC findings, but the damage was done.

While I take no joy in grudge matches and find that Matt Brown offers little else in his run for Governor, I do acknowledge his creation, the RI Political Coop, and the boost it has given to progressives running for local and General Assembly seats.

We have three local Coop candidates: Charlestown’s Jennifer Douglas who I hope will be successful at defeating ultra-rightwing Sen. Elaine Morgan; Megan Cotter of Exeter who hopes to defeat insurrectionist state Rep. Justin Price and Michael Niemeyer of Westerly who is one of three Democrats on the September 13 Primary ballot seeking to replace retired state Sen. Dennis Algiere.

The last of the five Democratic Primary candidates for Governor is Dr. Luis Daniel Munoz. This is his second run for Governor, having run as an independent in 2018. He received only 6,223 votes.

I heard him speak at the state Democratic Convention and, despite the severe limits on speaking time, I thought he was quite impressive. Nonetheless, he is polling last.

Like a number of other good people running for state offices they have no chance to win, I just wish he would try to build some experience in local office. He’d make a great state senator or representative or city council member.

Final note

No matter which candidate emerges as the Democratic choice for Governor, they will be far better than the nightmare represented by the GOP choice, Ashley Kalus. 

Up until recently, Kalus' only connection to Rhode Island was to run a COVID testing company based in Westerly. The state decided to terminate her contract. That led to an altercation on January 16 at the job site that required the intervention of Westerly Police.

Days later, Kalus registered to vote in Rhode Island for the first time and then declared her intent to run for Governor in March. Does anyone smell pay-back?

She and her doctor husband bought a house in Newport in May 2021. As of last March, she was still registered to vote in Monroe County, Florida - while declaring her candidacy for Rhode Island Governor!

Her Florida history is interesting in itself. According to tax records, she and her husband own a condo in the Florida Keys (where she had been registered to vote) but paid ZERO taxes based on what appears to be a homestead exemption EVEN THOUGH her billing address is listed on the tax bill as 151 Belle Ave., Highland Park, IL 60035-2503. The property ownership is listed as WEINZWEIG JEFFREY / ASHLEY.

I wonder if she was ALSO registered to vote in Illinois where she worked as "director of public engagement for Illinois' former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner" failed 2018 campaign.

She is a true Trumplican. In an interview with WPRI's Ted Nesi, when asked which living political leader she admired most, she picked fascist Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. OMG!