Talking to the GOP’s Giarrusso: MINDSETTER™ Matt Fecteau

Monday, June 04, 2018

 

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State Rep. Anthony Giarrusso

I originally wanted to talk to progressive Democrat Justine Caldwell running for State Representative in East and West Greenwich. Mrs. Caldwell declined via social media saying she only answers questions “on TV, to press, at the door.” This peculiar exchange was coupled by her supporters – after they trolled me on social media – saying I am outside her district anyway so it was inappropriate. Fortunately, Mrs. Caldwell’s Republican opponent, incumbent Rhode Island House Representative Anthony Giarrusso, did not feel the same way and agreed to speak with me.

I was ambivalent at first.  After my interaction with his Democratic rival and her cohorts, I found it appropriate to at least have a discussion with him - could he be much worse than his holier than thou Democratic alternative? The date was then set for Brewed Awakenings in Johnston.

Sitting down with Giarrusso and drinking coffee on that warm day, I found him to be friendly, and very respectful – far from the picture painted, and much different than his seemingly elitist Democratic opponent. He first mentioned he was “no radical” nor a “Tea Party” Republican; I felt this would be a far different conversation than I originally imagined. Was this the same Republican that so many progressive Democrats demonized?

Giarrusso contended that he has a great deal of respect for the Democratic process and feels that everyone should exercise their right to participate even his opponent. Besides a few email exchanges and a brief, abrasive in-person encounter, he admits he never had a face to face conversation with his Democratic challenger about anything (I can relate).

Unlike his Democratic foe, Giarrusso doesn’t feel it inappropriate to have a discussion with someone outside his district. “I am a state lawmaker that makes laws pertaining to the entire state, and you should know where elected officials stand even outside your district,” Giarrusso retorted.

When asked about the recently passed gun control legislation, Giarrusso did take exception to the “red flag” bill which he voted against. He explained it is a “slippery slope” infringing on an individual’s constitutional rights. While other states have passed “red flag” laws that he would support, he felt that the one recently signed into law in Rhode Island didn’t have the necessary constitutional safeguards (the ACLU has likewise taken issue with Rhode Island’s “red flag” bill too).

However, Giarrusso does support some reasonable restrictions on guns. He voted in favor of the ban on “bump stocks” to reduce mass shootings. He called it a “common sense” and “overdue measure” which he is happy is law. He additionally said he supports expanded background checks because mentally unstable individuals and violent criminals should not have access to firearms. With the exception of his opposition to the “red flag” legislation, I found myself in agreement here.

On health care, Giarrusso’s answers surprised me. He supported the Medicaid cuts provided the neediest citizens were not hurt by them. He opposed the Medicaid co-pays that Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo supported (co-pays were eventually dropped from the legislation). He said that people who barely can afford to live shouldn’t have to “pay out of pocket” for critical lifesaving services. 

Asked about universal health care coverage, Giarrusso opposes it in theory but mentioned that health care isn’t something that should be denied to anyone. Giarrusso could support state-run health care facilities to ensure everyone receives the coverage they need to survive and looks forward to a consensus as to how to pay for it (this is something I could see US Senator Bernie Sanders saying!).

Giarrusso too stated he is a pro-life Republican, but not an absolutist. He doesn’t oppose all forms of reproductive choice; he believes there should be exceptions for rape, incest, and if the mother’s life is in danger. As a Democrat that supports reproductive rights and choice, I strongly disagreed with him because this is about personal liberty but felt he was no fanatic.

As for the economy, Giarrusso explained taxes are too high in Rhode Island. He argued with lower taxes the more affluent people will move to or spend more time in Rhode Island stimulating the economy. To me, this sounded like the debunked trickle-down economics.

Nevertheless, Giarrusso was progressive with regards to other tax policies. He felt “the state shouldn’t tax social security” because it is about ensuring senior citizens have a dignified retirement and also, incentivizing them to stay in Rhode Island. Interesting note: Rhode Island is one of only 13 states in the union that taxes social security benefits. 

Giarrusso furthermore mentioned that we must do more to help our military veterans such as eliminating the income tax on pensions. For far too long, he claims, many of our finest leave Rhode Island for tax-friendly states and taking their critical skills with them. I supported this idea because Rhode Island faces a skills gap putting it at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting companies such as Amazon to relocate to our fine state.

Finally, Giarrusso did say there were a number of other issues that both he and progressive Democrats agree on. He explicitly mentioned free bus passes for senior citizens, opposition to the PawSox deal, a higher minimum wage for health care workers impacted by “state reimbursement rates,” and having election day on a Saturday. As a Democrat, I concurred with a number of these ideas as well. He added he agreed with “95% of the issues discussed at the state house,” and most bills pass with unanimous consent.

From our entire conversation, I came away with a new appreciation for dialogue. Nowhere in this discussion did I find Giarrusso unreasonable or radical. While I adamantly disagreed sometimes, I both respected and appreciated his opinion.

In this politically toxic environment and especially in the age of social media, it is far too easy to demonize those on the opposite end of the political spectrum without even knowing them. Sometimes the most difficult thing we can do is simply have a face to face discussion with someone that has a different opinion; they might even surprise you as did this conversation. I just wish Giarusso’s Democratic opponent felt the same way.

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Matt Fecteau

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) of Pawtucket, Rhode Island is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and an Iraq War veteran.

