Excerpts from Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Block’s Q&A session with the Cranston Republican City Committee from Tuesday, January 7, following his presentation to the committee, seeking their endorsement in the 2014 Rhode Island Republican Gubernatorial Primary. I’ve paraphrased the questions, the answers are all direct quotations. A transcript of Mr. Block’s opening statement is available here.
Q about a constitutional convention:
A from Ken Block: The Constitutional Convention is ongoing. It’s the Governor’s job to be the cheerleader in chief for that effort. There’s a lot of education that has to happen. There’s a lot of candidate recruitment that has to happen. It is a gigantic exercise in the use of the bully pulpit, to push that convention where we need it to go, and it hasn’t happened.
Q about Ken Block’s 2010 Moderate Party gubernatorial run helping to elect Lincoln Chafee over Republican John Robitaille…
A from Ken Block: I looked at the political playing field in Rhode Island and what I saw was a disaster. The Republican Party was in shambles. You had a leadership crisis inside of the Republican Party at that time and there, to me, was not a viable way to take back Rhode Island with the way it looked at that point in time. This was the Gio Cicione years, this was all the agitation over should we open or close the primary. The state committee didn’t hold a meeting for months and months on end (ed note: this was challenged by the questioner)…I looked at the playing field, and what I saw was complete dysfunction. At that particular point in time, what made the most sense to me, was to start a new political party to try and solve the political problem that we had. And we worked ridiculously hard to do that. We had to get laws declared unconstitutional in Federal Court, we had to lay all the infrastructure for a new political party, and then it was only after we did all that, that we discovered that there’s a Rhode Island law that says the only way you can keep a political party alive after you create it is to run someone for governor… the executive committee came to me and said you have to be the guy…I became the candidate by default for the party in 2010 and we executed that race and we ran that race for a simple reason: we ran it, because we were required to by law.
Pointed follow-up Q: “You also took the governorship away from John Robitaille, who would have been a very effective governor…he had experience. You have no governing experience”….
A from Ken Block: Let me answer that a different way. How many of our governors, how many of our career politicians, have rescued us from the fate that we’ve been in? I can’t name any. We’ve done nothing but gone downhill. For the twenty years that I’ve lived here, our position has gotten worse. What Rhode Island needs right now is a Rick Snyder solution, like they had in Michigan…he’s a tech-guy like me. You know what he ran as? He ran as one tough nerd. He said, you know what, what’s broken is politics. And what I would suggest to everybody who’s here right now, if you think that Rhode Island is in a good place, go ahead and vote for somebody else. But if you think that where we are is unacceptable and should be fixable, we have to look at doing things very differently then they way we’re doing it right now, because it’s not working.
Second pointed follow-up Q: Rhode Island is worse off than we were three years ago, “and the reason we are is that we have an ineffective governor that you gave the state”….
A from Ken Block: What I will tell you is that, were I to do it again, I wouldn’t. What I will tell you is that a third-party is not an effective way to make the change that I know we need.
Q about the Republican party’s raffling off of an AR-15 as a fundraiser, questioner saying that he found “it very disheartening that a party that prides itself on family, safety and its children would auction off an automatic assault weapon”…
A from Ken Block: My personal thought on the auction itself is that I don’t think it was the best PR move for the party…I think that there were lots of things we could have auctioned off that would have raised equivalent amounts of money without dialing up what is a very contentious issue. Politics is about winning. Politics is about making change…I think it’s a mistake to focus away from economic and educational issues. As a party, I think it would have been a smarter choice to not stir the pot on that.
Q: Who was the last Republican you voted for for President?
A from Ken Block: The last Republican I voted for for President was George Bush (junior, upon clarification)
Q: Do you support right-to-work?
A from Ken Block: I think right-to-work is a fine idea that has no chance of ever passing in this state…I would not spend any political capital now, trying to pass it, because we can pass other things that would be far more impactful.
Q about the role of the Governor in building up the party…
A from Ken Block: At every city and town committee meeting I’ve done, they’ve had very large turnouts, in some cases record turnouts. And a lot of the people who came to hear me speak had never come to Republican town committee meetings before…It is crucially important to rebuild the party. We must recruit and get effective candidates, and we will. I have dedicated the better part of six years of my life, trying to make Rhode Island a better place. It’s not going to happen on the back of any one person who gets elected. It’s only going to happen when we turn out the political class who rules this state right now, and bring in a whole bunch of new individuals into the legislature and into government at all levels to get a better result for the people than we are.
