Talking Politics

The gubernatorial candidates are getting aggressive

By Ian Donnis
Posted 10/6/22

The fight for governor between Republican Ashley Kalus and Democrat Dan McKee has seemingly shifted into a new gear, with both campaigns aggressively going at each other amid an occasional misstep. …

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Talking Politics

The gubernatorial candidates are getting aggressive


The fight for governor between Republican Ashley Kalus and Democrat Dan McKee has seemingly shifted into a new gear, with both campaigns aggressively going at each other amid an occasional misstep. For starters, a Kalus attack ad included the out-of-towners’ mispronunciation of Pawtucket – PAW-tucket. That’s a no-no in Rhode Island, and fueled the McKee campaign’s criticism of Kalus as a carpetbagger, given news reports like one from WPRI about how she signed a document designating Newport as her second home.

But her campaign relishes a fight – and it returned fire by hammering McKee’s support for hefty pay raises for top state officials. The governor acknowledged some confusion on the issue, as the size of the increases was scaled back. Adding fuel to the fire, McKee described Kalus as a “seagull manager” who is “crapping all over R.I.,” in an interview with Globe RI’s Brian Amaral, and her campaign called that a sign of sexism.

The abortion issue was also prominent, with McKee (who downplayed the threat to Roe when he was lieutenant governor) touting himself as a defender of reproductive rights, and Kalus (who opposes extending abortion coverage to women on Medicaid and the state employee health plan) reiterating that she wouldn’t change the status quo.

So it went, as various other state issues – a temporary cut in RIPTA service due to under-staffing, concerns about higher energy costs – emerged without easy solutions. Kalus has raised her profile by already spending almost $3 million, a sharp contrast to Geoff Diehl, the GOP candidate for governor in Massachusetts, who has yet to go on the air.

McKee won the Democratic primary for governor with 33% of the vote, meaning that most primary voters preferred someone other than him. But McKee is a lifelong Rhode Islander and he wields the benefits of incumbency, including day-to-day media coverage.

As TGIF was headed to press, the state announced it is moving ahead with plans to fund the expanded abortion coverage of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, and McKee’s campaign quickly followed with a news release – headlined, “Promises Kept” – trumpeting the news. The next five weeks will show whether Kalus has an effective counter to McKee’s advantages.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY: State Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Providence) is among the progressives who challenged the status quo at the Statehouse in 2020. She unseated long-term incumbent Harold Metts in a cycle with a number of changes in the Senate. Since then, Mack has become known for her advocacy on policy and a viral twerking video.

During an interview on Political Roundtable, Mack pointed to her primary victory earlier this month over former state Rep. Joe Almeida (with 56% of the vote) as evidence that her sometimes-flashy personal style isn’t stepping on her policy message: “That’s just Tiara Mack being Tiara Mack and leading how she wants to,” she told me, “and in a way that represents and resonates with a vast majority of my constituency.”


Here are some other excerpts from our Q&A: 

DOES SHE EXPECT SENATE PRESIDENT DOMINICK RUGGERIO TO HAND OFF THE PRESIDENCY IN HIS NEXT TERM: “Yeah, I think that is the biggest piece of speculation about what’s going to happen in this upcoming session …. I hope it is someone who is much more aligned with my own policy views. Some of the names that I think who have been around the statehouse and who are leaders, Dawn Euer, and some other folks who are who are a little bit more progressive, who have had Chair memberships and who have led committees. But I don’t know, I can only hope that we have a senate president who is committed to actually having meetings with every single legislator.”

DOES THE LEFT SHARE RESPONSIBILITY FOR “CANCEL CULTURE”: “No, I don’t believe so. And I believe there’s a difference between — I don’t believe anyone can be canceled. But I do believe there is a difference between allowing free speech and blocking hate speech. I’ve been called many different things online. And I just two weeks ago participated at the Cranston Public Library, where there was …. a meeting about ’gender ideology’ or some other conflated term, which was basically anti-trans sentiment.

