Former U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha announced Tuesday his Democrat campaign to become Rhode Island's next attorney general, vowing to focus in part on prosecuting corruption and standing up to the Trump administration on certain issues.
Speaking in front of friends, supporters and his family on the waterfront of his hometown of Jamestown, Neronha offered this explanation for his campaign: "I’m running for attorney general because I know how important the office is to the safety and welfare of the people of Rhode Island. I’m running because there is much more work to do, work that builds on work I’ve already done as United States Attorney. I’m running because when Donald Trump decided in March that my work for the people of Rhode Island was finished, I decided that it wasn’t."
Neronha said his priorities as AG would include prosecuting corruption; fighting the opioid crisis, violent crime and childhood sex trafficking, and taking on issues on behalf of consumers.
"We’ll bring the kinds of cases we brought when I was U.S. attorney to recover wasted taxpayer money, protect consumers, protect the environment, and enforce civil rights," he said. "We don’t have to rely on a Justice Department with shifting priorities to do those things. We can do that ourselves, together, right here in Rhode Island, using our own laws."
Neronha was introduced by his two sons, Zach and Josh, and his wife, Shelly, a primary care doctor. He prefaced his campaign announcement by discussing his Rhode Island roots.
"My great grandfather came here as a fisherman from the Azores in the late 1800’s," he said. "My grandfather was raised here in Jamestown. My father was born and raised here too. They both worked on the ferries that connected Jamestown and Newport, my grandfather all his life. My mother arrived in this country at 19 with little formal education and no knowledge of English. But she worked hard, met my dad, and built a life. And even though they never went to college, my parents worked really hard to make sure that their kids had that chance - and that chance gave us everything."
Neronha said attorneys general will have to stand against the Trump administration on certain issues: "Whether those issues involve the environment, patently unconstitutional immigration policies, civil rights, or things we can’t yet foresee, there are going to be challenges ahead. Rhode Island, and the country, needs attorneys general who have the ability and experience to take on those challenges, and who understand that we don’t take an oath to support a President, we swear to support the Constitution of this state and of the United States."
The AG's office is up for grabs since term limits prevent two-term incumbent Peter Kilmartin from seeking re-election. No other candidates have announced a run for the office, although state Rep. Robert Craven (D-North Kingstown) is considering a campaign.
"I have not decided yet," Craven said in an email Tuesday. "I think both Peter and I are uniquely qualified candidates based on our experience as prosecutors. However, I have had many other experiences as an attorney that I think provide me with valuable experience for the job. I will announce my plans before the end of October."
Neronha served as US attorney after being appointed by President Obama in 2009. He was among the federal prosecutors who stepped down earlier this year following a request by the Trump administration.
During his time as Rhode Island's top federal prosecutor, Neronha's office brought corruption cases resulting in prison sentences against former House Speaker Gordon Fox, former Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau, former House Finance Chairman Ray Gallison, and a trio of North Providence city councilors.
Neronha previously served as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office and the attorney general's office.
In a Q&A with reporters, Neronha said "as much material as can get out there as possible" should be released about 38 Studios, but he said a judge must settle the details of that question. Kilmartin's office went to court to object to the release of some documents related to the case, some thought to be in possession of the AG's office.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have traditionally taken the lead in prosecuting corruption cases in Rhode Island. Asked what changes he would make to bolster the AG's role in that process, Neronha said, "I think you just have to have the will to do it. I don't think there's any magic."