Democrats square off in primary debate

By Tessa Roy, WPRO News

Two Democrats vying for the governor’s seat were present for WPRO’s Democratic primary debate, but their barbs were largely aimed at the one candidate who was not there: incumbent Governor Gina Raimondo.

Former Secretary of State Matt Brown said it was “bad for democracy” that Raimondo did not agree to primary debates on any of Rhode Island’s news stations. Raimondo previously called Brown a liar and said it may not be good strategy for her to debate him as he is “not a credible candidate.”

Former State Representative Spencer Dickinson likened debates to job interviews, saying voters deserve to hear all candidates participate in them.

“I’ll debate anybody. “I’ll debate Mickey Mouse,” he quipped.

Raimondo’s absence was marked by an empty chair. The same was done when Mayor Allan Fung declined to take part in WPRO’s Republican primary debate.

Dickinson and Brown both agreed Raimondo mishandled the PawSox, saying she didn’t meet with all the key players in time to prevent the team from making the decision to move to Worcester. Brown hit Raimondo on ongoing UHIP struggles, saying she launched the system when she was advised against it.

“She launched it anyway, and at the same time, she cut 40% of the staff there who had experience and the system broke. It’s still broken, and the result was that tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders went hungry and without healthcare,” Brown said.

Dickinson also lobbed heavy criticism at Brown over campaign finance issues that emerged during Brown’s 2006 Senate run. He had in hand a Raimondo mailer that calls Brown a “financial disaster,” painting him in the shadow of President Donald Trump, and persistently asked Brown how his actions were any different from those of Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

Brown repeatedly responded that the allegations were Republican attacks, and asserted that the Federal Elections Commission had cleared him of wrongdoing.

When they weren’t making or responding to critiques, Dickinson and Brown made their own cases for why they’re the best person to lead the state.

“I’ve been in the legislature total of 12 years, I’ve been with these issues. I’ve worked on the pension issue. I was in the middle of that. I was in the middle of 38 Studios. I wasn’t there when it was voted, but I tried to deal with finding out what was going on. I understand these issues. I’m the guy that you should have,” Dickinson said.

Brown shared his vision for a Rhode Island where everyone can afford homes, healthcare, and education. He said people of all backgrounds feel “the system is not working for them.”

“We can have a state that reflects our values,” he said.