Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block used a Statehouse news conference Wednesday afternoon to present a hat trick of related assertions: 1) Rhode Island Democrats are bad for previously supporting former House Speaker Gordon Fox; 2) rival GOP candidate Allan Fung is wrong to accept campaign contributions from members of the police union Fung negotiates with as mayor of Cranston; 3) all this, combined with Block's distance from politics as usual, makes Block the embodiment of change in the race for governor.
Casting himself as an outsider is easy for Block; he tried starting a third party and then halted the effort when the Moderate Party didn't catch on and Block instead decided to run as a Republican.
One day after Fung presented a plan to cut $200 million in taxes, Block began his press event by lamenting the fall of House Speaker Gordon Fox, who resigned last month -- one day after state and federal investigators raided Fox's Statehouse office and East Side home. Fresh signs have emerged that investigators are focusing in part on Fox's campaign fundraising.
"Reputationally, we all already known as the 'who do you know state,' " Block said. "and when this sort of thing happens .... in a state where we already have some diminished expectations, those expectations go down even more."
Block said claims by Democratic gubernatorial candidates Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo to be change agents are contradicted by how they "actively campaigned and helped that speaker" when Fox faced a tough re-election battle in 2012. He continued: "What the treasurer was doing, what the mayor was doing was kissing the brass ring of power that exists in Rhode Island. The speaker of the House is the titular head of the Democratic Party in this state, and when the speaker is in trouble, it's expected the troops will come around."
While the rallying around of partisans about a powerful legislative leader might not be unusual in any state, Block argues Democrats should have been wary, in part due to Fox's association with failed video game maker 38 Studios.
Dawn Bergantino, a spokeswoman for Taveras' campaign offered this response: "It's hard to take almost anything Ken Block says seriously. This is nothing more than him trying to distract voters from his right-wing stances against raising the minimum wage and enacting common-sense gun-safety legislation. We're confident that Rhode Island voters won't be fooled."
Block said Fox's demise should send a signal that it's not time for politics as usual in Rhode Island. He said a "culture of corruption" -- a term once invoked by former governor Don Carcieri -- is holding the state back.
Block then turned his attention to Fung, and how Fung basically said during an appearance broadcast this past weekend on WPRI-TV's Newsmakers that he didn't have a problem with accepting contributions from members of the police union he negotiates with in Cranston (the same union whose head Fung is trying to fire, FWIW).
"That's not a change," Block said. "That is the political status quo. And guess what? It is far from okay to accept buckets of money from the people that you negotiate with. It is shocking to me. And it should be shocking to everyone listening that any candidate for higher office would think that that is an okay thing to do when it so clearly is not. Common sense says if you're negotiating with somebody you shouldn't be accepting campaign cash from that same somebody -- ever -- because it corrupts the negotiation process, it's unethical, it should be illegal, and it's just morally wrong."
Block says as governor he wouldn't accept contributions from anyone involved in a negotiation with the governor office -- and he called on other candidates to make the same pledge.
Fung's campaign responded with this statement: "Ken Block’s campaign is sinking because of his support for President Obama, and as a result, is lashing out. If he truly believes in transparency and good government, he should release his tax returns."
Block says he'd release his tax return if elected governor. For now, the Barrington businessman said releasing the document could help his competitors in the business world.
This post has been updated.