Three Progressive Democrats Contend for Governor in Rhode Island Primary

govs-3Greetings everyone! This election season Governor’s race has been a tough one for progressive democrats in Rhode Island. With over $5 million spent by Raimondo alone, and the top five candidates spending over $10 million total, I often feel like I am in the midst of a media blitzkrieg.  Multiple negative glossy mailers show up daily on my doorstep and messages inundate me on Facebook and Google.  Luckily, I don’t watch television, and candidate ads haven’t invaded Netflix.  Hopefully they never will.

This election presents a difficult challenge for me.  As a feminist and the mother of two daughters, I want so much to have a female Governor for the state, and yet I lack confidence in Raimondo’s ability to maintain an objective stance on how to best invest pension dollars. I am impressed with Angel Taveras and have been since he took over as Mayor of Providence.  Then there’s Pell who seems to represent hope for a new vision, someone with the best kind of experience in politics — the least. They say it’s the fresh ones who get new content onto the table.

But then again, freshness is not always a good thing in politics, because freshness in politics could mean you are more easily tricked or deceived — you haven’t seen or played many of the games. So then I’m back to Angel Taveras who has done well for the city of Providence, especially considering the mess he was handed.  Taveras also seems to be something of a peacemaker between warring factions, as he managed to bring together some unions and the city for contract negotiations.  Raimondo seems to be more polarizing — it could have something to do with her taking the most audacious step of any state in the USA in terms of cutting back state and city worker pension benefits with the removal of their 3% cost of living adjustments until the unfunded liability has been sufficiently cleared up.

As you can see, I had a lot of questions for the candidates.  About a month ago, I contacted the campaigns to see if they would answer 8 questions for my blog, and finally rounded them up and arm-twisted enough to get some answers.  Taveras goes first, then Raimondo, and last Pell, not because I put them in that order for outcomes on Tuesday, but because that is the order in which they arrived in my inbox. I also contacted Todd Giroux, who did not respond.

 1. In a twitter nutshell (140 characters), why should I vote for you?

Taveras:  Experience matters. RI needs a Gov who not only has plans & ideas but can also deliver-as Mayor I put people first & delivered for our city.

Raimondo:  RI is in a jobs crisis. I have the experience to be the jobs governor & get people back to work. I’ve proven that I can solve big problems.

Pell:   I’m focused on solving problems not attacking my opponents. I’m not beholden to special interests. I bring new ideas to our broken politics.

2. What do you see as the reason so few people vote? What can regular citizens do to get more connected and active in the community?

Taveras:  People need to believe that government is on their side and that their voice matters. I want to be a Governor who empowers people to make a difference in their community. If time or something else is standing in the way, start small by taking one issue that you care about or that is important to you and learning more about it. I believe the more you learn, the more you will want to learn and get involved. Voting, volunteering, and getting involved in the community and in issues that you care about makes a difference. It makes us stronger.

Raimondo:  This election is the most important election we’ve had in decades. We’ve consistently had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and families are struggling. We can’t have more of the same.

Government has to work and Rhode Islanders need confidence that elected officials are making decisions that are in the best interest of everyone, not just the insiders and special interests. I’m asking for all Rhode Islanders’ votes because I’ve shown that I will be a governor who does what is right for all Rhode Islanders. This election is too important to sit on the sidelines.

Pell:   As Governor, I will empower people and engage our residents, businesses and nonprofit organizations to build a strong and vibrant economy. I have heard from so many people that they want to be more involved, but state government doesn’t listen or reflect them.  I have a comprehensive and strategic plan for Rhode Island that builds on the incredible assets and people we are so fortunate to have in this state.

One idea I have proposed to engage people in, is the Hope Internship Program to ensure Rhode Island is the first state to offer every public high school student the opportunity to participate in a career training internship. The Hope Internship experience will provide generations of Rhode Island students with the opportunity to identify a career path, or spark the desire to attend college. Businesses and nonprofits will be able to connect with our public schools and provide critical real-world experiences for our high school students.

3. My friend Julie (not her real name) is very worried about her change in pension as a retired public school teacher. What do you have to say to her?

