2017-06-29 / Front Page

State Senate Candidates Debate Issues at Forum

By Olga Enger

Six candidates vying for voter support in the state Senate District 13 special election race debated the issues at a forum held Tuesday, June 27 at Salve Regina’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.

Although the Democrats will contend for a ballot spot in the July 18 primary race, candidates across party lines were asked similar questions by moderator Jim Ludes of the Pell Center and were able to rebut any response. The candidates were Democrats David Allard, Dawn Euer, John Florez and David Hanos, Republican Michael Smith, and Independent Kimberly Ripoli. Green Party candidate Gregory Larson did not attend the forum.

The seat, which represents Newport and Jamestown, became vacant on March 31, when M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D) resigned to lead the Hospital Association of Rhode Island. The special election will be held Aug. 22.

In general, there was little disagreement that residents face major challenges in areas such as education, the economy, the elderly, health care and the environment. However, tensions emerged once candidates were asked for solutions and which issues should be a priority at Smith Hill.

While all the candidates discussed education, Hanos and Allard said it was one of their main campaign platforms.

“When this seat became vacant, I knew I wanted to become an advocate for our schools,” said Allard, who is a lifelong educator and manages the state’s Third Grade Reading Goal for the Department of Education. Allard also addressed the need for responsible government, recalling childhood memories of his parents struggling financially.

When asked about the impact of federal cuts to local residents, Hanos responded, “There is a big attack on our educational system,” pointing to programs that serve the city’s low-income population. Hanos serves as the chair of the Newport School Committee, is a captain of the Newport Fire Department, and a business owner. Euer, an attorney and the co-project director of the Newport Open Space Partnership, said her platform was to “make sure government is working for people.” When asked how to prepare students for 21st-century jobs, she emphasized the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.

Florez, a Newport City Councilor and business owner, agreed STEM education is critical to prepare students for future careers, but said that investment requires additional revenue. He said that while taxation is unpopular, it is a necessity in order to provide quality services.

“We need someone who will be a strong leader, up in the Senate, who isn’t going to be afraid to come up with some additional revenue sources,” he said.

Smith, who owns an electric company, said STEM jobs are secure and high-paying opportunities, but disagreed with Florez on taxes.

“As far as more taxes, that’s the last thing we need. We are spending way too much on taxes,” said Smith.

He said the Rhode Island Department of Transportation spends more on roads and bridges than most other states, but it has the lowest structural ratings. “It’s about the abuse and misuse of spending taxpayers’ dollars,” said Smith. He pointed to former Rep. Ray Gallison, of Bristol, who was sentenced to federal prison after he pled guilty to mail fraud. He also mentioned the $75 million loan guarantee deal officials made with Curt Schilling's video game company, 38 Studios.

Florez also said he opposed the proposed car tax phase-out, considering the budget deficit and the state’s financial challenges.

Ripoli disagreed. “I hate the car tax, I’m just telling you right now. I hate it personally,” said Ripoli, who retired from the Navy after 24 years and served as the former associate director of Veterans Affairs in Rhode Island. If elected, she will leverage her leadership experience on the state and federal levels to serve both Democrats and Republicans, she said in her opening statement.

In the last round of questions, candidates were allowed to respond either “yes” or “no.”

.All candidates responded that they would support a ballot resolution to establish a redistricting commission to adjust the federal and state districts;

.Smith was the only candidate who would not support a single-payer health care system;

.Smith and Hanos said no to supporting the legalization of recreational marijuana. All other candidates said yes;

.All candidates support early in-person voting;

.All supported banning handguns in schools;

.Allard said he does not support giving the governor line-item veto authority;

.All supported a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour;

.Ripoli and Smith said no to truck tolls. The other candidates responded yes;

.All supported a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

The hour-long forum was hosted by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission in partnership with the Pell Center, The Newport Daily News and League of Women Voters of Rhode Island.

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