Don Roach: Who is Clay Pell?
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not jumping up and down in excitement at the thought that Rhode Island may vote for a name and not a candidate with the right plan for Rhode Island. But maybe Clay Pell is both? Well, let’s see if we can find out.
I began my search by googling “Clay Pell”. I was shocked that most of the stories started with “Michelle Kwan’s husband.” Though, I was more expecting “grandson of former Senator Claiborne Pell.” Try it yourself and see what happens. Look, I’m not naïve enough to think that people won’t think of him as Michelle Kwan’s husband because of who she is and what she means to the Olympics. I get that, but just because he has a famous grandfather and a more famous wife, doesn’t make him qualified to be the next governor of Rhode Island does it?
So who is Clay Pell?
I visited his campaign site hoping to get answers to that question as well as figure out what his positions are on issues facing Rhode Island. I learned that Pell served in the Coast Guard, served as a military prosecutor, was a director of strategic planning on Obama’s national security team, and an assistant secretary at the Department of Education.
Notably missing from his curriculum vitae is any elective office experience. From dog catcher to President, Pell does not appear to have experience running for office before and most importantly serving in a position that is directly accountable to voters. Does this disqualify him for running for governor? Certainly not, but it means we need to know more about Pell’s positions because we cannot look at his track record and judge him by his past results.
What you will find on Pell’s site is that he serves in our Armed forces and has served in the Obama administration. Neither of these experiences gives us any indication he knows about creating a culture that leads to job creation in Rhode Island or how he will tackle our tax structure. His Education Department experience may be useful when addressing issues such as charter schools, raising the level of success of our students, and his perspective on Commissioner Gist and the job she is doing. However, having served as the Assistant Secretary on International and Foreign Language Education, we need ask how close he was to bread and butter state educational issues such as graduation, SAT scores, and vocational schools.
And that’s just it, the Pell website offers no insight on how he plans to address our state’s problems…but it does allow you to contribute if you’re into contributing to a campaign without having any idea of where the candidate stands on the issues. Alas, even though he has announced that he is running for governor we don’t have a handy-dandy guide telling us where he stands on the issues affecting our state. For someone who went through a process of coming to this decision, I expected a bit more from his website.
So, I’ll ask again who is Clay Pell?
I dug into a few interviews with Pell to see if they could offer insight as to what his priorities are. In an article by the Providence Journal’s Ed Fitzpatrick Pell stated that he wants to “bring a distinct set of experience, skills and values to helping solve critical problems facing the state.” While that’s a broad answer that doesn’t provide us with details, Pell further noted regarding the economy that he wants to take advantage of opportunities such as the I-195 relocation project and looking at developing Quonset Point.
That’s more specific but do any of the gubernatorial candidates oppose the I-195 relocation or Quonset Point development efforts? I can’t verify this, but I doubt any candidate opposes either project so this isn’t a differentiator.
Then-Assistant Secretary Pell did an interview with Language Magazine on his goals in his new role. As the Assistant Secretary on International and Foreign Language Education he talked about increasing the number of multi-lingual American students saying:
Our growth and competitiveness demand that we find new ways to connect with, work with, and take advantage of opportunities in the rest of the world. Foreign language and international expertise are critical skills to bridge that divide and proactively reach opportunities and cultures around the globe.
I don’t disagree that being able to speak multiple languages aides our ability to perform in the global economy. However, when I think of students at Central, Hope, & Mount Pleasant (amongst others) and their English language skills, I feel the focus must be on teaching our kids English before teaching them other languages. Pell may also feel the same as the article and his attention were focused on foreign languages, but what is his view on English education in our RI schools with a significant student population that doesn’t speak English in the home?
Last time I promise – who is Clay Pell?
The answer appears to be “blank slate”. Blank slate candidates can win in Rhode Island, look at Don Carcieri in 2002. Pell doesn’t have Carcieri’s business background to draw from but has his grandfather’s name, his wife, and what I presume is significant financial support from his own finances. That makes him a factor in the race but I’d really like to be able to answer my opening question I began with a bit more clarity before judging candidate Clay Pell.
I guess we’ll have to continue to wait.
Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Pell Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI
10. Pell's Base?
Where is Pell’s voter base going to come from?
Seriously – Another No Private Sector Experience Governor?
8. Decision making
Has he ever had to make an executive decision?
7. Ordinary RIers
Can Pell connect to Rhode Islanders?
Progressives and Unions are in Love with Pell, is that good for RI?
5. Kwan Factor
Is he more than Michelle Kwan’s husband?
4. Claiborne Factor
Is he more than Claiborne Pell’s Grandson?
3. GOP Factor
Can Pell beat a Republican?
2. Experience, any?
Does Pell have any experience?
1. Tough Enough?
Is Pell tough enough?
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