Russell Moore: Block and Fung Have GOP Problems

Monday, June 16, 2014


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As the Republican candidates for Governor prepare to get together tomorrow for their first official debate I'm reminded of Ricky Ricardo, because both candidates "got some splainin' to do".

Unfortunately, for our part, neither of them are as amusing or entertaining as the legendary Lucille Ball. And there certainly won't be much love shared between Republican Gubernatorial Ken Block and Allan Fung.

However, the debate, which will be broadcast on WPRI Channel 12, is probably about as close to must-see-TV as we're going to get this election season. Unlike those Democrat gubernatorial candidates who bored me to tears in last week's debate, these two aren't afraid to mix it up, talk about their differences, and to put it plainly, rumble.

Mr. Robitaille: This ain't bean bag

I couldn't disagree more with former Republican Gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille, who in a Guest Mindsetter article last week called on the candidates to treat each other with kid gloves. To quote former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, politics "ain't the bean bag," Mr. Robitaille.

Fortunately, to Mr. Robitaille's dismay, we will hear about those differences come Tuesday.

Fung, for his part, will continue to drive the point home that Block voted for President Barack Obama--twice. Without doubt, that's a point that might resonate with a large portion of the Republican electorate. Newsflash: Republicans dislike Obama.

A Pyrrhic victory?

But one has to wonder if that strategy does prove victorious it's of the Pyrrhic variety.  After all, more than 60 percent of voters voted for Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. Whomever emerges from the Democratic Primary will be sure to point out that Fung supported Romney in 2012.

Then there's the fact that Fung, a former Democrat himself, has donated money to US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Congressman David Cicilline, and former RI House Speaker Gordon Fox among other connected Democrats. When confronted by those facts, Fung is going to have a hard time explaining how he's not throwing stones while living in a glass house.

Who advised whom?

Fung will also likely point out that Block served as an "adviser" to Governor Chafee when he voluntarily performed an audit that looked at waste and fraud in the state government. And we haven't seen much savings as a result of that audit. (Block blames Chafee for refusing to act on the results of the study.)

That's another curious strategy from Fung. Voters generally like bipartisanship. Secondly, Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor Catherine Taylor served as an actual paid adviser to Governor Chafee as his Director of Elderly Affairs. It follows logically then, that Fung doesn't deem her worthy of support given that she helped a Democrat like Chafee.

And then there's Republican Mayor Scott Avedisian--a long time Chafee ally and supporter whom he has referred to as his "political soul mate". Does that mean Fung doesn't support Avedisian? What gives here?

Fung's got plenty of his own  "splainin’ to do". We can expect Block to drill Fung over the irregularities in the Cranston Police Department, as well as taking campaign contributions from union officials and their family members of which he was expected to negotiate against on behalf of Cranston taxpayers. Also, we can be sure Block will point out that Fung, as a former lobbyist for Met Life insurance, made plenty of money due to his status as a government insider.

Question of experience

Yet at the same time, Fung will push back by pointing out that it's easy for Block to criticize an executive like Fung when he's never had the responsibility of managing a large organization like Cranston. Fung will point out that voters can critique his experience, but at least he's got experience to critique.

Block will also point out the huge unfunded liabilities in the Cranston pension system. Surely, Fung inherited the problem, but his reforms, Block will argue, represent a band aid on an open wound-- a can kicked down a street not meriting more than a yawn, if you will.

Fung will also be grilled by Block regarding the lucrative labor union contract he handed out over his tenure as mayor--not to mention his large tax increases at the beginning of his tenure. In particular, the contract with the police union that the Democrat controlled Cranston city council torpedoed because they deemed it too expensive for Cranston taxpayers.

Let's get it on

I'm not sure who will win, but I'm certain it will be a lively affair.

That's perfect. I don't want to hear candidates arguing over the most minor policy differences that would bore even wonkish types like the Democrat debate. I want to hear the candidates give their best shots and see who comes out on top. Fortunately, that should be the case Tuesday night.

As legendary boxing referee Mills Lane would say: "Let's get it on".


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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.


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