Taveras:  I believe we should negotiate with our unions and retirees to come to a fair resolution that respects our pledge to workers and still aims to protect our state from massive unfunded liability. With my record as Mayor, I believe we can do both. I negotiated with Police, Fire, Teachers, City Workers, and retirees. By doing so we were able to turn a $110 structural deficit into a surplus. The same can be done at the state level.

With me as Governor along with a new Treasurer, I believe we will find a settlement with our teachers, police, firefighters, state workers, and retirees that moves Rhode Island forward but still respects working families.

Raimondo:  Julie should know that her pension is secure and will be there for the long-term. We fixed the pension system to protect people’s pensions and ensure that our state has the resources to invest in moving our state forward.

Pell: I understand your friend’s concerns as I hear from many retirees and active employees about their pension changes and the uncertainty of their benefits. As Governor, I will truly listen to those affected by reforms in our pension system and work with stakeholders to achieve real pension security. I am concerned that the current pension reform is tied up in a lengthy court process and that the decision of one Judge could determine the pension benefits for current and future retirees. I am committed to providing fair and predictable retirement security for our employees that dedicate their careers to public service and will work hard every day to support their dedication.

4. Do you think Rhode Island corruption is better than it used to be? If so, in what ways?

Taveras:  We must always be on guard and fight against corruption. We can always do better. Justice Brandeis said that “sunshine is the best disinfectant.” I believe that. Restored Ethics Commission oversight is an important first step. We must always fight for greater transparency and openness and we must hold wrongdoers accountable. That is what I have done as Mayor and that is also what I would do as Governor.

Raimondo:   The real problem is the “know a guy culture” that favors insiders and the well-connected. Everyone should be treated the same and you shouldn’t get special treatment regardless if you are a famous baseball player or related to an elected official.

Pell:  For too long, Rhode Island’s politics-as-usual system of cynicism, cronyism and unethical decision-making has damaged the state’s reputation. It has eroded people’s faith in government, and made it harder to do business, raise a family and enjoy a high quality of life. The government of Rhode Island must be transparent and ethical; it must conduct the people’s business with the highest ethical standards; and it must create systems to ensure government activities are held accountable if wrongdoing occurs.

I am the only candidate to propose a detailed Government Integrity plan to use the powers of the Governor’s Office to: improve the transparency of state agencies, require code of ethics training, improve customer service in state agencies, bring more transparency to the budget process, connect with constituents more regularly, encourage flexibility to achieve regulatory compliance, and reform regulatory enforcement.

I am committed to setting the bar for transparency- both in my Administration and in my campaign. That’s why I’ve pledged not to accept contributions from Political Action Committees (PACs) or state lobbyists, and that’s why I am the only candidate in this race that has taken the unprecedented step to disclose five years of my tax returns to the Providence Journal. I look forward to earning your trust and confidence, and demonstrating that the Governor’s Office and my Administration will be open and accessible to all voices.

5. As a freelance writer, I often compete with other writers in India and the Arab Emirates, among other countries, for jobs. What are your thoughts on globalization and the changes it will bring to American labor and the economy?

Taveras:  Globalization is a reality. Our state and our country need to be able to compete on a global scale. That means ensuring that we have a properly trained workforce. We need to close our skills gap and ensure we are teaching our students the skills they need to be prepared to succeed in the jobs that exist today and tomorrow. It means we need to have a competitive economy. We need to look at all sectors as opportunities for growth and build a diverse economy. In Rhode Island, it also means taking advantage of the amazing assets we have right here from our colleges and universities to our hospitals and research facilities. It means taking advantage of our ports, our proximity to rail and our location on the eastern seaboard. We have much that sets us apart. We can do more to compete in a global economy.

We also need to start thinking in the long term and realize that we cannot be successful if we do not start investing in our people. That means improving education across the board from early childhood education on. We need to recognize this is a long term investment not only in our kids but also in the communities in which they live as well as in the future of our state.

Raimondo:  The story of Rhode Island is we used to make things here. Thousands of people worked in jewelry and textile manufacturing. But then tens of thousands of those jobs left our state and we didn’t position ourselves for new industries.

