Interview with Guillaume de Ramel

Guillaume de Ramel is running as a Democrat for Secretary of State in Rhode Island. He holds a Masters Degree in Real Estate Development from Columbia University and has experience as an equity analyst, a small business owner, and an investment advisor. He is pictured above with his wife, Molly, and his son, Charlie.

The Mollis/Democratic City and Town Chairs Endorsement Scandal

KM: You responded to the Democratic City and Town Chairs endorsing Ralph Mollis with a letter which questioned the legitimacy of the endorsement. Is there anything more you want to say about this issue?

DE RAMEL: What happened with the Democratic City and Town Chairs Association’s ‘endorsement’ was the exact opposite of what I stand for. Forget about the fact that the president of the City and Town Chair’s Association also happens to be my opponent’s campaign manager and first cousin! Frankly, however, what troubles me most was the manner in which the vote was conducted – something obviously enormously important to me as a candidate for Secretary of State. I believe in free and fair — not fixed — elections.

Rhode Island’s Secretary of State is charged with safeguarding numerous components of our voting system. Of utmost importance is preserving the public’s confidence in our elections. If the Mollis campaign is interested in tainting an endorsement process this early in the election what does he have in store for Rhode Islanders? What does that say for someone who wants to be elected as our Chief Elections officer; to me, this is troubling.

Unfortunately what we saw that evening was an ‘endorsement’ that was — at the very least — hastily called (the majority of the Chairs couldn’t even vote with only 11 of the 39 able to cast a vote), conflicted and fundamentally flawed.

I realize that my opponent being an entrenched 20 year incumbent should receive all the endorsements, yet I am proud to have received so far the endorsements of the Democratic City and Town Committees in the communities of Warwick, Woonsocket, North Kingstown, Barrington, Charlestown, Exeter and more expected. One of my biggest complaints throughout this process has been certain committees have not even afforded me the opportunity of introducing myself and appearing before their members, but hastily made an ‘endorsement’ for my opponent. These included, North Providence (home of my opponent), Coventry, Scituate, Foster and who knows how many others will play this charade.

If a simple endorsement cannot be conducted with integrity, how can we be certain that our elections will not be susceptible to this molestation if Mr. Mollis is elected?

National Secretary of State’s Conference

KM: On your website, you mention that you attended the National Association of Secretaries of State conference in February. Did you learn about any initiatives happening in other parts of the country that might be helpful to consider in Rhode Island?

DE RAMEL: I learned a tremendous amount from conversation with other Secretaries of State. One initiative that really struck me is a program that was started by California and recently adopted by Vermont’s Secretary Markowitz called “Safe At Home” Address Confidentiality Program. It is simple, inexpensive and has a proven track record of actually saving lives.

In short, the program helps protect the anonymity of victims of domestic violence who have relocated, or are about to relocate, by making the Secretary of State’s office their public address. One intended example is in registering to vote. One needs to provide a home address. If you are a victim of domestic violence who’s relocated to a new home the last thing you want to do is make your home address public information. The unintended consequence of not keeping this information confidential is that these victims end up not registering to vote. By adopting this program we can help these victims by giving them not only some level of security but also an opportunity to participate in some of our most basic rights.

All in all I had the exciting opportunity to meet Secretaries of State from all across the country and hear their ideas firsthand, what worked and what did not, and understand what might be best for Rhode Island. Part of being an effective leader is opening your eyes and ears to all and then deciding what is best for the people you serve.

Seminars included: The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) implementation and challenges, voting challenges in the wake of Katrina, voting online, protecting citizens privacy, demonstrations of new voting technology and many others.

Unaffiliated Voters in Rhode Island

KM: Some people believe that Rhode Island’s large population of unaffiliated voters who can vote in either party’s primary is an asset to the state’s system. Others think that unaffiliated voters should not be allowed to vote in party primaries. What is your position on this issue? Would you support legislation to restrict unaffiliated voters from voting in party primaries?