“While I do believe in free speech, I don’t believe in free platforms. I don’t believe that anyone should be using public resources in order to uplift a hate campaign. And I don’t believe that anybody who comes into a space where there are going to be people who are potentially harmed or who do not agree with them, are not held accountable to their actions, both internally and externally ….”


HOUSING: My colleague Nina Sparling reports on how even though Rhode Island received $50 million in pandemic aid to help low-income homeowners, many people were shut out of the program: “[T]he need for assistance in the state has far outpaced Rhode Island Housing’s capacity to provide relief. Faced with an overwhelming number of applications and limited funding, the agency suspended the program just nine weeks after opening it. Now, as many low-income homeowners are trying to catch up on past due balances, they’re unable to access relief, pushing them to the brink.”


CD2: Just like in the race for governor, the fur is increasingly flying between Republican Allan Fung and Democrat Seth Magaziner in the race in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, fueled in part by spending by third-party groups. Magaziner is emphasizing his support for abortion rights and how many D.C. Republicans, including Kevin McCarthy, voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election. Fung is playing up his regular guy credentials while accusing Magaziner of hypocrisy on such issues as opposing stock trading by members of Congress while accepting support from congressional Democrats who have profited from stock trades.


CITY HAUL: Ward 13 Providence City Councilor Rachel Miller is poised to win the presidency of the council in January. Miller, who cut her teeth as an activist with RI Jobs With Justice, identifies as a socialist, even if she comes across more like a soft-spoken policy wonk. She joined me for part of this week’s Political Roundtable and offered this response on what being a socialist means to her: “As an elected official, I’m really focused on outcomes, right? Outcomes for residents that put our economic and social well-being first, you know … I think that’s kind of belief into action is what’s important to me. I think, as we look to the kind of coalition and the full Council and the next term, I think, again, it’s that, the ways and means there might be differing, and I like open disagreement on some of that. But ultimately, all 15 folks, I believe, are coming with a good faith, residents-first [approach] in every neighborhood.”


FISHING: Ben Berke breaks down the significance of a regulatory decision involving scallops, the most valuable catch at the port of New Bedford: “The New England Fishery Management Council settled a controversial policy battle this week by rejecting a proposal that would have authorized fishermen to lease out their government-granted access to scallop grounds. The change was sought by the industry’s largest fleet owners but fiercely opposed by their crews and many of their smaller competitors and shoreside service providers. Creating a leasing program for scallop permits, which are currently assigned to specific boats with longstanding ties to the fishery, offered a solution to an old problem: There is an excess of scallop dredging boats today, with many aging holdovers from a more bountiful fishing era now sitting tied to the docks for as many as 300 days per year. Leasing would have made it possible for fleet owners to stack their permits onto fewer boats and essentially retire the old ones they don’t need anymore.

A lobbying group backed by industry titans like Eastern Fisheries, Blue Harvest and Atlantic Capes argued that retiring decades-old vessels would improve safety for fishing crews, reduce fossil fuel emissions and ease congestion in America’s fishing ports. But at a series of public hearings held up and down the East Coast this summer and fall, opponents of leasing framed the effort to revise the fishery’s longstanding regulations as one driven by corporate greed.”


MEDIA: Al Primo, who created the “Eyewitness News” concept in TV news, has died at age 87. As WABC reports, “Primo dispatched reporters into the field and then back into the studio to share their stories with the anchors, serving as eyewitnesses. Those reporters reflected the diversity of the community. Primo believed the people presenting the news should look and sound like the audiences they served. ‘I was determined to make the reporters the most important element of the program - they were the eyewitnesses,’ said Primo. He hired many of Channel 7’s legendary anchors and reporters, from Geraldo Rivera to Rose Ann Scamardella.” In further evidence of Primo’s cultural impact, Scamardella was the inspiration for the Roseanne Roseanna Danna character played by Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live.


Ian Donnis can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.