Q: You’ve talked about a billion dollars in savings. How much is from the human services budget?
A from Ken Block: It’s going to be really hard to know, until you get in there and do it. I provided an analysis of health and human services spending for the state that came out in public in March of 2013. The contract that I had to sign to be able to do the work precludes me from saying anything about it, except what’s been put out into the public space. I will tell you that my expectation in doing this work for real is, using that same approach and technique across all of our spending programs, that we should be able to far exceed the difference in balance from the 2/3 of a billion that I’ve given you in TDI and unemployment insurance, and we should be able to go much further with everything else that we do.
Q about Mr. Block’s previous statement on vetoing any bills involving social issues…
A from Ken Block: We were talking about very specific social issues. We were talking about abortion, we were talking about gay marriage, and frankly we were also talking about guns. The context of that quote is that these are three sets of issues where the population is fairly evenly divided, and we can beat the snot out of each other over these issues endlessly, and we’re not going to get the resolution that one side or the other desperately desires. So for me as Governor, I would like to change the focus from those issues, because we cannot resolve those issues to anybody’s satisfaction…so let’s take a break and focus on the thing that, if we don’t fix it, we’re done.
Q about the WPRO radio boycott…
A from Ken Block: The campaign made a considered decision on which way to go on that; there was a lot of debate and we chose a way to go. And we’re going to have to deal with that, and do something about it, and we will.
Q on Mr Block’s basic position on the second amendment…
A from Ken Block: Rhode Island has among the strictest sets of gun rules in the country. I don’t believe we need any further gun laws in this state right now. We need to enforce the ones that are there. My stance on gun control is I want to hold it in place, so that we can focus on the economic issues…I would veto an effort to move gun control in any direction.
(Later, there was pointed follow-up about the possibility of a ban on armor-piercing ammunition…)
A from Ken Block: I am not going to move the needle one iota on gun control.
Q about school choice…
A from Ken Block: I sat on the board of RI-CAN, the educational reform group here in Rhode Island…I’m dedicated to getting better results from our schools. In terms of school choice, it’s not my priority…school choice is not a system-wide solution to the problem. My first step at going after education reform is a system wide approach and implementing something like what has happened in Oklahoma. They arrived at the same conclusion I have, which is that if you don’t get K through 3 right, you’ve blown it all the way through. Focus on K through 3, put in the resources that you need and the testing that you need, and make sure you get it right, so that by the time you get into 4th grade, you have everybody on a fairly level playing field….Putting the resources into this is crucially important, because if you do it effectively and spend the money — and it will cost more money, there’s no question about it — but if we put the money into it, and get it right, what we get out on the other end is priceless, because right now when we graduate children who cannot read or write or function beyond the 5th or 6th grade, we are graduating kids directly into the welfare system. We cannot afford that. So I believe that a very Republican thing to do is to fix that problem early, put the resources into it that are necessary, and fix it so we don’t perpetrate the problem that we have now.
Q about the role of school committees in Rhode Island…
A from Ken Block: There are some tools to bring school committees in line, because the state provides a lot of tax dollars to schools, so we have a means to enforce compliance. Frankly, one of the things I believe we should be doing is a model contract. The state should identify four or five non-negotiable items and if the school district wants state dollars, they’ve got to follow the rules that the school district is laying down.
Q about the use of e-verify…
A from Ken Block: I use it in my business. It’s simple. It’s effective. It enforces existing Federal laws. I don’t see any problem with using E-verify in any-way shape or form.
Q about “what sold you on voting for Barack Obama”…
A from Ken Block: I bought the vision that he would bring forward a workable healthcare solution because, as a business owner, I know I have an unsustainable cost. I have a cost of doing business that’s gone up in the last decade 172%. I have a well-paid staff, and I almost cannot afford to buy them health insurance anymore. We have to do something different with our health insurance delivery system, because it’s not working…I was hoping that the health insurance reform would do something to control the costs of what’s happening. Guess what? It didn’t. I bought into something that didn’t work. I made a mistake. I regret casting that vote.