 

Related Slideshow: 2018 Governor’s Race Playbook - June 4, 2018

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Momentum: Up

Patricia Morgan (R)

Wins:

Morgan, the consummate battler, went to court to challenge Peter Kilmartin to release public documents regarding the expenditure of Google monies given to Rhode Island.

Morgan, like fellow GOP candidate Allan Fung and Democrat Matt Brown, hammered Governor Gina Raimondo on the PawSox proposal. SEE HERE

Losses:

N/A

X-Factor: Issues Morgan has been talking about for years are growing in importance.

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Momentum: Up

Luis Daniel Muñoz (I)

Wins:

This week he unveiled three initiatives:

First, the D.I.N.O. program — dynamic intelligence for nation opportunity — and economic education initiative focused on preparing students for better-paying jobs.

Second, the R.I.N.O. — redefining intelligence for national opportunity — a career focused retaining program for Rhode Island workers.

And, third, MEND-i, a statewide community health initiative that puts more emphasis on the community health systems. SEE INTERVIEW HERE

Losses:

Are these the issues that Rhode Islanders care about?

X-Factor: A lot of substance, but little style points. Needs follow-up.

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Momentum:Flat

Allan Fung (R)

Wins:

PawSox, PawSox, PawSox. Fung is hammering Raimondo on the latest PawSox proposal that Raimondo's Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor testified in favor of House Finance on Thursday night.

Pryor joined some bill supporters claiming Mattiello's new bill would cost more (as much as $25 million more), but eliminate the risk for taxpayers. But, by Friday morning, Raimondo said the taxpayers would be on the hook if the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency fails. So this new proposal that the Raimondo administration purportedly supports -- costs more and still puts the taxpayer on the hook.

This is good eating for Fung's campaign.

Losses:

Raimondo via the Democratic Governor's Association is hammering Fung on pay equity and gun control. This is designed to create a gender gap for Fung. He needs to be careful here -- could be the difference maker.

X-Factor:  Needs to be careful. Has to make sure that he does not lose female voters over the next few months - guns, equity, schools, reproductive rights.

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Momentum: Flat

Gina Raimondo (D)

Wins: 

Deepwater Wind announcement claimed a large number of construction jobs over the next few years -- potentially as many as 800, but fewer than 50 permanent jobs in Rhode Island. 

Losses:

The PawSox are becoming a big problem - does she favor Speaker Nick Mattiello's new proposal? 

X-Factor: Will she push through an unpopular funding scheme?

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Momentum: Flat

Spencer Dickinson (D)

Wins:

This week Spencer Dickinson said that he name Ted Siedle as a special prosecutor to "dig into problems with the RI retirees pension fund."

Dickinson is the only candidate from either party who, as a member of the House, actively fought what he calls the so-called ‘pension reform’ disaster of 2011.” 

Dickinson says that the legislation pushed through by Speaker Gordon Fox and then-treasurer Gina Raimondo in November 2011 has "angered thousands of teachers and state employees who still believe the action was illegal, unnecessary and unfair."

Siedle, a columnist for Forbes Magazine and former attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission, "does not mince words when sharing his views on the subject:  “Pension fraud … 38 Studios… these are the greatest crimes ever perpetrated in the history of the state.” 

Losses:

N/A

X-Factors:  Can he run successfully on the failures of pension reform?

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Momentum: Flat

Matt Brown (D)

Wins:

Brown may be smelling blood on the PawSox issue with Gina Raimondo -- each week the Raimondo message is ever changing. Raimondo blew up Mattiello's newest proposal on Friday.

Brown charges, "The latest PawSox proposal is more of the same. There’s no way revenue will be there to pay these bonds and taxpayers will be on the hook.   

The entire effort to get the taxpayers of Rhode Island to subsidize the PawSox -- a corporation owned by a group of billionaires  -- must end.

The people of Rhode Island struggling to make ends meet shouldn’t have to subsidize a corporation owned by a group of billionaires. They can build this proposed stadium themselves.

If you own a business, you should make the investment, take the risk and reap the profits.  That’s how the free market works. What’s happening here is corporate socialism: government taking taxpayers money and subsidizing a private corporation.

This effort to compel Rhode Island taxpayers to subsidize billionaire owners has hurt the PawSox brand. Rhode Islanders are smart - they know they’re getting fleeced and they’re angry about it. A team that used to be of and for the local community is now owned by a group that seems to be solely out to maximize their own profits. I think that’s at least part of the reason attendance at PawSox games is down.

Instead of another taxpayer giveaway to another wealthy corporation, the state should meet its Medicaid obligations, cease raiding 911 emergency services and address the real problems facing Rhode Islanders. Our political leaders always take care of the rich, connected and powerful while the people are forgotten and the state fails to meet basic needs."

Losses:

Needs to explain the John Lewis claim.

X-Factor:  Cha-ching -- PawSox issue may be the winner to build some momentum.

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Momentum: Down

Giovanni Feroce (R)

Wins:

No press releases. No press events. 

Losses:

Crickets.

X-Factor: What happened to the man of action?

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Momentum: Down

Joe Trillo (I)

Wins:

Trillo continues a Trumpesque narrative. This could be a winning formula to get him into the teens or more.  

Losses:

Still needs to prove he can expand beyond the Trump-base.

X-Factor: Trump, Trump, Trump. Could this be a winning formula to get him in the race?

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Momentum: Down

Paul Roselli (D)

Wins: Quiet week for Roselli.

Losses:

N/A

X-Factors: N/A

 
 

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