PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Four of the Democrats seeking to become Rhode Island’s next governor met for their first joint appearance Sunday night, agreeing on some of the state’s biggest challenges but disagreeing on how to raise them.
The four – former Secretary of State Matt Brown, former CVS leader Helena Foulkes, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and community activist Luis Daniel Muñoz – came together for an hour-long virtual forum hosted by the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus, an independent group that exists outside of the state party.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Dan McKee, who launched his campaign for a full term last week, was not present due to a scheduling conflict, a spokesperson said. (McKee was in Florida this weekend for a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association.)
Gorbea and Foulkes used the forum to position themselves as problem solvers with a track record in their past positions for voters to scrutinize, while avoiding some of the more liberal positions. Brown and Muñoz advocated more leftist policies and tied their ideas to a broad critique of the existing political system in Rhode Island.
Some differences emerged during the forum.
Brown reiterated his call for a $19 minimum wage, which Muñoz called too low. Gorbea called the $19 figure “arbitrary” but said she supported a “living wage”, while Foulkes said she was happy the minimum wage was already rising and she would “assess at from there”. (The current minimum wage in Rhode Island is $12.25 and is expected to rise to $15 in 2025.)
Brown and Muñoz supported raising taxes on the wealthy, while Gorbea said she would view it as part of a larger tax structure review and Foulkes stressed the need for Rhode Island to be “as competitive as possible” economically.
Gorbea, Brown and Muñoz all voiced support for a state constitutional amendment enshrining the right to a quality education, while Foulkes declined to take a stand. (However, Foulkes tweeted Monday that she supports a constitutional amendment.)
The four Democrats said they would support making abortion coverage available to Medicaid recipients as well as employees of the state health insurance program. They also expressed support for making childcare more affordable and readily available.
Housing policy was mentioned several times during the forum. Gorbea cited it as “one of my biggest issues”, pointing to his previous work as head of advocacy group HousingWorks RI, and linked housing to health and education outcomes.
“As governor, I will work with cities and towns to break down barriers to building the diversity of homes needed to house our people,” she said. “It’s an area that I know well and I will lead on this issue as governor.”
Brown has said as part of his policy plan that he wants to build 10,000 “green affordable homes”, with the cost capped at 20% of income. He also said he wants the state to implement rent control, limiting annual rent increases to 4% per year.
“The problem with the economy in the state of Rhode Island is that the workers just can’t get by,” Brown said.
Foulkes said Rhode Island was not using the federal low-income housing tax credit enough, saying the state had left $1.4 billion on the table since 2014. She also argued that the he McKee administration and Rhode Island Housing were too slow to get the $200 million. The RentReliefRI program has been operational for a year.
During a discussion of environmental issues, Brown and Muñoz both cited high asthma rates in South Providence, which they attributed to the activities of companies that operate in the Port of Providence. Brown said that as governor he would prioritize “stopping polluting industries in the port.”
Both Gorbea and Foulkes cited climate change as a challenge but also an opportunity for Rhode Island, with Foulkes saying she wants to see every municipality has a resilience plan. Gorbea said she will work with colleges, businesses, unions and environmentalists to ensure new green jobs are available to all Rhode Islanders.
In a section on the economy, Foulkes first cited the need to ensure existing businesses in the state could thrive, but then turned to education.
“I believe the first thing we need to do to stimulate the economy is to make sure we address this learning loss. [from the pandemic] and we make sure that our teachers are not overstretched,” she said.
In their opening statements, the four Democrats focused on their biographies as they explained what motivated them to run for the top job in the state.
Gorbea, the first Democrat to launch a gubernatorial campaign last year and the group’s only current incumbent, cited her record at the secretary of state’s office and at HousingWorks, as well as her experiences as a mother of three children.
“I’m running for governor because I want to be that decisive, strong leader that Rhode Island needs right now so we can transform our state and make government work for the people,” he said. she declared.
During what was a generally polite forum, Gorbea also took a subtle dig at Foulkes, saying, “While some in this race have been in the business of making profits for companies, I’ve been in the realm of making government work for people, and that’s what we need right now.
Foulkes, who has never sought election before, highlighted her family’s roots in Rhode Island, as well as her own identity as a mother of four and a cancer survivor. Discussing her quarter-century at CVS, she noted her role in ending tobacco sales and implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m running for governor because I think, especially during COVID, women and people of color have been left out of what’s happening in Rhode Island,” she said. “If you were wealthy right now, COVID was an inconvenience, but if you were in the low-income section of this state, it was really devastating.”
Brown, who also challenged the governor at the time. Gina Raimondo during the 2018 primary, said her mother was a civil rights activist and a formative influence on him. He recalled when his family had to take in his aunt and children after his uncle’s death from cancer, and said his mother told him and his brother to look after others the same way they do for family members.
“I’ve never done anything but be a social justice activist and organizer,” Brown said, citing his tenure as secretary of state, as well as his roles as a founder of the anti-social organization. -Global Zero nuclear and local community branch. service group City Year.
Muñoz, who earned 2% of the vote as an independent in 2018, remembers growing up in Central Falls as one of five children in a home where his father struggled with addiction. “I will risk it all for the workers and marginalized of the state of Rhode Island,” he said.
The candidates also answered a few lighter questions, in particular about their favorite films. Gorbea went with “Star Trek,” Foulkes cited “The Hunger Games,” Brown named “Field of Dreams,” and Muñoz came up with “Braveheart.”