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Ken Block enters Republican gubernatorial primary

The long-time Moderate Party candidate will run as a Republican in the 2014 gubernatorial race

Ken Block announced last week that he will run in Rhode Island’s 2014 gubernatorial election, competing against Cranston Mayor Allan Fung — who announced his candidacy Monday — for the Republican nomination. Block announced his candidacy last May, when he was a member of the Moderate Party.

Block also ran for governor in 2010 and came in fourth with 6.5 percent of the vote as the Moderate Party candidate.


Pressing issues

“My 100 percent focus is educational and economic issues as they pertain to the state of Rhode Island,” Block said.

To alleviate some of the state’s fiscal problems, Block will redirect “wasted” funds to beneficial programs if elected, he said, adding that he wants to improve the state’s business climate.

Business owners can currently choose to operate in neighboring Connecticut or Massachusetts, where costs are lower, Block said.

The state’s education system, especially in urban districts, is “broken,” and “the way to fix it is not high-stakes testing in high school,” Block said.

“What that tells us is that we’re failing,” he added. “What it doesn’t do is address, identify and fix the problem.”

He said he hopes to enact education reform by restructuring K-3 education to identify children who face systemic disadvantages early on. By providing specialized instruction, Block said he hopes students can catch up with their peers.

Block also said specialized schools with curricula designed to teach English language skills to English-language-learners and recent immigrants would benefit everyone.

The state’s economic problems outweigh concerns for social issues, Block said, adding that the governor has a responsibility to deal with more pressing economic issues first.

“The social issues are an afterthought for most Rhode Islanders, especially those without jobs,” he said.

Block said he also wants to engage in government reform.

“The way Rhode Island governs itself is silly,” Block said. He added that he would like to rework the way the General Assembly functions and give the governor the power to line-edit the state’s budget — a power governors have in all but six states.

In Rhode Island, the governor can only approve or veto the entire budget.

Block has never held an elected office but said his professional experience as president of Simpatico Software Systems has informed his platform.

“My company helps identify and find waste and fraud in social service spending programs for state governments,” Block added.


‘Block Party’

With his decision to enter the Republican primary, Block has stepped down from his role as leader of the Moderate Party.

“I don’t imagine that (the party) is going to do anything but shut down at this point,” he said.

Scott MacKay, political analyst for Rhode Island Public Radio, said he and other reporters “used to refer to (the Moderate Party) somewhat irreverently … as the Block Party,” because it was “Ken’s child and his vision seemed to motivate the party.”

Block said he was not politically active until 2007, when he had a “political awakening.” He said he decided to establish the Moderate Party as a venue to enact change from the middle of the political spectrum but eventually learned “it’s not a great vehicle for change because ultimately people can’t put their head around a new political party — anywhere.”

That is why he decided to run for governor on the Republican ticket, he added.

“The Moderate Party was just a reaction to this kind of right-wing Republican southern-base party that’s happened in the last 15 to 20 years,” MacKay said. It is very difficult to get votes for a third party anywhere in the United States because the nation has a polarized two-party system where voting for a third party candidate constitutes a “leap of faith” for the candidate, he added.


Primary hope 

When the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Insitutions asked voters to indicate a preference among the four projected gubernatorial candidates in early October, only 9 percent of voters picked Block, while 19 percent picked Fung, his opponent in the Republican primary. General Treasurer Gina Raimondo collected 27.3 percent of the vote with the remaining 20.7 percent supporting Mayor Angel Taveras and 24 percent indicating they remain undecided. The poll was conducted before Block announced he would run as a Republican.

“Fung has a much greater chance of winning” in the primary because he has a strong Republican base in the state and a good record in Cranston, “including being a fiscally responsible mayor who has supported education reform and also has been able to negotiate a pension reform with the unions in the city,” said Justin Braga ’16, chairman of the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island.

Fung is well-known to college Republicans across the state, Braga said. He added that he has not seen much support for Block among students.

Because of Fung’s strong base of supporters, “Block’s got some work to do with the kind of rank-and-file Republicans who traditionally vote in that primary,” MacKay said.

Block may have more luck with independents and should focus on persuading them to vote in the Republican primary, since unaffiliated voters can vote in either of the state’s primaries, MacKay said.

Block faces a disadvantage in the primary because he is relatively unknown to party members and has never held elected office, MacKay said. But with the election about a year away, Block “has plenty of time to turn it around,” he said.

“That’s why we have campaigns,” MacKay added.

To succeed, Block must work on becoming a known personality, raising money and spreading his message to the state’s Republicans, he added.

If Block wins the primary, he would have a fair chance in the general, even though Rhode Island is considered to be a safe blue state in national politics, MacKay said.

“When the Democrats have nasty primaries, when they just kick the stuffing out of each other … voters are much more likely to look at a Republican alternative, particularly someone who’s perceived as being moderate,” he added.


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