John Robitaille, Republican Party candidate for governor, spoke with The Herald following Thursday's gubernatorial debate.
The Herald: Given that the Brown student body is notoriously liberal, how are you reaching out to students here?
John Robitaille: Well, by attending anything I am invited to come to. I think this is my third time here — I spoke with, there's actually a Young Republicans group or a College Republicans group here. I spoke with them a few months ago. And I have been interviewed by another gentleman early on in the spring for an article. ... I absolutely will reach out in any way I can.
How would the life of a Brown undergraduate be different in a Rhode Island governed by you, as opposed to one governed by your opponents?
That's a difficult question to answer. ... Brown is a private institution. I will be open and accessible to students. I think it's important — in fact, as a Providence College graduate I'm in the mentoring program and have been. I mentor a Political Science student Sara Beth Labanara, who's my scheduler. And I'm not sure if I'd have the time as governor to do any mentoring but, you know, I think it's important. Higher ed is very important to our state, to the new knowledge economy push. I'm not sure how past governors, how engaged they've been, ...other than with the state-supported schools, but it's a very good question.
A Brown student was struck and killed by a drunk driver this February. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Rhode Island had the third highest percentage increase in drunk driving-related deaths in the nation last year. If elected governor, would you do anything specific to curb these numbers?
I know that the Rhode Island State Police, under the leadership of Col. Doherty, has in the last two or three years ramped up enforcement for drunk driving. I would encourage the State Police and other law enforcement. I would make sure that there is some funding to be able to communicate. You see occasionally some of the ads that they run. I think that's important. And to work with the Attorney General to ensure that we have not only strict enforcement and consequences for drunk driving, but also that there are enough counseling opportunities to help people with the addiction of alcoholism. But the safety of our citizens comes first, and we have to crack down and be very stern on ... repeat offenders especially.
Mayor David Cicilline '83 has proposed taxing local colleges and hospitals, particularly non-profits and out-of-state students. Is that something you could see yourself turning to if elected as governor?
I think the cost of higher education is really difficult right now. But I do know, on the other hand, that there are services provided by the government and they need to pay their fair share of taxes. We need to find a happy medium, but I think there can't be any surprises. I think if there's anything that would be putting more of a burden on higher education institutions, it needs to be something phased in very slowly and with their agreement.
You were an advisor under Governor Carcieri's administration.
For two years I was a communications adviser.
Do you think, under Governor Carcieri, that Rhode Island has been heading in the right direction?
Governor Carcieri has done everything in his power as governor to keep Rhode Island in the right direction. Unfortunately in Rhode Island, constitutional authority in the office of governor is very weak — it's the third weakest in the country. So the real power, in the state of Rhode Island, rests in the General Assembly. He has had — I can't even tell you how many vetoes he has had overridden by the General Assembly. Things that would've kept Rhode Island on the right course, to lower taxes and to fix structural problems in the state budget that still exist today. So, yes, I think he has done all the things the governor can do, but unfortunately he hasn't had a very agreeable General Assembly to pass enabling legislation that would help keep us in the right direction.
What is your vision for Brown's economic potential in terms of partnerships with businesses, especially in the "Knowledge District"?
I think right now what we have to do is get away from a lot of programs that are strictly run by the government. We need more public-private partnerships, we need more businesses working with colleges and universities. There are models like that everywhere. Government doesn't have all the solutions, and I think we have such a wealth of knowledge here — Brown University, and many of our other colleges and universities. We need to tap into that. I think higher education — institutes of higher learning — need to be a part of the solution and not just rely on government. And as governor, I will do so and reach out to Brown and to the other universities to work in partnership to find solutions to some of the very complex issues that we have.
All across the nation the Tea Party has really taken off, and Rhode Island has its own branch. Do you consider yourself somebody who embodies the ideals of the movement?
I do, I do. I think that the Tea Party — and I've met so many of their members — ... they're pretty good strict constitutionalists, they want smaller government, they want people held to their personal decisions in life ... and they want a protection of individual freedoms and rights. And basically, their thinking is like mine — smaller government is better government. I am the endorsed candidate, they did endorse me. But you know what, it's funny, because people ask, ‘well are you a Tea Party member?' And I asked them, and they said, ‘well, we don't have membership cards.' It is a group of people getting together who believe in the same fundamentals of smaller government, lower taxes, holding people accountable for their decisions and then protecting individual rights and freedoms under the Constitution. And I do believe in all those four things.