Right now manufacturing is coming back from Asia for the first time in decades. As governor, I will be focused on making sure we are getting those jobs here in Rhode Island. We can make Rhode Island a leader in manufacturing again by turning the good ideas coming out of our colleges and universities into products we make here. My plan will make Rhode Island a leader in manufacturing again by building on areas of strength: marine science, food science, medical devices and industrial design.

Pell:  As someone who has worked across the globe and led the world language programs at the U.S. Department of Education, I have seen firsthand how connected the global economy is and how we must prepare our students, workforce, and businesses to compete in this global economy. Preparing students to be successful in the workforce means they have to be better equipped to participate in a regional, national and global economy. Rhode Island’s public schools must provide learning opportunities that extend beyond Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and promote skill development that will position students for success in this changing economy. I strongly support offering world languages, international connections, arts, and after school activities including sports to provide multiple pathways for student success.

“From 2010 – 2013, Rhode Island exports have increased by 60 percent, from $1.5 billion in 2009 to $2.4 billion in 2012. An estimated $11 million in sales and more than 500 new jobs resulted from trade missions to Israel, Japan, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Canada in the past year alone. Rhode Island companies have also estimated another $5.3 million in sales from their participation in international trade shows” ( Businesses in Rhode Island could have more growth opportunities if they had access to, or could afford export training and assistance. Additionally, the success of strategic trade missions has demonstrated the potential of Rhode Island businesses when they are connected with global opportunities.

As Governor, I will:

  • Lead Commerce RI to develop a two year trade mission strategy starting in 2015 to increase the global network of opportunities for Rhode Island businesses.
  • Increase the resources available for export training and technical assistance provided by the International Trade Office at Commerce RI to businesses. Additional resources would allow the Office to help develop more individual business plans and training that leads to successful export and import ventures for Rhode Island businesses.
  • Increase the number of businesses that receive Export Management Training Grants.
  • Leverage my multilingual abilities and my international experience to promote and attract talent and business to Rhode Island and help to identify more export opportunities.

6. What are the top 3 things we need to do to make Rhode Island a better state?

Taveras:  We need to grow a diverse economy – from technology to tourism and everything in between – to get people back to work. I have introduced several plans that would help do that. My plan for the Ocean State Infrastructure Trust will invest $800 million over the next fifteen years to help our cities and towns make needed repairs to our roads, bridges and schools, putting as many as 4,500 people back to work right away. My plan Training Rhode Island will provide much needed job training and close our skills gap by pairing our community college system with employers who are looking to hire right now. The goal through the program is to create 5,000 new jobs. My plan Discover Rhode Island will invest $5 million per year in Rhode Island arts, culture and tourism to grow our tourism industry, bringing additional visitors and tax revenue into our state, and getting Rhode Islanders working again. The plan pays for itself over time and can create 2,600 jobs.

I also believe we need to improve our education system. Education can have a profound impact on a child’s life. It can be the path out of poverty. I know because it is the path I’ve traveled. That is why my first policy proposal as a candidate was Ready Rhode Island, my plan for Universal Pre-K. We need to support our students from cradle to career. My most recent plan Rhode Island Achieves, which begins with providing each Rhode Island newborn with a CollegeBoundfund, works to improve k-12 education in our state and makes college more affordable is an example of that.

Finally we need to restore hope and pride in our state. I have said that Rhode Islanders are going to save Rhode Island – I believe that we will. We have the knowledge, the talent and the ingenuity to do so. Working to get our economy on track is a big first step, improving our education system is another one. We need to celebrate and promote all that is right with our state. There is no doubt that we have work to do – but we also have much to be proud of. It’s time to recognize that within our state and to promote it far and wide.

Raimondo:  Jobs, jobs, jobs. Rhode Island is a great place to live. We have fantastic beaches, amazing restaurants, great colleges and universities and a great location in between Boston and New York City. But we need to create good, high-skill, high-pay jobs.

Pell:  The foundation of economic growth in Rhode Island is to invest in a world class education system, rebuild and maintain high-quality infrastructure, and leverage what is unique about the Ocean State. My economic strategy details specific actions that build on this foundation to ensure all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to participate in the state’s economic recovery.

