PROVIDENCE — Warring gubernatorial candidates mingled on WPRO radio Monday, with incumbent Dan McKee hailing investments made on his watch to repair roads, build more housing and lessen the impact of record oil prices energy, while challenger Ashley Kalus blamed “No-Plan Dan” for a host of kitchen table issues, including the 47% rise in electricity rates.
She portrayed Rhode Island as a state still locked in “failed policies of the past” that make it the “first in, last out” of an economic downturn, where “food prices are soaring, gas is rising again, home heating bills are through the roof and the dream of owning a home is out of reach for many.”
He accused her of missing the Rhode Island elk memo…first in vaccinations. We’re healthier. First in [re]open our economy, according to Moody’s… Lowest unemployment rate.” And he recited a litany of investments built into the state budget.
Sticking to a favorite campaign theme, Republican Kalus again accused Democrat McKee of failing to use emergency powers – under a 40-year-old law enacted after US gasoline shortages. 1970s – to reverse price increases of 47% in electricity and 15% in natural gas.
“Just one of Miss Kalus’ half-baked ideas… [that] would provide zero dollars of tariff relief to ratepayers,” McKee said of Kalus’ proposal.
“We’ve put real relief on the table,” McKee said of the millions of settlement dollars he helped direct toward energy rate relief for the “most vulnerable.”
But Kalus held firm, insisting the millions in ‘most vulnerable’ rate offsets he talks about aren’t helping everyone, and the Executive Powers Act she uncovered would allow him to provide “Immediate relief now to all Rhode Islanders, and it includes small businesses.
“So Dan, just saying it doesn’t work without any substantial information underneath… doesn’t make it true,” she said.
They covered plenty of other now-familiar ground, from McKee’s decisive vote for potential $60 million in public funding for the proposed football stadium in Pawtucket to the publicly backed rehabilitation of the so-called “Superman” building at the state appeal. a court ruling declaring state road tolls unconstitutional.
She says he doesn’t understand economic development. He said pretty much the same thing about her.
Asked by moderator Bill Bartholomew about a McKee ad that tells viewers that Kalus – a recent arrival from Rhode Island – isn’t from here, Kalus said it smacks of “nativism” and “really sends the wrong message to children” that they are “unwelcome and unworthy to serve” if they haven’t lived here all their lives.
Defending the ad, McKee said, “She doesn’t know Rhode Island. She’s clearly out of tune with a woman’s right to choose. [whether to have an abortion}, not in sync with gun-safety.”
Asked if her 2021 arrival in Rhode Island — and her announcement for governor little more than two months after registering to vote in Rhode Island for the first time — “disqualifies her from being for governor,” McKee said: “No, anybody can run for governor. But again, it’s up to the voters to determine the motives [for] functioning.
“Miss Kalus came to the state of Rhode Island for a major multi-million dollar COVID [testing and vaccination] Contract. She made hundreds of thousands of dollars. This contract was terminated due to mismanagement.”
Kalus did not directly respond to the accusation of “mismanagement” in a contract dispute that remains in mediation.
But when asked what her “motivation” is, she said she thinks “career politicians like Dan McKee” are hurting the state with “$100 million in corporate welfare,” including committing up to $60 million for “a minor league football stadium without even a team to play in it; $3,000 bonuses for union employees and a $60,000 raise for those around you (On the last point, she referenced a proposed raise for the state health director from $140,000 a year to $200,000 a year, which McKee reduced to $150,765 in the face of to public criticism).
In turn, McKee criticized Kalus’ ads which repeatedly allege he is under FBI investigation for attribution by his administration – soon after he took office as governor in March 2021. – an education consultancy contract worth up to $5.2 million to the new OIT Group, instead of a lowest bidder with a long history of working for the state.
Defending the award as he has done before, he called the announcement “dishonest, shameful and false”, citing Attorney General Peter Neronha’s observation in a previous radio interview that it was “unfair” that the ongoing investigation into the contract has been pushed into the political debate.
McKee said he was not contacted by anyone in law enforcement. And she said: the subject of an investigation is often the last to know.
In response to the most personal question posed to them by moderator Bill Bartholomew during the hour-long debate on WPRO, the two cited what they had learned from their own sports activities.
Kalus, who has often spoken of her triumphs as a teenage boxer, said: The ability to get back up after being knocked down.
McKee, who played and coached basketball, said he considered himself good, “not great,” and learned that good teams are where everyone helps others do their best.
There were a few points of agreement, including: the benefits of having “school resource officers” in schools to provide students with “non-stressful” contact with the public and the need to provide the public with better access at the shore.
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