Providence – Tuesday’s Republican Gubernatorial Debate, hosted by WPRI and the Providence Journal, had candidates Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Rhode Island businessman, Ken Block doing battle in a contentious home stretch debate.
Fung opened the show, hitting hard on Rhode Island’s lack of attractiveness to businesses, using his now tainted slogan “Rhode Island is Open for Business,” the foundation of an advertising campaign that had Fung filmed and speaking from a diner in the state of Ohio.
Touting his record as Mayor of Cranston, the state’s third largest city, Fung said he created over 1000 new jobs and a business friendly environment. Fung highlighted his administration’s work on pension reform, creation of union friendly 401k’s and private sector benefits.
Block’s opening remarks based on his plan to fix Rhode Island, focused on the state’s younger population and the need to create an environment that encourages people to stay in the state. Block noted the need for fundamental change in the way the state is governed.
Endorsements of the day
Tim White, the evening’s moderator, paying credence to Block’s endorsement by former GOP gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille, questioned Fung as to his indication that Block, founder of the state’s Moderate Party, had thwarted Robitaille’s intentions in 2010.
“I think it’s critically important that we take a look at also Ken’s statement and his action in the past. He did start that Moderate Party and in my opinion, and it’s an opinion shared by many Rhode Island Republicans, did cost John Robitaille that election in 2010,” said Fung.
Fung said that he respected Robitaille’s choice and would, if he were to win the primary, ask Robitaille for his endorsement He went on to highlight his endorsement by Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts.
Block in countering the Romney endorsement, noted that the Shawmut Group located in Massachusett’s posh Chestnut Hill, had Romney connections and that his Fung endorsement was expected.
“Back in January, we interviewed the Shawmut Group. The Shawmut Group is the consulting group that Allan Fung and his campaign has hired. In the two months we interviewed them and opted not to use them, they promised us that if we hired them that they could bring Mitt Romney in and endorse my candidacy,” said Block. “I’m not overly surprised that Mitt came in and endorsed Allan. We sort of expected that given who the Shawmut Group was and what they did.”
Block went on to list his accomplishments on the private side, working to change Rhode Island government operations, including his work to eliminate the master lever, building the Moderate Party, opposing any increase in income taxes and the expansion of binding arbitration for teachers.
White pointedly asked Block if he was saying that Fung bought the Romney endorsement. Block stuck close to his previous, explanatory comments.
Duck and run
When asked about his negative campaign ads, Fung played duck and run.
“This is not about commercials, Tim,” he said. “In all due respect, it’s about the message behind the commercials.They really have to take a serious look, Rhode Islanders and particularly Rhode Island Republicans that are going to be voting in that September 9 primary, need to take a look at every statement that Ken Block made.”
Fung’s message was put forth in an insult-laden ad campaign where Fung demeaned not only his opponent, but his supporters as “Blockheads.”
The add that ran early in the campaign, in a juvenile, school-yard bully format, portrayed Block followers as stupid and uninformed individuals with digitally squared-off heads.
Paired with the green-faced “two peas in a pod” ad aimed at Block and Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, the ad campaign drew ire from within the GOP camp.
Fung quickly turned his answer to what he considered to be Block’s pretend GOP affiliation, avoiding White’s focus on his negative campaign ads.
Exactly what is a “Real Republican?”
Fung went on to say that Block wasn’t a “real Republican” and was a political opportunist who pretended to be conservative.
In counter, Block avoided the bait and moved to Fung’s record on Cranston 401k’s. Beating Fung’s purported accomplishment down, Block noted that the move of public sector employees towards a 401k plan had only saved the city an approximate $37,000. Fung agreed.
The debate saw the candidates in agreement along party lines. Both supported immigration reform and common core standards.
GOP sending Pro-choice candidates to polls
Both candidates came out as Pro-Choice.
In response to a question posed by the Catholic Diocese of Providence, through Bishop Tobin, regarding the assurance of a Health exchange plan for those opposed to abortion, Block said he was open to a conversation about having a plan available, but felt that government should be out of the conversation. Fung said he belived there should be an option for Pro-Life supporters who did not wish to purchase a pro-choice supportive option.
Both candidates supported also supported right to work legislation as a means of bringing business to Rhode Island. Neither if elected would agree to signing a People’s Pledge with the Democratic nominee.