DE RAMEL: Just to be clear, voters currently must affiliate — albeit momentarily — in order to vote in a Rhode Island primary. I understand that there are several states testing the constitutionality of allowing unaffiliated voters to vote in a primary, but none of these court cases to my knowledge have been resolved. I will be following these cases closely.

Separately, as much as I would love to steer more voters to the Democratic Party I firmly believe that it is one of the Secretary’s primary responsibilities to increase civic participation — not complicate or encumber it in any way. Already, our state’s voter participation in primaries could benefit from improved voter turnout — further burdening or restricting voters from participating would certainly not improve those figures.

I do not want to see legislation passed that will restrict voters in any way shape or form. Voter participation is of utmost importance — period.

Campaign Finance Reform

KM: Do you believe Rhode Island does enough to regulate campaign financing, or do we need campaign finance reform?

DE RAMEL: The Rhode Island Board of Elections (BOE) is charged with overseeing campaign finances and I have deep concerns with the way the board operates; more specifically, that our campaign finance laws are actually enforced. The first reform we need is the way the Board of Elections deals with alleged campaign finance violations.

The Board of Elections is broken and desperately needs to be fixed. As I stated in my announcement speech, the first legislation package I will send to the General Assembly is one to fix and reform the Board (i.e, 14-year terms, poll worker training, job qualifications for senior staff).

One can imagine that it is no easy task chasing down every alleged campaign violation. That said, I believe we need a legislated trigger mechanism for any alleged violation over $10,000, and after so many days at the BOE, the violation should be automatically transferred to the Department of Attorney General in order to continue towards conclusion.

One case that stands out in my mind is the allegation that the Republican National Party diverted $400,000 dollars to the local Republican Party in order to fund TV ads supportive of Don Carcieri’s race for Governor. All this, despite state law specifically prohibiting parties from contributing more than $25,000 to any one candidate. Three years later — this case still remains unresolved! The trigger mechanism I propose would preempt these issues — swiftly and efficiently — instead of letting them languish from one election to the next.

We also need to proactively look at realistic public financing programs that help all candidates compete. As a new statewide candidate I understand how difficult it is to compete without a ‘political machine’ behind you. Running against an opponent entrenched in the political system with all the powers of incumbency, such as a staff, automatic contributors, and all the other trappings that come with incumbency is daunting. I support 100% the concept of public financing of campaigns, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done in order to make it fairer for all. As Secretary of State I will commit myself to finding a solution that levels the playing field for all who want to seek public office.

Corporate Influence

KM: With the situation of Roger Williams Medical Center, we are seeing a corporation whose board did not regulate and prevent top executives from frivolously spending money that should have been dedicated to the mission of patient care. Is there some way that the oversight functions of the Secretary of State’s office could work to recognize problems like the situation with Roger Williams?

DE RAMEL: In Rhode Island the Department of Business Regulation is responsible for regulating business statutes. In many states, such as Massachusetts, the Secretary of State has that authority, but not in Rhode Island. But if legislation is required to make the Secretary of State’s Corporation’s Division more effective on this issue, I would be happy to work with the General Assembly to have such legislation enacted. That said, I know that Lt. Governor Fogarty and Senator Roberts have introduced legislation that is intended to help deal with problems that occurred in the Roger Williams scandal.

Overall, my thoughts regarding the Roger Williams Hospital scandal is that those executives embroiled in the scandal ought to be ashamed of the way they have conducted themselves. My campaign Honorary Co-Chair Nuala Pell served on the hospital’s board and from the beginning was an outspoken critic of the practices and procedures that took place. She was all too often the lone dissenting voice on the board — unfortunately her warnings where not heeded. I believe we need more quality and ethically sound people like Mrs. Pell serving on these corporate boards and in public office.

This scandal as well as others that may be looming in the not too distant future are what is wrong with our society today. In Rhode Island currently we are facing a climate of corruption that is on the rise and this only hurts our state as a whole. The behavior of the former senator from North Providence John Celona was disgraceful and it only hurts the overall majority of hardworking, honest elected officials that serve us in the State House.

