Helena Buonanno Foulkes, Democratic candidate for governor, said this in her initial campaign video a few months ago:
“… In contrast to the Trumpian divisiveness we’ve been living in, now is the time to come together with a sense of unity …”
Since then she has twice referred to current Gov. Dan McKee as “over his head” and last week, this: “For many Rhode Islanders, this story feels all too familiar, yet another career politician finds himself in the shadow of an FBI investigation. Once again, Dan McKee has shown that he cares more about enriching his well-connected friends than serving the people of our state. How can Rhode Islanders possibly trust him now?”
She refers to a reported development that the feds have joined Attorney General Peter Neronha’s review of the procurement process for an education consulting contract with a company known as the ILO Gorup.
Given the COVID environment in early 2021 and the limited RIDE resources to deal with things such as school openings, virus testing programs and an initiative to build municipal education operations, McKee could have simply made the hire of ILO with the same COVID emergency executive authority his predecessor Gina Raimondo had used to spend tens of millions to create programs and strategies to battle the virus. He could have taken advice from his long-time education and transition adviser Mike Magee to directly bring on an ally in the field to do the work and no one would have blinked.
But the new McKee administration, in an ironic overreach for transparency, sloppily bid out the work, which in large part ended right back in the lap of the same people he would have hired in the first place.
Buonanno Foulkes knows her key supporter Raimondo made some people rich during COVID without the thought of a bid. And it is a lock that if the former CVS executive, or the other leading Democratic candidate Nellie Gorbea, were governor in the heat of the COVID crisis, each would have reached into her own network for expertise as well.
Buonanno Foulkes’ barrage of personal attacks on McKee is just getting started, because, despite the gooey campaign promise to the contrary, that’s the Trumpian scorched earth playbook her campaign will employ. It’s a big hill to climb to paint the current governor as dumb and dirty, especially when it is highly likely nothing comes of the ILO law enforcement review, and most voters, whether they like McKee or not, see him as an honest broker.
Then again, Buonanno Foulkes is the junior varsity compared to Rhode Island GOP Chairperson Sue Cienki, who, regarding the ILO saga, issued this statement in part:
“Gov. McKee is simply another corrupt politician that is more interested in lining pockets of his close associates than helping struggling Rhode Islanders.”
The recently announced Republican seeking the governorship, newcomer Ashley Kalus, has up until now reportedly been vetted and advised by Cienki.
The upstart candidate may well want to research and review the regular spew from her party leader before she leans in any further for her guidance.
There are many reasons the Rhode Island GOP can’t get out of its own way. Leading the list is the consistent corrosive and thoughtlessly empty rhetoric the chairperson provides.
The party is understandably excited with a candidate in Kalus who says she’s dumping in at least a half-million dollars of her own money.
In the year’s gubernatorial race, Rhode Island Republican officials would do well to take the third option from an old cliché, passing on an effort to lead or follow and just plain get out of her way.
Dan Yorke is the PM Drive Host on 99.7/AM 630 WPRO, Dan Yorke State of Mind weekends on Fox Providence/WPRI 12 and owns communications/crisis consulting firm DYCOMM LLC.