Gubernatorial candidates differ on growth strategies, education

By
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Only 18 states in the country elect the offices of lieutenant governor and governor separately. Of these, Rhode Island is one of just a few states in which the current lieutenant governor and governor do not belong to the same political party.

“I have a respect for the office of governor … (but) quite frankly, I have an independent office,” said Lieutenant Governor Charles Fogarty. “My boss is not Don Carcieri, it’s the people of Rhode Island.”

Fogarty, a Democrat, has proved a serious challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Don Carcieri ’65 in this fall’s gubernatorial contest.

Thinking businessSupporters have praised the governor for attracting new business to the state, balancing its budget and controlling government growth, and he touts business savvy as the greatest asset he brings to Rhode Island. Carcieri worked for Providence-based metals company Cookson America for 14 years – six as chief executive officer – before he entered politics.

“There’s no such thing as steady state in human nature. Either you’re moving ahead, or you’re going backwards,” Carcieri told The Herald. “When I was at Cookson we had as many employees and a budget just as big (as Rhode Island’s).”

He continued: “I was used to managing a large enterprise complex with a big budget, so I’m not intimidated by that. … I understand how business people think.”

His goal for the state is an “innovation and technology economy” – the development of which is inextricably linked to higher education, Carcieri said, in part because the vast majority of students educated in the Ocean State are not native Rhode Islanders.

“A state’s role is to create an environment where people are willing to come here and invest, build businesses, hire young people getting out of Brown and other (schools)… and where the university feels confident in investing,” Carcieri said.

He called himself a “big supporter” of Brown’s expansion to the Jewelry District and increased focus on the life sciences.

“We want to be a place where … (young people’s) creativity and ingenuity can fuel things, be tapped into,” Carcieri said. “At the end of the day, the biggest asset other than that we’re a pretty state … is our brainpower. …We need to harness that in an economic development strategy.”

He cited biotechnology and financial services as two “big industries for (Rhode Island).” The latter is a particularly important field since branches of Fidelity Investments, Citizens Bank, Bank of America and Sovereign Bank provide a substantial employment base for the state and Fidelity has a “very strong working relationship” with the management and finance programs at Bryant College.

“There is a very symbiotic relationship between higher education and industry, particularly the more progressive people, because they know they need to tap into the brainpower, the research, all the things happening at the university level,” Carcieri said.

“I think Brown, with its strengths – particularly in the life sciences, the Medical School, engineering – all of those things (have) a potential to be a big impact on (the Rhode Island economy),” he said.

“Carcieri needs four more years to fix (Rhode Island),” said former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at an October benefit held in the governor’s honor. “From the outside it looks like you’ve got something really good going here, and I think you’re going to want to continue it.”

Jobs, health care and property taxesFogarty sees things differently. He has criticized Carcieri for failing to create jobs, provide affordable health care and education or reduce property taxes over the course of his tenure as governor.

“I’m not satisfied with the state of our economy and I don’t think the people are either,” Fogarty told The Herald. He cited recent studies that have found Rhode Island’s unemployment rate to be the highest in New England and its job growth rate to be the second lowest in the nation.

“For the governor to tout that we have low unemployment makes a mockery of the 342,000 Rhode Islanders who want to work and can’t find a job here,” Fogarty said.

Lowering property taxes is one of Fogarty’s most frequently mentioned priorities. “Rhode Island spends twice as much on property tax as (it spends on) income tax,” Fogarty said, criticizing income tax cuts made under Carcieri’s watch for the several hundred highest-earning people in the state.

Carcieri has joked that the new state bird of Rhode Island is the crane and credits himself with brokering the deal to bring the new GTECH headquarters to Providence. According to Fogarty, the governor is taking credit where credit is not due.

For the economic revitalization downtown Providence has seen in recent years, “we can thank the person whose initials are D.C. – but it’s David Cicilline (’83),” Fogarty said. He credits the city’s mayor for its economic successes.

“As a result of (Cicilline’s) hard work, open government, transparency … there’s been a vote of confidence from the business community,” Fogarty said. “The governor loves to take credit for what other people do … but he had no involvement,” he added, citing Carcieri’s opposition to the Westin hotel expansion as an example of his failure to promote development downtown.

Though Carcieri supporters have praised the governor for bringing accountability to all aspects of government, including spending, Fogarty criticized the governor’s handling of the budget.

“(Carcieri) said he would get (spending) under control … he ended up spending every dime the legislature gave him, and each year he’s come back and asked for more. He has not been a good steward of our state budget,” Fogarty said.

