EAST PROVIDENCE — As former East Providence City Councilor and current General Assembly House District 65 candidate Joe Botelho puts its, he’s 54-years-old and since his birth in 1958 the Democratic Party has had a stranglehold on the State Legislature.
His run this election cycle opposite Democratic candidate Gregg Amore under the Moderate Party banner is an attempt to spur change in the one-party dominated State House of Representatives.
“I believe the people of this city have a chance to vote for something different,” Mr. Botelho said in his opening remarks at a League of Women Voters debate with Mr. Amore held in city at the Riverside Congregational Church Wednesday night, Oct. 17.
“I’m running as the alternative to 54 years of Democratic control of the State Legislature,” he added. “I like Gregg. I think he’s a good guy. But I think it’s time to try something new and different.”
The Moderate Party is still in its infancy. The by-product of Barrington resident Ken Block’s recent attempts to win state-wide elected office, the Mods are trying to create a true third-party option in Rhode Island, which is among the most Democratic states in the union.
Nate Silver’s noted “FiveThirtyEight” New York Times electoral politics tracking blog rates the Ocean State the fourth “bluest” in the country. Mr. Silver recently wrote, “Democrats have more than a 3-to-1 edge in voter registration (in Rhode Island), an overwhelming advantage.”
As it tries to find its footing, Mr. Botelho is the only Moderate Party candidate running for state office. Three others are seeking office under the party banner in local races.
“Someone had to start somewhere. If the demand is out there, then you have to offer people a choice. I think this city could the leader in revolutionizing the state with this election. Why not start now?” Mr. Botelho said in a follow-up interview later last week. “This is still a fledgling effort. We wanted quality over quantity.”
The Mod Party platform appears to lean conservative on economic issues. It reads, “Rhode Island’s current budget deficit must be closed NOT by raising taxes, but by reductions in spending, increases in efficiency and reductions in the waste and fraud inherent in large government spending programs.”
“It’s not so much about being a fiscal conservative as it is about fiscal common sense,” Mr. Botelho, a noted area realtor, explained. “I use an example of here in East Providence and Seekonk. A home owner pays half as much in taxes there than we pay here, yet their property values are 35-percent higher. You can’t continue to go after taxpayers. People vote with their feet, and they’re moving out Rhode Island. We’re about stopping the bleeding at this point.
“We’re not as conservative as the far right-wing of the Republican Party that wants to go back to the days of no government. We’re about being more fiscally responsible. We don’t want to be last in business climate and unemployment. We would be happy with being somewhere in the middle in both.”
On education, the key component of the Mod dictum seems to lean towards paying teachers on performance. It states, “We must fund (Rhode Island’s) new state-wide educational funding formula…Evaluate all teachers and administrators annually and provide incentive pay for the top performers while providing mentoring, training to struggling teachers.”
“Good teachers want to be rewarded. Good teachers don’t want to be paid the same as bad teachers,” Mr. Botelho said. “We believe good teachers should be paid higher. And bad teachers should be retrained, monitored or eventually shown the door in they don’t improve.”
The Moderate Party embraces the need for ethics reform. The platform on the subject includes a six-point plan prefaced by the following, “Rhode Island has a long and sorry history of public corruption. While the vast majority of our public servants do their jobs honestly and honorably, the sad truth is that there are some who do not. All three branches of state government have been affected. We have seen judges, governors and legislators resign in disgrace and/or go to jail. This culture takes a heavy toll and breeds cynicism and unfair distrust of all government officials.”
“Ethics reform is tied to our economy,” Mr. Botelho said. “Businesses are not going to invest and create jobs in a place where there are no personal ethics of those making the laws, where they feel like they’re not going to get a fair shake. Ethics need to be reformed in part to bring confidence back to the business climate in this state.”
In contrast to its economic stance, the party also seems to lean slightly left in regards to the environment…”Stewardship of the land, air and water is important for economic as well as environmental reasons. As Rhode Island competes for knowledge-based businesses, a clean environment is essential. Educated and skilled workers are more likely to make Rhode Island their home if our natural environment has strong appeal.”
“Socially and environmentally, I would say we’re ‘live and let live,'” Mr. Botelho said. “I would say we’re more to the Democratic side of those issues. Our main focus is on getting our economic house in order.”
The views of Mr. Botelho, elected to the non-partisan City Council from Ward 3 for three consecutive terms (1984-1990), are very much in line with much of the Moderate Party doctrine. In the end, he saw a void in local and state-wide politics. He believes siding with the Mods was best for him and the future of Rhode Island.
“The Democratic Party has become about ‘pay for play’ and special interests. The small businessman, people not affiliated with unions or large corporations have no alternative. The ‘average Joe’ has no place to go,” Mr. Botelho added. “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.”