INVESTIGATION: Pell Failed to Vote More than Half the Time

Friday, February 21, 2014


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Clay Pell, the 32-year-old announced Democratic candidate for Governor, is looking for your vote, but since he became age eligible he has failed to vote more than half the time.

According to GoLocal's investigation, Pell failed to vote in just 40% of the Democratic primaries and 60% of the general elections and 33% of the Presidential primaries from 2004 to 2012. Tomorrow, GoLocal will release Pell's Arizona voting record from the 2000 and 2002 elections.

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Some of Pell's missed votes include the Presidential Election between Republican John McCain and now, President Barack Obama in 2008.

Pell in a statement told GoLocalProv, “I believe in the importance of voting. I regret those times when I did not vote, and I take responsibility for not voting in every election.”

Pell, who is the grandson of United States Senator Claiborne Pell (D-R) also failed to vote in the 2012 primary that included the Congressional race between David Cicilline and challenger Anthony Gemma.

“He regrets missing these votes and makes no excuses for it. In 06 and 08 he made attempts to vote in general election through absentee ballots. We are not making excuses. He is overseas [at that time]. We don't know why those votes were not recorded. We contacted the board of elections this afternoon to inquire about their process. We were informed that absentee ballots received after an election are not recorded. Again, that is not an excuse. He takes responsibility for those votes not being recorded," said Bill Fischer, spokesperson for the Pell campaign.

Pell faces General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras in the Democratic Primary in September. The winner of the Democratic primary will face on of the GOP candidates, either Cranston Mayor Allan Fung or former Moderate Party founder Ken Block, in the November election for Governor.

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"It's important because it flows into the message that he hasn't lived in Rhode a island for a long time. It is a legitimate issue in the race," said Jen Duffy, Senior Editor, Cook Political Report.

According to Pell’s Web site, “Clay Pell has dedicated his career to public service and making a difference in the lives of people.” But one leading GOP political consultant claims that he is not ready to lead Rhode Island.

"His voting record is not the issue, it's his lack of experience. Our next governor needs to be ready on day one, there is no time for training wheels. This state needs a leader with a sense of urgency that has never been seen before. Mayor Fung is the only candidate with a proven track record to lead our state." - Patrick Sweeney, Campaign Manager for Fung.

Pell is married to former Olympic skater Michelle Kwan. 

EDITOR's NOTE: An earlier version of this article, listed that Pell failed to vote in the Presidential primary in 2008 between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. GoLocal received clarification from the Pell campaign, that he did vote in the Presidential primary that year, but he failed to vote in both the state Democratic primary and the General Election.  On Saturday, GoLocal unveils Pell's voting record from 2000 and 2002 when Pell claimed residency and voted in Arizona.


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Pell Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

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10. Pell's Base?

Where is Pell’s voter base going to come from?

It is difficult to identify Clay Pell’s base beyond a few prep school chums (in California) and the lovely people who live on Bellevue Avenue in Newport.  
Every winning candidate needs a core base to leverage to win.
Taveras is counting, in part, on the Hispanic community as his base.
Raimondo is working to solidify two core groups – women and fiscal conservative Democrats.
Pell, who is both wooing and being wooed by progressives and public sector unions (see #6), must grow beyond the group the summers in Newport.
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9. Seriously

Seriously – Another No Private Sector Experience Governor?

Voters should understand that two sources of revenue have funded Clay Pell’s adult life – the federal government and trust funds.  His public service in the Coast Guard is admirable, but Clay Pell has never had to worry about: 
Mortgage, rent, car, health insurance, groceries, credit card, electric, oil/gas, telephone, cable, cellphone, college loans, tuition, or even yacht payments.  
They were all taken care of before his own birth.
He has to convince voters that he is credible.
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8. Decision making

Has he ever had to make an executive decision?

There is no indication that Clay Pell has ever had to make a significant management decision in his life. We all saw how David Cicilline struggled with managing Providence’s budget – Mayor’s offices and Governor’s offices are tough places for on-the-job learning.
Like their decision making or not, both Taveras and Raimondo have had to make executive decisions – Pell is going to need to assure voter he can make management decisions (See tough decisions below).
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7. Ordinary RIers

Can Pell connect to Rhode Islanders?