If elected Secretary of State I will look at ways of using the Corporations Division of the Office to help crack down on instances like this and others. In my philosophy of government, selfish corruption for ones own personal gain has absolutely no place and never will.

Voter Initiative

KM: One of the hot topics in voting in Rhode Island right now is the Voter Initiative Movement which would allow citizens to petition to get questions onto the voting ballot. As Secretary of State, you will be in charge of ballot questions and getting information to the public about the ballot questions. Do you think it is appropriate for a Secretary of State to take a position on Voter Initiative? If not, why not? If so, what is your position on Voter Initiative?

DE RAMEL: On its face, Voter Initiative sounds great, but my principle concern with it is the fact that we do not have the necessary finance laws that can limit, much less bar, big, well funded interests from advancing referendum questions that suit their own interests — not the State’s. Without adequate safeguards, our state would effectively be ‘For Sale’ to any well-financed interested parties looking to change our laws (casinos, LNG, etc). I am not a proponent of gambling or LNG in Narragansett Bay but what would stop a casino or gas giant from coming in with millions of dollars to influence a referendum to get their way. To them, that money is nothing, but here, in little Rhode Island, that kind of money goes a long way in our mass media outlets.

The prospect for limiting contributions looks bleak. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that there can be no limits on political contribution for initiatives, that corporate contributions are allowed, and that it is permissible to pay signature gatherers to get a question on the ballot. States can only require that initiative proponents disclose their contributions and how the money was spent. This, unfortunately, does not leave us enough protection against well-funded interests from buying their way into our state.

Voter Registration Drives

KM: What will you do to improve voter registration, particularly in populations with low voter registration and turnout?

Too often we hear politicians talking about increasing voter turnout — that’s important, but I would like additional focus paid to increasing civic participation. That means getting more people to run for public office, lobby issues important to them or even participate in campaigns.

One solution is to start what I call the ‘Office of New Americans’ charged with improving civic participation amongst our newly naturalized citizens. Rhode Island is fortunate to have an incredible melting pot of various groups and cultures.

As a matter of fact this week I am meeting with FairVote/Center for Voting and Democracy, executive director, Robert Richie, and members of our General Assembly about legislation reducing the minimum voting registration age from 18 to 16. As a credit against community service requirements, students above the age of 16 could register to vote. Alternatively, we could make voter registration a graduation requirement. The net result, of course, is to get these young adults looped into the system before we lose them. Whatever can be done to improve voter registration needs to be done.

KM: Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am a new face, new name in Rhode Island politics and am working to bring new ideas to the office of Secretary of State. I have wanted to run for this seat for a long time. Unlike my opponent, I did not go ‘office shopping’ before I concluded that this is where I could make the greatest impact in this State.

Choosing an office to run for should not be ‘spin the bottle’ and seeing where bottle lands; instead it takes someone who is dedicated and committed to the office that they seek. You need to have a passion and genuine interest in doing the work that goes along with the office — which I truly do. I am not looking for a job; I want to do the job.

I have passion and commitment for all the functions of the Secretary of State’s duties, otherwise I would not be running for the office. All too often in politics, politicians run because they want a promotion or a bigger title; I am not looking for a job or a title, I am simply looking to serve the public — I want to do the job plain and simple. I ask all of you for your consideration and support as this election moves forward.

It’s been great talking about these issues with you. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I encourage anyone to visit my website, www.deramel2006.com.

KM: My pleasure. Thank you for being so thorough and thoughtful in your answers. It means a great deal to voters like me when a candidate is willing to reach out and use new media such as blogs in order to share his vision for a better Rhode Island.

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20 responses

  1. [...] The Kmareka blog has a new interview up with Democratic Secretary of State candidate Guilluame de Ramel.  Check it out. [...]

  2. [...] Click here to visit kmareka.com and read the interview… [...]

  3. I was interested to hear de Ramel propose lowering the minimum voting age to 16. One of my own bizarre opinions is that there should be no minimum voting age. I think that if an eight-year-old child is politically aware enough to want to vote, then they should be allowed to vote.