The implementation of this economic strategy will lead to:

  • A more competitive business environment for Rhode Island;
  • An increase in career opportunities for all Rhode Islanders;
  • A greater emphasis on the unique attributes our state has to offer;
  • A greater confidence in the fiscal stability of the state; and,
  • A clearly defined economic vision that provides direction for future growth.

My entire economic strategy can be read at:

7. What advice would you give to young people in our state?

Taveras:  I believe the best gift you can give yourself is to study hard and get a good education. Education is a great equalizer. I know from my own experience that it is the path to a better life. Educate yourself as much as you can. Be involved in your community. Speak up and speak out against injustice.

I would also ask them not to give up hope. We live in the best state in the country. Better days are ahead.

Raimondo:  I want young people to stay here. I’ve called for a student loan forgiveness program that will help graduates stay in Rhode Island to work or start a business.

Pell:  Seek out every new experience you can.  Whether it’s a new subject in school, a classmate you might not have talked to before, or a different sport or job – try something you haven’t before.  One reason I’m going to establish the Hope Internship Program (so that every public high school student can participate in an internship experience) is how transformative it can be to experience a field to which you might not have otherwise had exposure when thinking about careers you might pursue.

8. What will you do to reduce income inequality in Rhode Island?

Taveras:  I would note many of the things that I have already mentioned will help to reduce income inequality. Improving our state’s education system cannot be undervalued. Getting our economy back on track and building a diverse economy figure prominently in ensuring there are good, quality jobs available for all our citizens. Improving job training so that we can ensure a better-skilled workforce and higher paying jobs is part of that. And finally we need to raise the minimum wage as quickly as possible.

Raimondo:  Income inequality is a huge problem. I’ve called for an Office of Economic Empowerment in order to make sure that all Rhode Islanders have access to economic opportunity and that we are addressing chronic problems like homelessness and hunger with a focus on results.

But the most important thing we can do to reduce inequality is to create good jobs and equip Rhode Islanders with the skills employers are looking for. I’ll be a governor who will turn around this economy around in a way that leaves no one behind.

Pell:  Too many Rhode Islanders are still paying a price because of barriers they simply should not face. In the workplace, housing, education, and the countless interactions that make life rich and fulfilling, many still do not enjoy full participation in the life of our state. That is why we must commit to nothing less than opportunity for all Rhode Islanders.

We can end the inequality and discrimination women experience in employment and healthcare; we can break down the barriers faced by our fellow citizens with disabilities to ensure they have a fair chance to gain meaningful employment; we can close achievement gaps in education and in the workplace for minorities; and we can build on the progress of marriage equality by pushing for true and unequivocal equal rights for our LGBT friends and neighbors. If we seize the future committed to equality for all Rhode Islanders, it will be a more prosperous future for us all.

I have proposed a comprehensive Women’s Equality Agenda because we must do more to empower women in Rhode Island and remove barriers to their success. We must promote diverse career opportunities for young women and increase their access to education and workforce development programs. We must develop multiple career pathways and encourage women to pursue careers traditionally held by men including transportation, engineering, construction and farming. We must address the ongoing scourge of pay inequity as well as increasing the minimum wage. Across all these areas we can make Rhode Island a national leader for women’s equality and empower women to achieve the same levels of success and advancement as their male counterparts.

I am the only candidate that has called for an immediate raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. I am the only candidate that opposed the recent estate tax break for the wealthy funded by gutting property tax relief for low-income people. I am the only candidate to provide specific responses to the Chamber of Commerce questionnaire on difficult questions that others were unwilling to respond to. I will stand with working Rhode Islanders who have been squeezed out of the economy by special interests and widening income inequality.

My Analysis of the Responses

If this were the only test to see who should win the primary, I would have to say that Taveras wins in my book.  His answers were more thorough and comprehensive, and spoke to the details of his own experiences as Mayor.  I actually got the impression he put some real thought into them.  Raimondo seemed rushed, like she just wanted to get the whole thing over with.  I realize these are hectic times at campaign central, but her answer to a question about the three things we need to do for the state of Rhode Island was:  “jobs, jobs, jobs”? I’m pretty sure that answer won’t get you out of the 3rd grade, never mind a top job in public office.

