PROVIDENCE – After fielding the same questions they’ve by now heard at nearly 30 debates and forums, the four major candidates for governor have their answers polished to a point where a political consultant could see his/her face reflected in them.
Those answers were trotted out once again Thursday at Brown University in response to questions posed by political science Professor Marion Orr before a mostly student audience that filled one of the school’s lecture halls.
Democrat Frank Caprio talked about getting each of the state’s small businesses to hire one person, and told the tale of the family sitting around their kitchen table deciding which bills to pay and which to put off for another month.
Independent Lincoln Chafee once again boasted about his “vision” in planning to locate a train station next to Green Airport – the closest Amtrak station to a major airport in the country and his work in the Senate to get the funding to make it a reality.
Republican John Robitaille reminded everyone once again that Rhode Island doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem and needs to cut spending and lower taxes,
Moderate Ken Block told of the billion dollars his computer software firm saved the state of Texas and how that success could be repeated here and how the Economic Development Corporation’s loan guarantee deal with Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios “is not economic development, it’s economic desperation.”
But all that familiarity of appearing together behind lecterns several times a week may now be breeding contempt.
Block, who perhaps has the least to lose because he is still mired in the single digits in the polls, but who needs to get at least 5 percent of the vote on November 2 to keep his fledgling party alive, is the one of the Fab Four – Independent candidates Joseph Lusi, Todd Giroux and Ronald Algieri, while they will appear on the ballot, seldom get invited to these events -- who most freely throws elbows at his opponents.
At the Brown forum, Block derided Caprio’s line that he would “put wind at the back of small businesses as “meaningless drivel,” saying that as a small businessman it does not give him the incentive to hire one employee.
He ridiculed Chafee for proposing a 1 percent increase in the sales tax that would raise almost $100 million, then saying he would use it to cover several hundred million dollars worth of various programs. He questioned whether Chafee would use it to send illegal aliens to college when a question came up about allowing undocumented students who graduate from Rhode Island high schools top pay lower in-state tuition at state colleges.
Block said, “John Robitaille says he is going to slash and burn the budget, but he won’t tell us exactly what he is going to do.”
Chafee blew an opportunity for an easy applause line during opening statements when, after Block appealed to the student audience not to hate him because he graduate from Ivy League rival Dartmouth College and Caprio made reference to attending Harvard, Chafee failed to appeal to the hometown crowd by saying he graduated from Brown. Robitaille attended Providence College.
All four candidates agreed that they do not favor the proposed constitutional amendment to change the official state name, dropping the “and Providence Plantations” and just keeping State of Rhode Island. While some minority groups say the word plantations is offensive because of its associations with antebellum slavery in the Old Confederacy, Robitaille said, “prejudice is in the heart, not on a piece of paper. Chafee noted that “the very important word Providence is in there as well.” Chafee also contends that because the U.S. Constitution makes reference to Rhode Island and Providence Plantations as one of the original 13 states, that document would have to be amended as well.
The candidates for the most part said they favor all three of the bond issues that will be on the November ballot as well, one for transportation funding, one to construct and refurbish buildings at the University of Rhode Island and Rode Island College, and a third to purchase open space at the former Rocky Point and on the Providence waterfront as well as to make improvements to Fort Adams in Newport.
Chafee, Caprio and Block all reaffirmed their support for same-sex marriage, but Robitaille, while he favors civil unions, says he would stop at extending the term marriage beyond the relationship between one man and one woman.
On immigration, Chafee and Caprio clashed, with Chafee saying one of his first acts as governor would be to repeal Gov. Donald Carcieri’s executive order requiring state vendors to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure that all their employees are eligible to work in this country and having State Police and corrections officers work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to identify and deport illegal aliens who are arrested in Rhode Island. Caprio said he would continue the order.
Robitaille said he would continue the executive order but modify it to make it similar to a Florida law that “contains significant deterrents to profiling.”
Block says he supports E-Verify, but is “against any policy that would encourage ethnic or racial profiling.”
Chafee would grant in-state tuition to undocumented students who graduate high school here. Caprio said he would prefer to see the same goal accomplished through federal legislation called “the DREAM Act.”
Robitaille and Block both opposed the notion.
Robitaille said “While we have veterans living under bridges and children still going to bed hungry and people living in substandard housing, I don’t think directing resources to people who should not be here makes sense.” He called it a case of “screwed-up priorities.”
“We can’t be the educators of the world’s children,” Block said. “We just can’t afford it.”