2017-08-17 / Front Page

State Senate race down to the wire

BY ROBERT BERCZUK

When voters head to the polls next Tuesday to pick a new state senator, they will have to choose among two major-party candidates who say the economy is their top priority, an independent touting her government experience and a Green Party candidate who has spent most of the campaign incognito.

The four Newport residents are squaring off in an Aug. 22 special election to replace Teresa Paiva Weed, the former Senate president who served Newport and Jamestown since 1992. The 12-term Democratic lawmaker resigned in March to accept an administrator’s position at a nonprofit hospital agency in Providence.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at both the recreation center and Lawn School.

Both Republican Mike Smith and Democrat Dawn Euer said helping businesses would be their main focus if sent to Smith Hill.

Euer said the key to aiding small businesses is a diversified, forward-thinking economy.

“We need to make sure that interactions with state agencies are easy and transparent,” she said. “Business owners shouldn’t need to know a guy in order to get stuff done and processes should be readily available and simple to follow.”

The secretary of state’s office and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation have been working on these issues, but more needs to be done so small businesses can thrive.

“I’m committed to working with the secretary of state and Commerce RI to help streamline and clarify regulations and processes,” she said.

Smith advocates more an economy – especially for Jamestown and Newport -- that is less seasonal and dependent on tourism.

“A good start will be to reduce the red tape, regulations and taxes on overburdened small businesses,” he said.

He also would like to see the north end of Newport transformed by re-aligning the bridge off-ramp so land could be made available for a high-tech business hub.

Independent candidate Kim Ripoli said downsizing the size of state agencies through an intensive review is her top goal.

“Rhode Island has more state employees than Pennsylvania, a state with two major cities on each side of the state,” she said. “The budget savings from agency duplication would be impactful.”

Green Party candidate Gregory Larson failed to respond to numerous e-mail and phone requests for comment. He’s also eschewed attending the numerous candidate forums conducted in both communities throughout the campaign.

During his failed 2010 campaign for the House District 73 seat, Larson, a retired history teacher, cited high unemployment numbers and the lack of affordable housing as some of his reasons for running.

Ripoli pointed to her 30 years of federal and state government experience, including four years as the associate director of veterans affairs for the state, as her greatest qualification. She also served 26 years in the U.S. Navy, including a stint at the Pentagon.

These experiences, she said, have provided her with knowledge on intergovernmental coordination and how partnerships with federal agencies and members of Congress work, state budget experience, how to work with members of the General Assembly on legislation and how to provide policy guidance to the governor’s office.

“Most importantly, I know what it means to be accountable to constituents and I have a successful history of being responsive to their concerns and questions,” Ripoli said.

A commitment to public service, including time volunteering with community organizations, was cited by Euer as her strongest quality.

“I know that we need more than political buzzwords to address the challenges facing our community,” she said. “We need to have tough conversations and we need to be willing to listen to each other to understand different perspectives. I understand the work it takes to make change and have a record of standing up for what is right.”

His experience as a business owner has helped Smith learn how to constantly adapt, operate within a budget and exhibit his creativity, vision and hard work, he said.

“I am best qualified because I’m the only candidate willing to take my 25 years of business thinking and challenging the government to live and work within a budget while constantly changing and adapting to ever-changing economic challenges,” Smith said.

As a father of four, Smith said it is unacceptable that “we keep kicking the can down the road with public education. Having kids in the public school system, I see the challenges and needs our kids face and want our kids and our schools to succeed.”

He said he wants to expand STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) academics and build upon the successes in vocational programs.

“Skilled labor with proficiencies in numerics and sciences is clearly the future for our kids,” Smith said.

Ripoli also is advocating for term limits — two three-year terms for senators and either two three-year terms or three two-year terms for representatives. This would lead to “decreased financial influences from lobbyists and other special interest groups, thereby making constituents the primary influence on legislation,” she said.

It also would lessen partisan politics and gridlock, Ripoli said, because term limits “would allow the fluidity of America’s ever-changing landscape to be navigated by new ideas and new enthusiasm.”

Another limit on legislators Ripoli is campaigning on is eliminating legislative grants doled out by the speaker of the house and senate president. These grants can be used to influence lawmakers’ votes on legislation, she said.

“This process employed by the speaker of the house and senate president is cronyism plain and simple,” Ripoli said. “This process of distribution of grant money is the perfect example of why party politics is an anathema to honest government.”

Euer said it is critical to address the increasing cost of housing in the area. As of 2010, Jamestown has just 44 percent of the mandated amount of homes that qualify as affordable housing. While several more affordable housing units have been built since then, the town still will be way below its required total when the state recalculates the figure in 2018.

“This is an issue that impacts everyone — students and young professionals who want to live near their families in the community where they grew up, seniors living on a fixed income, homeowners who are facing increasing property taxes, our veterans who are coming back home after serving our country, the teachers, firefighters and employees who serve our community and working families who are being crushed by the stagnation of wages in our country,” Euer said.

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