Metro, News

Primary for lieutenant governor highlights health care, campaign finances

Democratic incumbent McKee challenged by Regunberg ’12, winner to face Republican Pence

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 10, 2018

Though Rhode Island has a history of skepticism when it comes to the utility of a lieutenant governor, candidates vying for the office in Wednesday’s primary say they can do a lot to help Rhode Island. Incumbent Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee will face current State Representative Aaron Regunberg ’12 for the Democratic nomination, while Paul Pence is the lone Republican candidate left in the race.

McKee, who previously served six terms as mayor of Cumberland, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Regunberg, who has organized meetings to resist Trump-era policies, sees students at Brown and other universities as a source of strength for Rhode Island. While an undergraduate at the University, Regunberg founded the Providence Student Union to organize students across the city.

“The reality is, there is a lot we can do on the state level,” he said, adding that students are often instrumental in mobilizing voters.

Progressive Democrats McKee and Regunberg might seem similar at first glance, but Regunberg says that he and McKee differ on a few issues. Regunberg does not accept campaign money from corporate PACs, while McKee has accepted money from those groups, according to the Providence Journal.

On issues of health care, Regunberg supports a single-payer system and has introduced legislation to create such a system, while McKee is supportive of improving the Affordable Care Act, according to the Providence Journal. 

Both Regunberg and McKee support codifying abortion rights into state law in case the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade. In a March interview with Rhode Island Public Radio, however, McKee said he was unsure if codifying abortion rights is constitutional.

The Providence Journal reported that McKee has been endorsed by several mayors but not by Mayor of Providence Jorge Elorza, who endorsed Regunberg in March.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Paul Pence stands alone in the race for the Republican nomination. Pence has lived in Rhode Island for 20 years and has worked in quality management and engineering throughout his life, he told The Herald. He has also published Rhode Island Roads Magazine for the last 15 years — a “life, dining, and entertainment” website, according to the site.

Pence hopes to use his skills to address long lines at the DMV and reduce administrative excesses, he said.

Often leaning towards libertarianism, Pence said he believes in small government, and added that the federal government has over-extended its reach in recent history.

The Rhode Island Constitution does not outline the responsibilities of the lieutenant governor.

“If the office of the governor shall be vacant by reason of death, resignation, impeachment or inability to serve,” the lieutenant governor takes the highest executive office in RI, the state constitution says. Besides stepping in for vacancy, the Constitution does not outline specific responsibilities for the lieutenant governor.

In Rhode Island, the lieutenant governor used to preside over the state Senate, but Rhode Island legislatures amended the state Constitution in 2003 to allow state senators to elect their own president.

Over the years, a lack of specific responsibilities has led some to doubt the usefulness of the office. Robert Healey, who founded the Cool Moose Party, ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 on the platform that he would abolish the office if he was elected, according to the Providence Journal. In 2016, a bill introduced by Tiverton’s former Republican State Sen. John Pagliarini Jr. would have abolished the position all together, and made the Secretary of State succeed the governor in case of vacancy. The bill died in the Senate Special Legislation and Veteran Affairs committee.

Former lieutenant governors have served on state administrative boards and worked on emergency planning, Pence said.

The primary election for lieutenant governor is Wednesday.

An earlier version of a caption that appeared online with this article misidentified lieutenant governor hopeful Aaron Regunberg as the lieutenant governor. The Herald regrets the error.