4 candidates for Rhode Island governor meet in 1st TV debate of general election

By Eric Tucker, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

4 candidates for RI governor meet in 1st TV debate

BRISTOL, R.I. — Independent candidate for governor Lincoln Chafee defended his plan to impose a sales tax on groceries, medications and other exempt items during a debate Wednesday in which his Democratic rival pointed to his own cost-cutting record as proof that he’s the best qualified to deal with Rhode Island’s financial problems.

The two leading candidates routinely traded jabs in the first televised debate of the general election, with Chafee, a former U.S. senator, accusing Democrat Frank Caprio of ignoring failing municipal pension funds and Caprio saying Chafee had caved into union demands to win labor endorsements and wants to foist higher taxes on already struggling residents.

“If you want higher taxes, Mr. Chafee’s your man,” Caprio said, repeating an attack he’s made in a campaign ad against Chafee.

Chafee, Caprio, Republican John Robitaille and Moderate Party founder Ken Block are running to succeed term-limited Gov. Don Carcieri, a Republican. Neither Robitaille, a former senior aide to Carcieri, nor Block, a businessman, have held elected office. There have been no reliably conducted polls, but Caprio has held a commanding fundraising lead.

Chafee’s sales tax proposal is aimed at raising revenue in a state with a double-digit unemployment rate and chronic budget deficits. He has said his plan for a new tax shows a willingness to make tough and unpopular decisions and that the sales tax is preferable to higher property taxes.

“Experts say the sales tax is the least harmful to economic growth,” he said.

Caprio has said he would cut spending by $300 million over five years, but he would not specify during the debate about what state departments he would cut to achieve his savings.

Chafee identified himself as a “traditional conservative” when asked about his departure from the Republican Party in 2007 and subsequent endorsement of Democrat Barack Obama. Caprio was also asked where he stood politically in light of his visit in February to the Republican National Committee in Washington, a trip he has said was to see a friend.

“If you look at the men on stage, I’m the only one who hasn’t changed their party sometime in their career,” Caprio shot back.

Robitaille attacked the other candidates for making promises he said they couldn’t fulfill and for their opposition to a $75 million loan guarantee authorized by the state Economic Development Corporation to bring a Massachusetts video game company founded by Curt Schilling, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher, to Rhode Island.

“It’s awful what these men have done. They have put up a keep out sign,” Robitaille said.

Robitaille was the lone candidate to say he would not sign a bill legalizing gay marriage. Robitaille and Caprio said they would leave intact an executive order that cracks down on illegal immigration, while Block said he would alter it to remove the possibility of racial profiling and Chafee said he would repeal it altogether.

The debate at Roger Williams University in Bristol was co-sponsored by The Providence Journal and WPRI-TV.

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