  4. Thanks for this terrific post Kiersten, and thanks also to Mr. de Ramel for his honest answers.

    If you will allow a question, in response to an inquiry on voter initiative, you said, “This, unfortunately, does not leave us enough protection against well-funded interests from buying their way into our state.” Would you agree that current campaign finance law favors wealthy candidates, who can use their own fortunes to “buy their way into our state”? If you are rich, then your campaign warchest is endless. If you are middle class or poor, then a couple thousand here and a couple thousand there is about the best you can hope for. How is this fair, and why is this different from the special interests that concern you when considering VI?

  5. Nice profile of Mr deRamel. He seems sincere and seems to have a great knowledge of the office he is running for. Above all he seems honest which is something we need more of in Rhode Island politics. Enough of the oldtime pols who go along to get along it’s about time we have a candidate who is looking to do a good job and be honest. Go DeRamel!

  6. This guy deRamel has brains and class. He will be a real asset to our politcal establishment. His opponent Mollis of North Providence is a thug who bullies his way around. Remember a few years ago when Mayor Mollis made headlines because he made firemen who were in the process of putting out a fire drop what they were doing and salute him. For those firemen who didn’t cause they were putting out the fire and saving lives Mollis repremanded them for not saluting him. I guess Mollis’ ego comes before public safety. WOW what an ego on this guy and he want to be Secretary of State.

  7. I want to let people know that we now require a valid email address is order to have your comments posted on this site. You are free to remain anonymous in your posting name on this site, and we would never give your email address to anyone or use it for any purpose.

    The reason we are starting this rule is that, while we want to have many voices contributing comments to this blog, we also want those voices to be providing quality information. This means if I have a question about the veracity of information that a commenter wants posted, I can email that person and ask them to provide a source for that information. This way we can do less spreading of propaganda here, and more sharing of information that is reality-based.

    If you have already submitted a comment and want it posted, you can email me at kmarek@kmareka.com with a valid email and the name you are using to post, and I will post your comment. Or you can submit another comment with a valid email.

  8. Good policy Kiersten. Your blog is good and keep it that way. Look forward to continue reading your posts.

  9. Great interview.

    DeRamel comes off as smart, articulate, and refreshing. I am impressed by his stance on the voter initiative concept, and his efforts to not just get more people to vote, but to involve more voters in the process of government.

    Kiersten, I hope you can interview more candidates. This was TRULY informative.

  10. Great interview.

    DeRamel comes off as smart, articulate, and refreshing. I am impressed by his stance on the voter initiative concept, and his efforts to not just get more people to vote, but to involve more voters in the process of government.

    Kiersten, I hope you can interview more candidates. This was TRULY informative.

  11. Mike,
    I am not deRamel but I think I know where he is going with what he said and what you are saying. With the voter initiative issue currently there is no limits as to how much a corporation or interest can put in to defeat or help an issue that if on the ballot would become law. That is very problematic because you could have a interest like casinos or lng giants as deRamel cited could come in spend millions and get the issue they want passed. That really needs to be addressed first if we are ever going to have true clean voter initiative.
    On the subject of a candidate putting in his or her own money into their own campaign that is an issue that the US Supreme Court has said you can do that all you want, freedom of speech and expression. In the case of deRamel or any first time candidate it is very difficult to raise the kind of funds you need to go against an entrenched incumbent. In the race for Secretary of State deRamel is going against North Providence Mayor Mollis who has by power of incumbency a built in fundraising machine. When he needs money he makes his employees of the town contribute and also the vendors that do business with the town. Mollis is very good at hitting up his employees, fire,police,schooldept,public works etc, almost as good like Cianci used to do in Providence. To the credit of the current mayor of Providence Cicilline he takes no money from city employees or vendors because he feels it creates the apperance of impropriety.Second it is against the law to solicit from an employee if you are an elected official who is in charge of those employees. If you dont give you dont get a raise or if you dont give the town won’t do business with you. All bad situations. Also with the imcumbency you get a town issued car,a town paid staff and other perks that any challanger doesn’t have. So putting in your own money sort of levels the playing field instantly. It shouldn’t be this way but it is. If it wasn’t now we wouldn’t have the type of candidate like deRamel in this race. deRamel makes it clear that it needs to be changed and pure campaign finance programs that actually work with a level playing field need to be enacted so this issue would be moot. I applaud him on that and am very glad that campaign finace public funding is top on his agenda.

