Hirons challenges incumbent Costantino for District 44 seat

Hirons challenges incumbent Costantino for District 44 seat

SMITHFIELD - Though Republican Philip Hirons may be waging a self-proclaimed low-key campaign against incumbent Democrat Gregory Costantino for the House of Representatives District 44 seat, Hirons said that Smithfield needs "good representation in the General Assembly," and he'll be happy if he wins on Tuesday.

Costantino, of Lincoln, ran for the District 44 seat in 2012 after beating out the incumbent five-term state Rep. Peter Petrarca in a Democratic primary election and then defeated Republican candidate Jim Archer, the current Smithfield Republican Town Committee president, 4,833-2,641 in the general election.

Costantino told The Valley Breeze & Observer that when he was last elected, he made a commitment to the people of District 44, which covers parts of Smithfield, Lincoln and Johnston, to work on job creation and change the overall direction of the state. "I haven't finished the job," he said. "I think I've just gotten started."

Costantino said that he hears residents in his district complaining about jobs, the economy, and educating their children. "Once kids receive an education, they have to move away," he said. "There's nothing here for jobs."

Costantino said that two years ago, he was unhappy with Petrarca's work, which motivated him to run for office. "It wasn't about me," he said. "It was more about the people in the district."

Hirons, who lives in Smithfield and is the current vice president of the Republican Town Committee, said that he's not a fan of leaving seats unopposed during election season, and that it was a late decision to challenge Costantino.

Hirons said that he ran for essentially this same seat in 2000, and again for the state Senate District 22 seat in 2002, but he was unsuccessful both times.

Republicans currently hold the majority in Smithfield's Town Council and School Committee, but Democrats hold the state representative and state Senate positions. "In the last decade, we've shown what good Republican leadership has done in Smithfield," Hirons said. "We should be capable of sending someone to the General Assembly."

Although, he added, it's been a low-key campaign for him. "I'm not spending a lot of money on this," he said. Costantino, on the other hand, has been advertising and waging a door-to-door campaign to speak directly with residents. "I made a promise I would come back out in two years. I keep my promises," he said. "I haven't hit all the doors," but he said that he's been walking every night. "I see what people's concerns are. I will respond to their issues and concerns."

Hirons said that one of the biggest issues facing the state right now is the 38 Studios deal. Costantino said that he voted against making the $12.3 million bond payment for failed 38 Studios, and that "some type of investigation" is needed to see what happened with the debacle that took place. Hirons accused Costantino of voting for the amendment not to pay the bond, but then voting for the fiscal year 2015 budget, which included repayment of the 38 Studios bonds.

"I voted for the budget, absolutely," Costantino responded. "The budget is comprised of 22 articles. I took out that one piece regarding the bond to pay 38 Studios. I don't think it's responsible for us to hold up a whole budget."

Costantino's brother Steven was the chairman of the House Finance Committee when the 38 Studios deal passed, a fact which Hirons mentioned. "38 Studios went through his committee. If they call him in, they call him in," Costantino said. "I've always maintained that it should be investigated."

Hirons also pointed out that Costantino has been advertising as "the change we need," but questioned how he can be change if he's already in office. "We always need to take a look at ourselves. Change is always a part of that equation," Costantino responded. "If you look at my votes and my record, I'm looking to change things. I will continue to vote for change."

Though a Democrat, Costantino said that his main objective is to represent the people of District 44 and do what's best to protect the taxpayers in Rhode Island, so during his first term, he voted on bills regardless of party affiliation.

"I voted on bills that Republicans had introduced that I thought were good bills," he said.

Hirons called him "conservative as far as Democrats go." In an ad in last week's Valley Breeze & Observer, Costantino dismissed party politics, writing, "Democrat, Republican, independent. It doesn't matter. What matters are results for the people of Rhode Island." He cited bills that he and Republican Rep. Joe Trillo (of District 24 in Warwick) introduced to lower the corporate income tax rate from 9 percent to 7 percent, which Costantino said was a major bipartisan effort to promote business growth and job creation in the state.

"Working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on the tax reform issue produced a great outcome for our state," Costantino wrote in the ad. "It's an example of what I will continue to do for my constituents ... making government responsive to their needs, putting politics aside and doing what's right. It should always be that simple."

If he is elected, Hirons, who works as a computer programmer in Framingham, Mass., said that the economy is nowhere near recovering. "It's difficult to pay people bi-weekly," he said. "The number of permits and licenses to conduct business (here) is ridiculous." He added that the state needs a balance between labor and management, and that he would be in favoring of looking at term limits.

"These positions aren't designed to be a full career," he said. "They're designed to be a way to give back." Both Hirons and Costantino said that they are in favor of restoring the Ethics Commission.

During his term, Costantino said that he introduced a bill for tax-free zones to alleviate taxes on businesses who locate to Rhode Island, but that the bill didn't go anywhere. If re-elected, he said that he wants to reintroduce it in the next session.

He said that he voted against raising the gas tax, as well as raising inspection fees on cars, and he hasn't accepted any pay raises in office.

"I don't think I should be getting a pay raise when the state is facing hundreds of millions of dollars of deficit," he said. "I think I've really worked hard for the people and I feel confident. I hope they return me," he said.

Below are profiles of the candidates:

Gregory Costantino

21 Greenwood Lane, Lincoln

Age: 54

Resident: 9 years

Employment: Director of Operations at Venda Ravioli for 30 years.

Education: LaSalle Academy and two years of college.

Activities: Member of Furniture Bank and John Hope Settlement House.

Public Service: State Representative, District 44, 2012-present.

Family: Married to Lisa; three children: Sofia, Camille, and Gregory.

Issues: Costantino said in a statement, "I will always be fighting for the taxpayers. We can change, as in improve upon, the way our government is run with the right leadership. I have worked with my colleagues of other political affiliations to get the job done and will do so again if given the chance."

Philip Hirons Jr.

19 Lakeside Drive, Smithfield

Age: 46

Resident: 15 years

Employment: Application developer at IDC in Framingham, Mass. for 9 years; previously, president of Hirons Software Development for 5 years.

Education: Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, 1986; Rhode Island College, 1 year.

Activities: Civil Air Patrol (United States Air Force, Auxiliary), Lieutenant Colonel; R.I. Wing Inspector General; Past Assistant Treasurer of Smithfield Sportsman's Club; Chairman of Junior Rifle; Rhode Island Republican Party Parliamentarian; Rhode Island Republican Assembly, past vice president; Rhode Island Republican Chairman's Caucus, past President and Vice President; Smithfield Republican Town Committee, current vice chairman and past chairman and treasurer.

Public Service: Ran unsuccessfully for State Representative in 2000, State Senate in 2002, and Town Council in 2010.

Family: Married to Jennifer (Winters); two children: Desiree, 10, and Charles, 8.