On healthcare, education, economic development, ethics in government, and environmental issues, Elizabeth Roberts provides answers on how she would lead Rhode Island to a better future as our first female Lieutenant Governor.
On the Job
What is your vision for the state of Rhode Island? How does this contrast with what your opponent, Kernan King, would bring to the job?
I have lived in Rhode Island for over thirty years and I know how wonderful our state is. I am also convinced we can be better. As a parent, businesswoman, community leader and for the past 10 years as a state senator I know the problems we face: Less access to affordable and good-quality healthcare, soaring energy costs and a high-tax burden on working Rhode Islanders. This all contributes to slow economic growth for our state. We can do something about it.
My opponent and I have had very different life experiences. I have made my home in Rhode Island. I have raised my children here. He has lived in Massachusetts and Florida and just recently moved back to our state in November. Our philosophies are different. We need to be responsible to our citizens and hold the line on taxes, but I don’t believe that the only way to spur our economy is tax breaks only for the wealthy.
We need to make healthcare a priority to create jobs. The number one obstacle for businesses wanting to expand is the cost of providing healthcare for new employees. I am sponsoring a bill that will create a public/private partnership to reduce the burden of healthcare costs on small businesses.
I also believe that the lieutenant governor needs to be an effective advocate for Rhode Islanders — not just the governor — no matter what party you are in.
Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, who reportedly demurred at national Republicans recommending that he run for lieutenant governor, described the position as such: “In Rhode Island, the job of lieutenant governor is to ride a bicycle around the state and wait for the governor to die.” Would you offer an alternative characterization of the job?
The lieutenant governor is not just an executive in-waiting. If you have a parent or grandparent in a nursing home, you know how fortunate we are to have a lieutenant governor that serves as an advocate for long-term care. If you have started a business with a grant from the Small Business Administration, you understand the importance of this office as an advocate for small businesses. And if you believe a horrible tragedy like Hurricane Katrina should never happen in Rhode Island, then you know how important the lieutenant governor is to emergency preparedness in this state.
The lieutenant governor’s clear role in succession is very important for stability in state government and for our economy. New Jersey doesn’t have a lieutenant governor and in a one-year period (2002) the state had 6 governors, with one serving for only 90 minutes. The people of New Jersey thought the position was so important, that they amended their constitution last year and created the position.
I note on your site you mention how you enjoyed walking your children to your community school in Cranston, Norwood Avenue School. As you know, that school has been closed in Cranston, and another community school, Horton, is now being slated for closing. This seems to be one way some school departments are dealing with their budget crises. What could we be doing to save small community schools?
My children received a wonderful education at Norwood Elementary and we are fortunate to have had that experience. Smaller schools and smaller class sizes result in a better education for our students. But we also need to reform our educational system to make sure children are learning and not just memorizing for tests. Standards are important and we need make sure students and teachers are meeting them. We also need to hold school boards and elected officials accountable to make sure we are using our educational dollars in the most responsible way. We can keep community schools open if we spend our money wisely and work hard to find creative solutions to our budget problems.
Two Democrats in Rhode Island, Peter Kilmartin and James Doyle, are proposing legislation to regionalize the administrative functions of school departments, reducing our systems from 36 to 5. Do you see potential for this legislation? Do you have concerns about it?
Reducing our system from 36 school departments to 5 may be severe at this point. There is a definite need to be more resourceful in a state as small as ours, but we need to find other creative solutions to maintain the strength of our neighborhood schools.
On Health Care
Some conservative critics in Rhode Island have charged that our healthcare for low income families is too generous. I wonder if you could respond to this criticism.
Annual doctor visits and asthma medication are cheap compared to what we would spend on a sick child in an emergency room. Preventative medicine saves money and puts less of a burden on our healthcare system.
The cuts to health care in the governor’s budget represent a drastic step that is unhealthy for families and children, detrimental to the health care services we depend on and harmful to businesses in the state. The cuts would increase the pool of the uninsured by at least 10,000 and increase premiums for all Rhode Islanders.
These cuts will drive low-income families off our programs and into the emergency rooms where costs are higher. This will affect the health of our state and end up costing us all money. More importantly, children and families are going to get sick and we will turn our backs on them.
