2010-07-22 / Front Page

Representing the people is ‘never ending’

By Phil Zahodiakin

Deb Ruggiero Deb Ruggiero Deborah Ruggiero (D), a Jamestown resident seeking a second term in the R.I. House of Representatives, has accomplished a great deal during her first 18 months as a lawmaker – and she wants to do much more.

Ruggiero, 51, holds the 74th District seat, which encompasses Conanicut Island and a portion of Middletown. In an interview with the Press, she acknowledged that much of her initiation as a state lawmaker involved “learning which knobs to push and levers to pull.”

Nevertheless, Ruggiero – who was born in Providence and raised in Lincoln – quickly engaged in the legislative process, playing an instrumental role in re-instituting the office of health insurance comm issioner after only a few months as a House member.

A former CBS reporter who has managed radio and TV stations, Ruggiero is the director of community development at Citadel Broadcasting. She also hosts a Sunday morning radio program – “Amazing Women” – and she serves on the philanthropic committee of the R.I. Foundation.

But Ruggiero doesn’t allow her personal and professional obligations to distract her from the demands of public service. In fact, so far in 2010, she has sponsored or co-sponsored 61 bills.

Ruggiero hastens to note, however, that she studies every bill she is offered for co-sponsorship, asking three key questions to guide her analysis: “Who will benefit? What will it cost? And, who, if anyone, will be hurt?”

One of the bills she has authored – a measure requiring the state purchasing office to select R.I. businesses (“all things being equal,” she said) for state contracts – was signed into law this year.

“In Rhode Island, small businesses employ 60% of our workforce, and it’s vital that we help them,” she said.

Ruggiero serves on three House committees, including the small business committee. This year, she co-sponsored a bill that expanded to four – from only one – the number of small business owners on the Economic Development Corporation Board.

The EDC bill was enacted on June 29. However, while enjoying several victories on the small business front, one of the bills Ruggiero authored this year – a measure to require committee vote postings on the General Assembly website – died before reaching a floor vote.

“I was very disappointed by that,” Ruggiero said, “but open government is a very important issue, and I absolutely intend to re-introduce that bill.”

During her first run for the 74th district, Ruggiero touted “environmental economics” as one of her key priorities. True to her platform, she last year supported a “net-metering” bill (enacted in June 2009) that enables towns and cities to sell surplus electricity from municipally owned wind turbines – which is the leading argument in support of the turbine proposed for Jamestown.

Ruggiero also co-sponsored a bill requiring companies transporting liquefied natural gas in R.I. waters to provide bond and liability insurance. Moreover, she authored a bill directing the state to establish a renewable energy task force with government, academic and small business representation. Both of those bills have passed the House.

In the arena of business development, Ruggiero is pursuing a wide range of goals. One of them, she says, is “incubating the wealth of talent we have in our state – our life sciences experts, our entrepreneurs and our professionals in many different fields. We have the ‘best and the brightest’ in Rhode Island, and I will advance ideas to help keep them here.”

Ruggiero was herself a rising star when, after graduating Boston College, she went directly to a broadcasting job at CBS radio in Boston.

“I was hired as a ‘morning drive time’ newsperson, and I did that for 10 years,” she said. “I then went into TV [advertising] sales and management [in Providence], and from there, I became the sales manager at a Washington, D.C. TV station. But I missed my family – and Rhode Island – and I came back after a year.”

Ruggiero said that her work in media management has reinforced her emphasis on the value of networking.

“I network in my business,” Ruggiero said, “and I intend to network as a legislator.”

“In fact, I’ve just returned from the Emerging Political Leaders symposium at the University of Virginia,” Ruggiero said, pointing out that her selection to represent Rhode Island was bi-partisan.

Adding that the Virginia trip wasn’t funded with any state money, Ruggiero said that she was “privileged to participate in three days of reflection and critical conversations on government, business, leadership and ethics with leaders from all around the country.”

Ruggiero noted that the ethics piece of those discussions was particularly important to her because “your ethics reflect your values, and the values that ground me in my work are honesty, integrity, respect and kindness – the very same values you would want to teach your children.”

Ruggiero – who has just one assistant at the state House – makes a point of applying those values to the people she represents.

“I respond to every letter, email and voicemail from my constituents,” Ruggiero said. “I don’t always have an answer for them, but it’s very important for the people to be heard. I am honored to serve my constituents, and I have worked very hard on their behalf during these past 18 months, but there is so much more to be done. It never ends.”

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