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 Associationâ€™s ‘endorsement’ was the exact opposite of what I stand for. Forget about the fact that the president of the City and Town Chairâ€™s Association also happens to be my opponentâ€™s campaign manager and first cousin! Frankly, however, what troubles me most was the manner in which the vote was conducted â€“ 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 â€˜endorsementâ€™ 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 â€˜political machineâ€™ 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.
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.
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 â€˜spin the bottleâ€™ 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 Stateâ€™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.