On the national level, the President is calling for healthcare savings accounts and increasing the ability for people to “shop around” when consuming healthcare. One problem with this idea is that information about the quality of providers (their work history, complaints, special licenses, patient feedback) is not readily available. Nor is any information available about the costs which doctors charge. Do you think Rhode Island should take steps to provide more information to healthcare consumers, such as setting up a state-run database to provide information on the quality of individual providers and the prices they charge?
Government has a role in helping consumers make good decision about their healthcare needs. In Rhode Island, we are fortunate to have one of the best reporting systems in the country for healthcare quality. I help build the Performance Measurement reporting that is available online with the Department of Health. The report measures patient satisfaction and clinical performance, two very important criteria for evaluating healthcare facilities.
I also helped create the Office of Health Insurance Commissioner to oversee insurance companies and health care costs last year. The new commissioner, Christopher Koller, is a watchdog for consumers and the position is the first step towards better consumer education in healthcare.
On Gambling and Economic Development
There is just about nowhere in the state where you can be more than 20 minutes away from a gambling establishment. Yet more gambling places are constantly being proposed. Where do you stand on gambling?
I am opposed to a casino in Rhode Island because gambling is not an economic engine. We need a more broad-based economy based on sectors like biomedical research. Gambling is a too simple and narrow-minded solution and its implications are too complex and problematic for our state.
Do you have any other ideas to spur economic development in the state?
Biotechnology is a growing sector of our economy and we should continue to foster cooperation with the field. We need to build on the strengths of our local universities so we can be a national leader in research and development.
On the Environment
Are you in support of enlarging and further developing TF Green Airport?
We need to make sure we protect the quality of life for residents in Warwick and Cranston and maintain the economic interests of our state. Appropriate growth should be a priority as long as environmental and neighborhood concerns can be addressed. Residents of the towns directly impacted by plans should have some local input to mitigate issues with the state and the federal government.
Are you in support of plans to further develop a Liquid Nitrogen Gas terminal in Rhode Island or Fall River, MA?
I do not support an LNG terminal in Narragansett Bay. I do believe we need to focus on a comprehensive energy strategy that includes renewable resources.
On Corruption/Cronyism in Rhode Island
Should we be doing more in Rhode Island to combat corruption like the situation with Roger Williams Medical Center? If so, what?
As a public servant, I have devoted myself to the highest ethical standards and I believe all elected officials should be held to those standards. Public service must be built on trust whether you are serving constituents from Warwick and Cranston, or you are running an important public facility like Roger Williams hospital that serves all Rhode Islanders.
As co-chair of the legislative committee charged with healthcare oversight, I worked hard to reform the state’s largest healthcare insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield when they were losing the public’s trust. Our efforts helped refocus the non-profit’s mission to provide affordable healthcare and increased accountability to the public that Blue Cross serves. We will be holding hearings in the coming months to make sure hospital administrators conduct themselves ethically and have the public’s best interest in mind.
Do you think the separation of powers legislation passed in 2004 has impacted problems of cronyism and conflict of interest in Rhode Island politics?
Separation of Powers has greatly reduced the conflicts of interest in our state and I am happy to have played a role with this legislation. Government needs to be for all people, not just the powerful or well-connected. Part of creating a healthy and strong Rhode Island has to be eliminating corruption from our public bodies. I know strong ethics and a dedication to doing what’s right can make a difference for Rhode Islanders.
Finally, is there anything else you want to say? What message do you want to get to the people of Rhode Island?
I’ve dedicated my career to tackling the toughest issues facing Rhode Islanders and finding creative solutions that help people. My hard work and persistence has gotten results for my constituents. Now I am ready to put my experience and commitment to work on behalf of all Rhode Islanders.
I also want to become the first female lieutenant governor because I believe young women, like my two daughters Kathleen and Nora, deserve female role models in leadership positions.
I would love to hear from Kmareka readers and I would be honored to ask for their support.
Thanks, Senator Roberts. I have two daughters as well, ages six years and six months. My hope is that by the time they are old enough to vote, strong female leaders like yourself will be the rule rather than the exception in Rhode Island politics.