Updated: Sep 9
Four of the five Democrats running for governor of Rhode Island had one last opportunity to make their case to voters right here on campus Tuesday night -- during a one-hour, televised debate on WPRI Channel 12 in RIC's Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts.
The four candidates who qualified for this debate were Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, former CVS Executive Helena Foulkes, Gov. Dan McKee and former Secretary of State Matt Brown. Tim White and Ted Nesi were the debate’s moderators.
Doctor Luis Daniel Muñoz, who didn’t meet Nexstar’s debate criteria, led a protest outside of the venue with his supporters. Supporters for McKee, who were outside too, consistently made loud chants every time Muñoz started to speak. Their chants ranged from “Dan McKee! Dan McKee!” to “Who’s it gonna be? Dan McKee!”
Muñoz further voiced his displeasure with not being allowed to partake in the debate in a press release Wednesday morning.
“Classist and racist institutional policies such as Nexstar/WPRI’s discriminatory debate criteria have ignited the hyperpolarization we face in our country today,” said Muñoz. “Discretionary power by the local TV station and inconsistent application of its own discriminatory policy has propped up insider candidates, and wealthy candidates who pay for more ads, all of whom have donor driven agendas. These gatekeepers have perpetuated the same insider political system that gave us 38 studios, UHIP, and tidewater landing.”
As much as things were heated on the outside, so were they inside. Monday’s major flood that shut down I-95 and Route 10 put McKee on the defensive while his opponents criticized his administration’s response.
“Our EMA, our state police, as well as the DOT were very much on top of it. And for me, I’ve had experience at this. I was on conversations with them – making sure they were talking to local EMAs,” said McKee.
Foulkes explained her two main issues with McKee’s response were no prior plans in place and “very poor communication.”
Gorbea focused more on the climate change side of this issue while criticizing McKee.
“The issue here is [that] climate change is real. Our climate is changing. And this administration has not done anything to really take care of that problem,” she said. “The governor has been in place for 18 months. The places that flooded in Cranston, in Johnston – we’ve known that they flood. There has been no action to use the federal dollars to take care of storm waters when they’re gonna happen.”
Brown, who also focused on climate change during this topic, added that he’d fire RIDOT Director Peter Alviti if elected.
He said, “I will replace Director Alviti with a new director of transportation who understands that the climate crisis is real, [and] understands that we can and must take urgent action to address it.”
Each candidate had different ideas on what they think is preventing Rhode Island’s economic growth. Foulkes highlighted the need to get rid of the red tape and regulations affecting small businesses. McKee emphasized jobs as being part of the solution and touted his record on the state’s economy. Brown pointed to raising the minimum wage to $19 an hour. And Gorbea focused on building more affordable housing.
“Right now, the biggest challenge facing our economy is housing, and I’m going to be the housing governor,” Gorbea said. “Because right now, people can’t afford to live here, and that’s really strangling so many other things.”
McKee was asked about the FBI’s probe into a controversial education consulting contract his administration awarded to the ILO Group. He said he hasn't been subpoenaed by the FBI, but refused to answer if his administration has.
Foulkes chimed in and called on McKee to answer the question.
“I would not want to prejudge an indictment,” said Foulkes. “But I do think it’s very fair that the governor answer the question on whether his administration received a subpoena. Because this is something the people of Rhode Island deserve to know. Even Donald Trump has released his subpoena.”
McKee persisted every decision he’s made since assuming office has been in the best interest of Rhode Islanders.
All the candidates were asked questions for a pop quiz portion on topics such as total amount of general revenue in this fiscal year’s budget, how much does the state pension plan have to be funded before COLAs are reinstated, and last October’s RICAS test results. Foulkes got the most correct answers during those questions.
Whoever wins next week’s primary will face off against four candidates in the November election. Those candidates include independent Zachary Hurwitz, independent Paul Rianna Jr, Libertarian Elijah Gizzarelli and Republican Ashley Kalus.