  12. Great interview with Guillaume deRamel he seems like an interesting guy. The guy he is running against Mollis seems like a real operator. I didn’t think we had them like that anymore and then I remembered North Providence. Well good luck to deRamel god knows we need some honest people in our state government.

  13. polly, I appreciate your response, but my concerns remain. You effectively criticize the Mollis candidacy, but that’s irrelevent to me. The level playing field of which you speak only exists for the independently wealthy. Mr. deRamel can afford to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a campaign, but most cannot. So the rich get a level playing field, and the average American is out of luck.

    McCain/Feingold is a disaster that is only hurting quality candidates and pushing us further towards, for all practical purposes, a plutocracy. Look at the candidates for Senate; they’re all millionaires who can spend their own fortunes. What if Pawtucket Mayor Doyle wanted to run? Or Mayor Menard in Woonsocket? Could they possibly raise the money that Whitehouse can attain with the stroke of a pen?

  14. Mike, I agree with you something needs to be done to fix this problem once and for all. The current public financing system this state has is broken and need to be fixed. To answer your question about Mayors Doyle and Menard yes they would have a great advantage over a regular guy because they have the built in power if incumbency. All they need to do is call a fundraiser and every town worker as well as vendor will open up the checkbook. They would have all the trapping of office that would aid them cars, employees, offices,press aides. If you add all that so called fringe benefits it is hard to be a newcomer and compete unless you have money to spend. So the system is in shambles and needs fixing. I personally believe deRamel when he says once he gets in he will work to change it for the better to level the playing field. If you are a candidate with quality ideas that make a difference you should be able to get them out just as much as a guy who is an incumbent or rich guy and then you would have a chance to win. It can’t work that way now its wrong. The incumbent gets the level playing field the rich get the level playing field and the average joe doesn’t you are right and thats why we need true public financing reform, You make a great point and I agree with you 100%.

  15. Mike, don’t get shook up, but I’m going to agree with you. The current situation is inherently corrupt. A great example is Steve Laffey. He has substantial personal wealth and, apparently, many friends with money who are willing to donate it. This gives him a huge a huge advantage over most people.

    And then there are the corporations. I am utterly amazed that RI does not yet have a casino. Harrah’s has a ton of money to throw around; that they have been unable to “buy” the public with PR truly demonstrates, I believe, how the public really does not want a casino here. Or, it demonstrates how much clout Newport Grand and Lincoln Park have with the political powers-that-be.

    The point is that, right now, the advantage is with money. Money will always have an advantage in a free society. Concentrating money in ever fewer hands, as has been happening over the past 20-30 years, gives the “haves” an ever-increasing amount of power that becomes more and more difficult to overcome.

    During the discussion prior to the passage of McCain-Feingold, I heard some Republican Senator–it was either Mitch McConnel from KY, or Fred Thompson from TN–talking about how McC-F would prevent a citizen from going down to his local TV station and purchasing an ad for a candidate. Think about that; I don’t personally know many people who could do that. Do you? But, apparently this Repubican Senator does.

    So, you’re right, Mike. The current system is corrupt, and it does favor the wealthy.

  16. The world is coming to an end! Actually klaus, it doesn’t surprise me that we agree. To me it seems logical that those on the left would argue against campaign finance laws unfavorable towards average Americans. But I never said the system is corrupt. While I think it is corrupted at times (and we are certainly seeing this in DC on both sides of the aisle), the current law is the short in the system.