Most of the places Clay Pell spent his formative years, Rhode Islanders have not experienced.  The reason why – they are private clubs, top-flight private schools and colleges. The Thacher School to Harvard to Georgetown Law School.  Each of these premier schools has an annual tuition of more than $50,000 a year.
While Pell may claim to be committed to “ordinary” people (as he said in a WJAR interview), he needs to demonstrate that he is can understand the plight of unemployed and underemployed Rhode Islanders.
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6. Progressives

Progressives and Unions are in Love with Pell, is that good for RI?

Two powerful and influential groups in the Democratic primary are progressives and public service unions. With Rhode Island’s unemployment the worst in the United States and the economy, de facto, still in the recession, the next Governor will have many difficult decisions. 
The decisions will include difficult budget choices – not likely to be popular with public sector unions and progressives.
As the Wall Street Journal wrote this week, "...makes him attractive to public unions who are likely to spend heavily in the primary. Robert Walsh, the executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, has already welcomed Mr. Pell's entry into the race. "Suddenly, an opportunity appears."
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5. Kwan Factor

Is he more than Michelle Kwan’s husband?

Rhode Islanders love a good celebrity and Clay Pell’s wife Michelle Kwan is certainly a celebrity. She won her first ice-skating World Championship in 1996 when she was just 15 years old. And had qualified for the Olympics in 1994 at age 13 only to be bumped by the recovering Nancy Kerrigan.
The two-time Olympian Kwan will wow Rhode Island during the campaign, but will she overshadow her husband?
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4. Claiborne Factor

Is he more than Claiborne Pell’s Grandson?

The venerable Claiborne de Borna Pell retired from the United States Senate nearly two decades ago. While older voters may be fond of the deceased Senator’s legacy – many Rhode Islanders were not old enough to vote or did not live in the state when Pell was in office.
While the Pell family name may have some limited impact and young Clay Pell’s campaign will dredge up lots of legacy stories (so many you may think Clay was the author of the legislation creating the Pell grants).
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3. GOP Factor

Can Pell beat a Republican?

Pell’s ability to skate between Raimondo and Taveras to win the Democratic primary in a coalition of union and progressive’s support will force him to win from the left.
Coming out of the primary will have defined him to the general election voter as a liberal of the highest degree. Brookings Institute Vice President Darrell West recently told an audience during a speech at the Newport Art Museum that progressives are back in vogue (citing the recent election of ultra progressive Bill deBlasio as Mayor of New York), but with Rhode Island’s economy stuck in a recession, Pell may have a difficult time convincing voters in the General Election that he is viable.
Remember in the past five elections – Rhode Islanders have elected Republicans to the Governor’s office four times (Almond twice, Carcieri twice) and in the last election while a liberal Lincoln Chafee won, more than 60% of the voters cast a ballot for the conservative Frank Caprio (D), GOP candidate John Robitaille or the business leaning Moderate Party candidate Ken Block.
Either GOP candidate will be able to paint Pell as too liberal for the challenges facing Rhode Island’s stagnant economy (9.1% unemployment).
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2. Experience, any?

Does Pell have any experience?

Pell graduated from law school in 2008. That is right; Clay Pell has only been out of school for 5 plus years.
It is hard to believe that his experience in Coast Guard as a junior officer and his White House Fellowship qualifies him to be the chief executive of a state – he has never managed senior staff (he has never been senior staff), never managed employees of any significant scale, he has never managed a major budget, and he has zero economic development experience – a trait that some voters might look for after Chafee’s term.
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1. Tough Enough?

Is Pell tough enough?

Both Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras demonstrated in the past three plus years in office the ability to make “tough” decisions.  
Taveras had to clean up the Cicilline budget mess that had nearly bankrupted the City of Providence and Taveras even fired all the teachers in the Capital City. Of course, he walked that dog backwards during the following months ensuring a lack of trust with both teachers and fiscal conservatives.  
Raimondo’s pension reform effort has drawn passionate support and venomous scorn.  Regardless, it has demonstrated Raimondo is battle tested.
Pell’s professional career is not only short (5 plus years), but also been advisory – the buck has never stopped at Clay Pell’s cubicle.

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