Former state Rep. Joe Trillo, a one-time national committeeman for the Rhode Island Republican Party, scrambled the Ocean State's 2018 field for governor by announcing Tuesday that he will run as an independent.
Despite his longtime GOP affiliations -- including chairing President Donald Trump's RI campaign last year -- Trillo said he's running as a Trump-inspired independent because he thinks that gives him the best shot of winning. While many observers, of different party affiliations, think his move will benefit Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, Trillo said there are enough voters seeking a different direction that he can win.
He pointed to how most Rhode Island voters are independents and said he also hopes to reach out to Democrats. "I'm hoping I can get some of their support and I believe that [the way] to win with my message will be as an independent," Trillo said.
Trillo said he has not yet disaffiliated as a Republican, but plans to do so in the near future. "I really don't believe the Rhode Island Republican Party and the national party stands as they should with Trump as a president," he said, adding that he thinks the GOP is divided between Trump Republicans and "regular Republicans," and Democrats between "regular Democrats" and progressives.
Although Trillo had telegraphed for months his intention to run for governor, his move to pursue an independent campaign took Rhode Island's political scene by surprise.
The former Warwick lawmaker said many factors influenced his decision to run as a independent, including how, in his view, "the state Republican Party from day one has assumed that Allan Fung is the bearer of the Republican label and the party echelon to some extent has been out there shilling for Allan Fung from day one."
Fung, the mayor of Cranston, announced his second run for governor in October. His campaign declined comment on Trillo's move to run as an independent. State Republican Chairman Brandon Bell did not respond to a request for comment.
Trillo's announcement, delivered on WPRO's Matt Allen Show, sets the stage for a three-way contest featuring a Democrat, a Republican, and one or more independent in November 2018.
In a statement, T. Kevin Olasanoye, executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, said, "Joe Trillo will surely be the first of many Republicans who are abandoning President Trump and the Republican Party's failed policies."
Trillo, 74, served 16 years as a Republican state rep from Warwick before deciding not to seek re-election in 2016. After serving as GOP national committeeman, he elected not to pursue that role in 2012, dropping out shortly before a vote.
Trillo declined to comment on whether he expects Trump to come to Rhode Island to campaign for him.
But the past affiliation with Trump leads some Democrats to see his independent run as a benefit for Raimondo, in what is expected to be a bruising re-election campaign. The thinking is that Trump is more likely to get support from Republicans and conservative independents, helping to carve up the gubernatorial vote.
That's significant since Raimondo won her first term as governor in 2014 with 40.7 percent of the vote, compared with 36.2 percent for Fung, a Republican, and a surprising 21.4 percent for independent Robert Healey. Healey has since died.
Some Republicans also see Trillo's move as a benefit for Raimondo.
"Please tell me that rep Joe Trillo did not just announce he is going to run as an independent for governor ..." tweeted state Sen. Elaine Morgan of Hopkinton. "If that's the case just hand the governorship right back to Raimondo."
House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan is also running for governor as a Republican, and businessman Giovanni Feroce said he's leaning toward a run. Morgan did not respond to a request for comment.
Trillo said he wants to eliminate state-mandated car inspections in Rhode Island.
He said his platform also includes shedding the image of a sanctuary state; lowering the state sales tax to 5.5 percent; "putting discipline back in the classroom"; separate classes for Spanish speakers who do not yet know English; "stop tying the hands of police under the guise of racial profiling"; improving city and town roads; stricter penalties for animal abuse; and working with Trump to bring more federal aid to Rhode Island.
This post has been updated.