    Putting Laffey along side deRamel is not a fair comparison. Laffey started small, running for local office first. He’s been mayor a couple of terms, which gives us a resume on which to judge him. Above, Polly stated that incumbency provides an advantage, but this is earned. Getting elected, serving the people, winning over constituencies. Those already holding office deserve this advantage. Is can also work against the candidate. Laffey and Mollis both have records, and some will view their positions negatively.

    But for deRamel, his advantage is one that is bought, not earned. We need to allow everyone to participate in the electoral process . If deRamel can give himself half a million to fund a campaign, then I should be able to do the same, even if the campaign is not mine, assuming I can afford it. And if I am a candidate, I shouldn’t have to collect donations of $2000 a pop, trying to somehow compete with deRamel’s checkbook. Campaign finance might have been well-intentioned, but it’s not working. And klaus, I think whoever can afford it should be able to buy an ad in the newspaper if he or she wants. Allen Feinstein buys full pages all the time. The Bill of Rights allows for freedom of speech, and that most definitely includes political speech.

    Thanks klaus and Polly for engaging in a meaningful dialogue.

  17. Mike,
    I dont think Laffey was anything elected before he became Mayor. Second I do not think you need to hold an office to to get an office. I think we nned new fresh blood in our state government. What are the qualifications to be Secretary of State? You need to have creative quality ideas a passion for the job and a desire to do the job right. You dont need to have held another postion most of our best elected people didnt hold an elected office. Look at Carcieri like him or not he never did. Look at Sundlun same thing. Look at years ago Ron Machtley and even Se. Pell. All got elected with no prior office and all did a decent job. Having an office is not a plus to getting one other than name recognition,a instant fundraising base,a government office and the trappings etc. When it comes to ideas and passion that is to anyone who shows it.

  18. Mike, you make it sound like if someone writes a check –POOF they’re elected! Yes, DeRamel is thrown a lot of his own money into his campaign, but another way to look at it is, he’s putting his money where is mouth is.

    Besides, were was Mollis a year ago when DeRamel was out campaigning for SOS… doing a little ‘office shopping’…hmmm.

    There’s no such thing as having “earned” the “right” to run for political office, because you hold elected office, that’s just plain nonsense. It’s not a private club you lobby the inside crowd to get anointed; it’s about serving the public (not yourself) and who’s got the vision and leadership.

  19. Both your comments fail to take into account that ONLY wealthy people can afford to do this. Those without wealth must raise money in small amounts. Polly, three of the four officials you mentioned who got elected to higher office with no political experience were very rich…Pell, Sundlun, and Carcieri. Machtley didn’t win so much as the corrupt St. Germaine lost.

    My point is not that the wealthy shouldn’t be allowed to spend their own money. Because, like rocketscience argues, money doesn’t equate to election. I argue that deRamel has every right to spend his money. My argument is that we shouldn’t be tying behind their backs the hands of the people who aren’t wealthy. If I can get a rich friend to donate $100,000 to my campaign, it might give me some opportunity to run the television and newspaper ads that most certainly affect voters.

    I am also not arguing that those who hold lower office deserve higher office. But those who do, earn the constituency, the supporters, the networks, that others buy. It’s like the committed, ground up employee and the owner’s nephew vying for the top job.

    And rocketscience, trust me when I say Mollis is not on my prefered list. I would definitely vote for deRamel over Mollis if this the choice I was given. But in his defense, a year ago Mollis was probably working!

    If you truly believe that writing a check doesn’t POOF, get you elected. Then why limit people to $2000 a campaign cycle? McCain/Feingold is helping the wealthy maintain power. I would think those on the left would find this outrageous.

  20. Mike,
    I agree with some of what you say now that I inderstand it better. I wish we had a campaign finance that was perfect but wwe don’t and hopefully we will soon.
    I do agree with you that deRamel is the right choice over Mollis. Mollis is a nice guy I hear but he is so buried with that oldboy crew and does business the old fashioned way. I think deRamel brings a fresh new ideas and I really think we need some new faces with new ideas in RI.
    Anyway thanks for the conversation look forward to seeing you on here in the future.

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