Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Live From Thompson Middle School

Rain was pouring down as I walked the hundred feet from my house to Thompson Middle School to see the candidates forum sponsored by the Newport County chapter of the NAACP. The forum was held in the school cafeteria, where a row of three tables had been set up facing 150 folding chairs. Peter Martin got up and said hi, and handed me a campaign button. He also greeted Mary Coaty, who was three seats down on my left. She was soon joined by Steve Coaty, who also greeted me and gave me one of his business cards. While the attendees were coming in and seating themselves, US Senate candidate Christopher Young was setting up a video camera to record his performance.

There were about fifty people present, half of them candidates and their spouses. There were a total of eighteen candidates running for ten seats, and only two hours for all of them, so there wasn't a lot of information from any individual candidate. The program started at four minutes after seven, when political action chair Josephine Brown introduced the event's moderator, Bud Cicilline.

First up were the candidates running for the US Senate and the US House of Representatives 1st District. The incumbents, Jack Reed (D) and Patrick Kennedy (D), were too busy actually doing their jobs in DC to attend (Reed was probably decompressing from his trip to the Middle East with Barack Obama), so they both sent notes saying they couldn't make it. Seated at the table were Reed's Democratic primary opponent Christopher Young, and his Republican general election opponent Bob Tingle. Tingle introduced himself first and mentioned that he wanted to drill, drill, drill for more oil, and also wanted to seal America's borders (not evidently being aware that in theory, America's borders are already sealed). Young was next, taking the opportunity to bash Reed for not coming to the forum, thereby incurring Cicilline's displeasure. Next came Patrick Kennedy's Republican opponent, Jonathan Scott, who stated that his big issues were energy and health care. Finally came Kennedy's independent opponent, Kenneth Capalbo, who spent his introductory period going on about the USS Liberty incident from 1967. I should probably go into some detail about the three questions that were posed to these candidates, and their answers to them, but since none of them is going to come close to beating Reed or Kennedy, I'll settle for just summarizing them thusly: Scott and Tingle are standard conservatives, Young is a standard liberal, and Capalbo is a standard nut. The people running the forum must have agreed with me, because they cut the federal candidates forum short and switched over to the RI Senate candidates at 7:38.

This stage of the forum included seven candidates up for three seats. There were the 11th district candidates, incumbent Democrat Chuck Levesque, his Republican challenger Chris Ottiano, and independent challenger John Vitkevich. In their opening remarks, Levesque talked about disunity, Ottiano talked about state budget mismanagement and the need for budget cuts, and Vitkevich talked about how Aquidneck Island gets left behind in a state dominated by Providence. When asked what their first priority was, Levesque said it was health insurance, Ottiano said it was lowering taxes (duh!), and Vitkevich said it was alternative energy. When asked about getting better transportation to the Aquidneck Corporate Park, Levesque talked about the need to expand the rail network, Ottiano said that RIPTA needed to be redesigned, and Vitkevich said that there did indeed need to be better public transportation to the Aquidneck Corporate Park. When asked about how to help people who've suffered from cuts in services, Levesque speechified, Ottiano basically said "tough luck for them", and Vitkevich managed not to say anything.

The 12th District candidates were, incumbent Republican June Gibbs and her Democratic challenger Louis DiPalma. Gibbs noted that as a retiree she could devote her full attention to the state senate and said that she was working for change (which, in a General Assembly dominated by Democrats, presumably means more Republicans). DiPalma cited his position as a technical director at Raytheon and his two terms in the Middletown Town Council as proof that he knew how to Get Things Done. When asked what their first priority was, Gibbs cited energy costs and the need to reorganize state departments. She also mentioned the Medicaid Global Waiver reform, but didn't have time to talk about it. DiPalma stressed the need for fiscal responsibility. When asked about Aquidneck Corporate Park, both candidates agreed on the need to expand public transportation. When asked about the victims of service cuts, Gibbs said they would have to "work out what's going to work", while DiPalma managed not to say anything.

Finally, the 13th district candidates were Democratic incumbent and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed and her Republican challenger Donna Perry. Paiva-Weed described herself as the voice of Newport and Jamestown in Providence, and cited the new Newport campus of CCRI as an important accomplishment. Perry described herself as a Jamestown resident and radio news reporter who was making her first run for public office. When asked what their first priority was, Paiva-Weed mentioned completing property tax reform, while Perry talked about targeting illegal immigrants and criticized Paiva-Weed for opposing Governor Carcieri's crackdown. Concerning Aquidneck Corporate Park, Paiva-Weed noted that her law firm had its offices there and that public transportation needed to upgraded across the state, and also responded to Perry's criticism from the first question. Perry responded to Paiva-Weed's response before Cicilline got her back on topic, at which point she stated that Aquidneck Island was ill-served by RIPTA. Concerning the victims of service cuts, Paiva-Weed quoted statistics and legislative details, while Perry echoed Ottiano's "tough luck" sentiments, and added that illegal immigrants shouldn't be allowed to receive government services.

Finally, at 8:26 the third panel, RI House of Representatives candidates, took the stage. These included Democratic incumbent Raymond Gallison of the 69th district (though his Republican challenger William Grapentine didn't show), Democratic incumbent "Landslide" Amy Rice of the 72nd district (whose Republican challenger Daniel Patrick Reilly also didn't show), Democratic incumbent J. Russell Jackson of the 73rd district (who is running unopposed, but classily chose to participate anyway), Republican incumbent Bruce Long of the 74th district and his Democratic challenger Deborah Ruggiero, and Republican incumbent Steve Coaty of the fightin' 75th district and his Democratic challenger Peter Martin.

First question for the candidates was, "Do you support term limits for state legislators?" Everybody answered no and pointed out that the voters had a chance every two years to limit a legislator's term. Jackson noted being a state legislator was a part-time job, and that it took a while to learn the ropes. Second question for the candidates was, "Do you support the Governor's veto of the Renewable Energy Bill?" All the candidates said no, except for Coaty, who said he didn't like the bill's energy contracts, then switched to talking about mass transit. Rice called Carcieri's veto unbelievable. Peter mentioned the idea of using the Sakonnet River Bridge to generate tidal energy. The final question was how to bring more bilingual and minority teachers to local schools. Coaty ignored the question and talked about school choice instead, Peter said the schools should be encouraging multilingualism, Rice, Long and Ruggiero all said the state needs to do more to attract bilingual and minority teachers, Jackson said the state needed to expand Paul Crowley's vocational school program, and Gallison said that when minority students had better educational opportunities they would provide the state with more teachers.

That marked the end of the forum. As the attendees began leaving, Paiva-Weed stopped me to say that she was sorry I dropped out of the race, and that more people needed to get involved in politics. Peter introduced me to another one of his supporters, none other than my fellow Rhode Island's Twelfth contributor Anthony Spiratos. This was something of a surprise, since I had been under the impression that Anthony was a Republican. He explained that he used to be, but that Governor Carcieri had convinced him to leave the GOP and become an independent. (Anthony, this is just the sort of thing blogs were invented for. Details! I want details!) I said goodbye to Peter and Anthony, and made my way back out into the rainy night.

(This post is cross-posted to The Spirit of 75.)
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