And then there’s Pell.  Generally, he had a lot to say.  That’s what you do when you don’t have a lot of experience.  A friend of mine on Facebook, a retired teacher who seems to be supporting Pell, commented that he doesn’t look at what people say, he looks at what they do.  And that’s my biggest problem with Clay Pell.  He has not done a lot in the state for us to look at.  But he does have some very good ideas.




Petition the RI Legislature: Pass Senate Bills 2368 and 2369 and House Bills 7841 and 7842 to fund the RI Center for Law and Public Policy |

I have been on the Board of the Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy since its inception in 2008 and have watched as this organization has grown to have an amazing impact on the lives of Rhode Islanders in need of legal services, particularly the elderly, poor families, and small businesses.  I ask you to sign this petition to ask the legislature to put these bills to a vote, so that if there is sufficient public support, RICLAPP can be sustained.  Thank you, Kiersten Marek

Petition | Pass Senate Bills 2368 and 2369 and House Bills 7841 and 7842 to fund the RI Center for Law and Public Policy. |

Perception is Something People Care About — Chafee Caves to Angus Davis

Angus Davis feels better, so I guess everything is right and good in the fiefdom of downtown Providence.  Lame duck Governor Chafee is not feeling like having a big fight, so Angus will get his way.  As the new corporate zoning Czar for the city, I wonder if Mr. Davis would consider helping to rehabilitate the poor and downtrodden, rather than just exiling them from his high tech encampment.

Read more from Natasha Lennard at Salon.  

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

In our internal arms race there is no end to fear. More weapons and more lethal weapons are an escalating response. It’s important to remember that there are other forms of power than killing power. The life and mission of a great Rhode Islander demonstrate another way.

Thirty years ago, Providence was home to a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Called Cambodia’s Ghandhi, the Venerable Maha Ghosananda lived and taught in a triple-decker on Hanover Street, near the Cranston Street Armory.

Displaced by the Southeast Asian War, Maha Ghosananda lived for a year in the Sakeo refugee camp on the Thai border. He ministered to Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge, and later to Khmer Rouge soldiers fleeing the Vietnamese. It was said that he was given an airplane ticket to safety, but he cashed it in and used it to print tracts on Lovingkindness, which he distributed to all in the camp, regardless of which side they were on. After leaving Sakeo, Maha Ghosananda traveled the world as one of the last surviving Cambodian Buddhist monks, arriving in Providence in 1980. Here he founded a temple that became the Khmer Buddhist Society, a center and heart of the community.

In 1992, Maha Ghosananda established the Dhammayietra Walk for Peace– an annual walk across Cambodia to minister to the suffering and bereaved survivors of the war. This was truly a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Peace was not securely established. Gun violence, for politics or robbery was a threat. Maha Ghosananda was a politically challenging figure and his teacher had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge. He was a target for assassination. In addition, the countryside was strewn with land mines. War still smoldered– one year two of the marchers, a monk and a nun, were killed in crossfire between government and Khmer Rouge forces.

But the Dhammayietra brought healing to people who had suffered the dismantling of their society, and seen the near-eradication of their religion.

Nonviolence is not for the faint of heart. When he lived in Providence, Maha Ghosananda was a close friend of the minister of First Unitarian Church, Tom Ahlburn. It was just before the first, or maybe the second Dhammayietra that Tom held a gathering I can only describe as an Irish wake. Tom told Maha Ghosananda stories and we sent our thoughts and hope to those marchers traversing a mined disaster zone in an uneasy peace.

Maha Ghosananda, in fact, outlived Tom Ahlburn. Maha Ghosananda led several walks across Cambodia. He spent his last days in Lowell, Massachusetts, and passed from this world in 2007.

I was blessed to meet him. He was a saint.

He taught me three words, Truthfulness, Forbearance and Gratitude. His message was Metta–Lovingkindness.

Today our country is feeling the shadow of death in the senseless violation of a school and the murder of children. Nonviolence is not an absence, but a radical response to violence. Pacifism is not passivity. Maha Ghosananda lived a life of activism and great courage. It comforts me to think of him in these times.

[Santidhammo Bhikkhu's book, 'Maha Ghosananda the Buddha of the Battlefields' was used as a resource and aid to aging memory in writing this post.]