“There’s been no accountability for (Carcieri) or his department directors,” Fogarty added, highlighting his own experience “taking on even the leaders of my own party” in the General Assembly to fight for pension reform, campaign finance reform and changes to the way judges are appointed.

“(The governor’s) mantra is simply, ‘Stay the course,'” Fogarty said. “The course we’re on right now is one that isn’t possible for this state in the future.”

Carcieri credits himself with a new initiative to offer lower-cost health insurance policies to small businesses but has been criticized by many, including his opponent, for ending state-paid health insurance for non-citizen children during his tenure as governor.

Fogarty emphasized making health insurance affordable “in a way that partners with the business sector and the individual – it’s not only important for the families, but for the economy and our competitiveness,” he said.

Equally important, Fogarty added, is the affordability of higher education for middle class families in Rhode Island. He blamed the governor for tuition costs at public institutions, which have increased statewide by 35 percent in the last four years.

Fogarty has proposed freezing tuition costs for students who maintain a B average at public higher education institutions.

Standards and leadership in educationAccording to Carcieri, education has been his “driving focus” for the last three years. When he became governor, there was no standard assessment test in place for Rhode Island students from kindergarten through 12th grade, nor was there any established graduation standard.

Since then, Rhode Island has partnered with Vermont and New Hampshire to devise an assessment test for reading, writing and math, which is currently being administered to students from kindergarten through eighth grade. An assessment test for students in ninth through 12th grade is being developed, as is a science assessment test for all grades.

Starting with the high school class of 2008, a “diploma efficiency standard” will be in place, based in part on test scores and in part on a “demonstrated efficiency,” Carcieri said.

Carcieri acknowledged the overwhelming failure of urban Rhode Island schools to meet national standards, calling it a “huge, huge problem.” He has targeted English language proficiency as the first step toward improved performance at urban public schools and emphasized the importance of coming up with a single strategy for English language learning at schools statewide – into which the state’s department of education can feed resources uniformly.

“It’s critical – it’s underpinning most of the failures right now,” Carcieri said.

Carcieri is a strong supporter of charter schools, and he expressed disappointment at what he perceives as “misguided” pressure from the teacher’s unions on the General Assembly to maintain its current cap on the number of charter schools allowed in urban areas.

“For some reason the teacher’s union leadership seems to think (charter schools are) taking money away from the public schools, but (they’re) not – we’re funding both right now. We put the biggest increase in local aid from the state to the school districts in six years in the budget this past year,” Carcieri said.

The governor has also designated substantially more funding in recent years to teacher and administrator training.

“If (a school has) a good principal, a good team and a good spirit about the school, teachers are happy to go there,” Carcieri said.

Taking care of teachers“We’ve got to do our part to attract the best and brightest of the teaching profession, and the one thing you don’t do is what Governor Carcieri has done: beat them over the head and make them the enemy,” Fogarty said.

The lieutenant governor has criticized Carcieri for making changes to union agreements that strip teachers of job security and privileges associated with seniority.

“If you talk to any teacher that you know in the workforce today, (they) will say that the governor has made them a public enemy, that he’s undermined their support in the community, and that’s very discouraging,” Fogarty said. “(Carcieri) doesn’t understand the challenges of teachers in the classroom today, where you have single families, poverty, the challenges of drugs and things that didn’t exist 40 or 50 years ago. … Simple solutions from the Beaver Cleaver era aren’t (going to cut it),” he added.

Carcieri does not realize that “we can’t afford to waste the talent or potential of a single person,” Fogarty said. Though the lieutenant governor supported charter schools when they first came to Rhode Island, he said Carcieri has overemphasized their role.

“96 percent of students are going to public (non-charter) schools. Charter schools have a … small role, and it makes a nice sound bite, but it doesn’t really improve educational quality,” he said.

The casino question, stem cell research and medical marijuanaFogarty and Carcieri have both expressed strong opposition to Ballot Question 1, the proposed Narragansett Indian tribe casino in West Warwick.

During a portion of a Nov. 2 debate in which the two candidates were allowed to pose questions to each other, Fogarty asked Carcieri about embryonic stem-cell research, which the lieutenant governor supports. The governor said he would only support such research if it could be done without destroying embryos.

As governor, Carcieri vetoed a bill that would legalize the use of medical marijuana. The General Assembly voted to override his veto and passed the bill in January.

A September Brown University poll conducted after the primary found the incumbent Carcieri leading Fogarty by 12 percentage points, with 12 percent of those polled undecided.