Race for RI governor plays out on two fronts

Ashley Kalus and Dan McKee. Photos by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

Candidates for Rhode Island governor Ashley Kalus and Dan McKee sparred on two fronts Monday, with the Republican challenger charging McKee mishandled a request to raise the pay of his department directors, while the incumbent Democrat questioned Kalus’ appearance in Rhode Island and her out-of-state residency.

Kalus seized upon a state Department of Administration hearing to testify against McKee’s proposed raises for 13 department directors.

“I’m here today to comment on the pay raises, which showed a governor who is completely out of touch with the working people of Rhode Island,” said Kalus, the Republican nominee for governor.

“When we talk about leadership, we talk about somebody with the ability to recruit individuals to these roles, and the governor lacks the ability to do that. Other governors do not have that problem,” Kalus said at the hearing, required by law, that McKee said spelled out a narrow window to request raises by September 30, or defer raises for a year.

McKee defended the raises, and the timing of the request, just weeks before the November 8 general election.

“I believe it was the right thing to do, and I’ll stand by the decision, regardless of what the consequences are,” McKee said.

“This can has been kicked down the road for far too long and somebody had to step up and take the heat for this in the campaign and do the right thing for the people in the state of Rhode Island,” McKee told reporters at an unrelated event later in Barrington.

McKee initially requested raises of up to $60,000 per year for the Department of Health Director, who is required by law to be a physician. His budget director submitted a letter from McKee, asking for phased raises, starting with, for example, a $10,765 per year increase for the Health director.

Kalus and McKee also traded barbs on a Providence Journal story, questioning a tax break Kalus and her physician husband received for their home in Illinois, while living in and registering to vote in Florida. Kalus said she changed her voter registration after moving to Newport, Rhode Island early in 2022.

“My address at home in Newport has already been published online so everybody knows where I live. What it is is going back a number of years, and what it is is a distraction from the fact … let’s talk about what happened last week,” she said, pointing to two issues that she viewed as negatives for McKee: a federal judge struck down as unconstitutional tolls on trucks to fund road and bridge improvements, and sharp increases in utility bills approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

“Talking about, you know, where I was in the past or where I was working is a distraction from very significant news that has come up in the last week,” she said.

Talking with reporters, McKee questioned Kalus’ origin and residency.

“Did she fly in from Illinois or did she fly in from Florida? I mean, there is certainly a mystery to her presence here and it makes sense to get to the bottom of it,” McKee said.

Kalus and the McKee administration has been in mediation over a threatened lawsuit following the early end to a contract between the state and Doctors Test Centers, a firm founded by Kalus and her husband Dr. Jeffrey Weinzweig to provide COVID testing services for the state Department of Health.