Lt. Gov. Dan McKee emphasized themes of experience and aiding small business while announcing Tuesday that he'll seek re-election.
"I've had the opportunity to work with citizens, business owners and municipal leaders around our state on a number of fronts, from protecting the interests of utility ratepayers to launching a web site to help people shop for the best electric rates, to working to enable more regional and collaborative efforts between our communities," McKee said, joined by an audience of more than 100 supporters at Dean Warehouse Services in Warwick.
McKee, 66, a former six-term Cumberland mayor, won election as lieutenant governor in 2014. He faces a Democratic primary challenge from two-term state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, 27, who launched his run last month.
McKee seemingly made reference to Regunberg when he said "it is important that a lieutenant governor who is a heartbeat away from the governor's office be a proven executive, a trusted leader and someone who understands the unique qualities and strengths and weaknesses of our beautiful state. Coach Belichick probably said it better than I can: 'the lack of a competent backup quarterback puts the success of the entire state at risk.' "
When asked after his announcement if he thinks Regunberg lacks the experience to be lieutenant governor, McKee told reporters, "I don't know Aaron that well, so I'm not going to comment about him. But I can tell you that my point was that in the last year seven lieutenant governors became governors in the country. They were prepared to be governor, as I am. So I think it's very important that that's an evaluation the voters will make, but it's one they should take very serious, because a lieutenant governor could become governor. And you want to make sure that person has the experience to actually manage a state."
In a statement, Regunberg said he looks forward to "a spirited and respectful debate" with McKee. "The system needs change,” Regunberg said. “I’ve seen firsthand how often Rhode Islanders who can’t afford a Statehouse lobbyist get ignored. That’s why I’m running to be lieutenant governor -- because we need a statewide elected official who will bring the people's voice to the State House and fight for a future that is fair for all of us."
Asked about one of Regunberg's signature bills -- a new law introducing paid sick days for workers who don't get them, at firms with 18 or more employees -- McKee said, "If there is a continued attack on the ability for the small business to operate in Rhode Island, then those who want to put those mandates in place should also evaluate ways to offset those mandates so that the small businesses do not have to bear the whole burden of programs that the state thinks that they need to implement." Regunberg has described the sick day bill as a pro-business measure, since, he said, it will take sick workers out of the workplace and allow employees to better care for themselves and their families.
McKee said, if re-elected, he'll push for a constitutional amendment to allow governor and lieutenant governor to run as a tandem, and to allow the LG to take on additional responsibilities, possibly involving education and tourism.
The Cumberland Democrat said he has personally visited each of Rhode Island's cities and towns three times. McKee said his accomplishments include stopping National Grid from charging ratepayers a conversion fee when they choose a different electricity provider; creating a web site, Empower RI, where consumers can shop for electricity rates; and creating a cable TV show, Advance RI, to highlight challenges facing small business.
On the Republican side, newcomer Paul Pence is running for LG.