Thomas Lewis Writes about the Prayer Banner Controversy and its Political Implications

Thomas Lewis, a professor of Religious Studies at Brown, provides an excellent summary of the prayer banner controversy. He points out that Frank Lombardi, whose terrible judgement (IMHO) in the prayer banner controversy helped to fuel the fight with the ACLU, will be squaring off against Gene Dyszlewski, an ordained minister who defended Jessica Ahlquist, for the Rhode Island Senate District 26 seat. More on that to come.

Rhode Island: A Resident Hears Dissent in Roger Williams’ State | Religion & Politics.

May Day

May Pole at the FarmMay Day, when the weather cooperates, celebrates a time of year when the intoxicating beauty of Spring reaches even the most frozen, internet-addicted soul. Known as Beltane in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, it is a worker’s holiday in much of the world. May Day stands across the Wheel from another disreputable holiday the Celts bequeathed us–Halloween. It’s a time to test boundaries. May Day will be Occupied this year.

At this latitude, we usually don’t get into our groove during Earth Month. Most years, May is when the world blooms– this warm April being an exception. America celebrates Labor Day at the end of Summer, and the change of the seasons not at all, officially. That’s okay, nature celebrations don’t take to official sanctions.

In this week’s New York Times the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood mentioned New England’s own Nathaniel Hawthorne as a writer worth re-visiting. I checked it out and darned if his writing isn’t subversive, Pagan and kind of gay (if a rainbow scarf counts). Here is what happens when the Puritans meet the May Pole dancers…

Here might be seen the Savage Man, well known in heraldry, hairy as a baboon, and girdled with green leaves. By his side, a noble figure, but still a counterfeit, appeared an Indian hunter, with feathery crest and wampum belt. Many of this strange company wore foolscaps, and had little bells appended to their garments, tinkling with a silvery sound, responsive to the inaudible music of their gleesome spirits. Some youths and maidens were of soberer garb, yet well maintained their places in the irregular throng by the expression of wild revelry upon their features. Such were the colonists of Merry Mount, as they stood in the broad smile of sunset round their venerated Maypole.

Had a wanderer, bewildered in the melancholy forest, heard their mirth, and stolen a half-affrighted glance, he might have fancied them the crew of Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change. But a band of Puritans, who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.
Within the ring of monsters appeared the two airiest forms that had ever trodden on any more solid footing than a purple and golden cloud. One was a youth in glistening apparel, with a scarf of the rainbow pattern crosswise on his breast. His right hand held a gilded staff, the ensign of high dignity among the revelers, and his left grasped the slender fingers of a fair maiden, not less gayly decorated than himself. Bright roses glowed in contrast with the dark and glossy curls of each, and were scattered round their feet, or had sprung up spontaneously there. Behind this lightsome couple, so close to the Maypole that its boughs shaded his jovial face, stood the figure of an English priest, canonically dressed, yet decked with flowers, in heathen fashion, and wearing a chaplet of the native vine leaves. By the riot of his rolling eye, and the pagan decorations of his holy garb, he seemed the wildest monster there, and the very Comus of the crew.

“Votaries of the Maypole,” cried the flower-decked priest, “merrily, all day long, have the woods echoed to your mirth. But be this your merriest hour, my hearts! Lo, here stand the Lord and Lady of the May, whom I, a clerk of Oxford, and high priest of Merry Mount, am presently to join in holy matrimony. Up with your nimble spirits, ye morris-dancers, green men, and glee maidens, bears and wolves, and horned gentlemen! Come; a chorus now, rich with the old mirth of Merry England, and the wilder glee of this fresh forest; and then a dance, to show the youthful pair what life is made of, and how airily they should go through it! All ye that love the Maypole, lend your voices to the nuptial song of the Lord and Lady of the May!”

As history tells, the Puritans won. Still, they never quite succeed in pulling all the dandelions out of the lawn. Hawthorne has a lot to say to us today, in this short story. Read it all here,–The May Pole of Merry Mount, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

And as history is stranger than fiction, here’s one link to that renegade ‘English priest’, Thomas Morton, founder of New Caanan. If the Puritans had followed Morton’s lead and made peace with the Native people, what new path might our country have taken?