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Lieutenant governor candidate will abolish office if elected

Robert Healey thumbed through papers that detail the duties and obligations of the lieutenant governor of Rhode Island — largely consisting of appointments and commission memberships.

"One appointment to the Plastic Recycling and Litter Commission. That's a big appointment," Healey said with obvious sarcasm.

He continued to read off commissions, councils and boards he deems superfluous, at least with regard to the lieutenant governor's role on them.

"It's an office of talk and $1 million a year," he said.

And it is an office Healey hopes to attain this November, if only so he can tear it down. He has run for lieutenant governor three times, in the 2002, 2004 and 2006 races, on one major campaign promise — if elected, he will effectively abolish his own office.

A campaign as ‘serious as a heart attack'

It may sound like a joke, but Healey said he and his campaign crew, which consists mostly of close friends and volunteers, are "as serious as a heart attack." In his opinion, the office of lieutenant governor is a waste of the $1 million a year that funnels into the position because the role no longer holds any political authority.

Other than commission and board obligations, Healey said, the sole duty of the Rhode Island lieutenant governor is to fulfill the governor's duties should he or she die or become incapacitated in any way. The lieutenant governor was once tasked with taking over the governor's responsibilities if the latter left the state and with casting the tie-breaking vote in the state Senate, but constitutional amendments have given these obligations to other offices, Healey said.

The fiscally conservative but socially liberal candidate said he saw no point to the state's continued funding of an obsolete position. Healey pointed out that the office does not exist in Maine or New Hampshire, suggesting that Rhode Island simply remove it from the line of succession.

If elected, Healey said he would become lieutenant governor and, while pushing for an amendment to abolish his own position, he would refuse to accept a salary or hire a staff.

The office could be retooled to be more efficient, Healey said, but because the necessary functions can be performed by other offices, he feels the best thing to do is to abolish the position altogether.

But Healey has not yet been elected to a state office, though he also ran for governor in 1986, 1994 and 1998. He was elected chairman of the Warren School Committee in 1982 and served for four years.

With his unconventional platform, long beard and flowing hair, Healey said "it must be the looks or the politics that's holding me back."

All in a name

His interest in politics was renewed in 1990 with the advent of the Rhode Island banking crisis, and he thought he had ideas to pitch that would solve the problem.

"I had a method at the time which would've tried to avoid the current fiscal crisis Rhode Island is currently in," he said, though in retrospect he called his enthusiasm "naive."

"I was very unaware of how statewide politics actually works," Healey said.

But he campaigned nonetheless. In the 1994 gubernatorial race, Healey garnered the largest share of votes an independent candidate had ever had in the state. He also managed to win the town of Warren, which left Healey "very, very humbled," he said.

He did not see the same success in the 1998 race, partly because his campaign was disrupted by the death of his mother, he said. In 2002, Healey decided that running for governor as a third-party candidate was costing him too much money since he pays for everything out of his own pocket. He is also a business owner and a lawyer who can afford to do largely pro bono and reduced fee work — but he said he has come to believe that money and politics should mix as little as possible, ideally not at all.

So he made his first bid for lieutenant governor and won 61,244 votes.

"In a period of prosperity, the idea of small government sold, but it didn't sell as well as it would now," Healey said.

For years he has run under the Cool Moose Party, a political party he founded himself. The name comes from two sources — pictures of him wearing moose antlers sparked by the Providence Journal offering a cash reward to anyone who took pictures of a moose that had entered the state in the 1980s and one of his slogans from his race for Warren School Committee chairman, "Make School Cool."

And, of course, it brings to mind Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party and the cool, calm but potentially violent animal that is the moose, he said.

"It all just kind of came together," Healey said. "It was destiny."

A grassroots campaign

This year, however, he is keeping his party open. He has long favored third parties as alternatives to the "Republican-Democrat dichotomy," but he has reached out to the Republican and Moderate parties to consider running him as their candidate. The Moderates have already announced Jean Ann Guliano's candidacy for lieutenant governor, but Healey said he is still waiting on the Republicans. They have long favored small government, he said, and now have the chance to practice what they preach.

In the meantime, Healey continues to campaign on his own terms. He refuses to take donations. In addition to viewing money as "the root of all evil in politics," he said he does not see the point in taking money while he runs for an office that will not result in any jobs.

To accept donations would be as false, he said, as him shaving or cutting his hair.
Instead, he asks supporters and volunteers to create their own posters and utilize social media Web sites like Facebook to show their support. His official staff consists of longtime supporters and friends Claire Boyes and Rhode Island School of Design Critic Bryan Rodrigues.

Rodrigues, who met Healey when he did a report on the politician in high school and has worked with him since, does much of the graphic design for Healey, including tooling the look of Healey's campaign Web site for the upcoming campaign. Rodrigues said the site is "sort of slapped together" for now but will be updated in March or April to fully promote the campaign.

"I don't want to shoot all of our arsenal too soon," Rodrigues said.

For now, Rodrigues is focusing on helping to maintain Healey's Twitter and Facebook pages, the latter of which has acquired over 400 fans in its first weeks of existence.

In past races, as well as the current one, Healey has paid out of pocket to make bumper stickers, yard signs, coupons, wooden coins and even condoms with his campaign slogans, including "Lt. governor? Lt. governor? We don't need no stinkin' lt. governor" for the bumper stickers and "Feels as though it's not even there" for the condoms. Healey's mission is serious, "but it doesn't stop us from having a sense of humor," he said.

He remains optimistic about both his chances in the race and about his philosophy, having garnered over 61,000 votes with an official campaign staff of three people. He acknowledges that he cannot make people vote for him. But he says he aims to give voters the opportunity to choose something different.

"What they really need is an explosion," Healey said, "and I'm happy to provide it."


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