As a member of the small Republican minority in the state Senate, Dawson Hodgson said his job isn’t to rack up lots of big legislative accomplishments. Rather, Hodgson sees his role as setting the stage for fundamental change in Rhode Island state government.
"The payoff for what I'm doing now is going to be long, long after I'm gone," he said.
Hodgson, who is running for re-election to Senate Dist. 35 against Democrat Winters B. Hames III, lives in North Kingstown with his wife and two young sons on the farm that’s part of the family turf business, Sodco. A lawyer, he spent four years working in the state Attorney General’s office before deciding to run for state Senate two years ago. Today, he helps to manage the turf business.
Senate District 35 comprises most of East Greenwich and parts of North Kingstown, South Kingstown, and Narragansett.
In a recent interview in his office on farm, Hodgson said he's frustrated by what he sees at the General Assembly's lack of urgency to improve the economic situation in Rhode Island and the way it ignored the 38 Studios debacle all last year. (He was elected in 2010, after the decision was made to provide a the Curt Schilling video game company with a state-guaranteed loan of $75 million.)
“Thirty-eight Studios was not good judgment,” he said, laying blame on former Gov. Donald Carcieri, House Speaker Gordon Fox, Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, and former Economic Development Corp. Keith Stokes.
“Those four are the four pillars of power in that deal,” he said. “Who thought this was a good idea? The number one duty [of an elected official] is being a wise steward for the state of Rhode Island.”
Carcieri is out of office, of course, and Stokes was fired after the depth of the extent of the 38 Studios calamity was learned. Fox and Paiva-Weed remain in power, however, and Hodgson pointed out that Stokes is now working for The Mayforth Group, a lobbying firm in Providence.
“The higher up in government, the more blame you should carry,” Hodgson said.
He also faults Carcieri for the Deepwater Wind energy project, which the former governor pushed, because Hodgson said it will force residents to pay more for energy.
“The market cannot sustain it,” he said.
What businesses want from Rhode Island is a stable cost of living, said Hodgson. “Industry can’t come to Rhode Island just because government gives breaks.”
Rhode Island’s never going to be as cheap to live or do business here as in, say, the Midwest, he said, and that’s ok. But the cost of living and doing business here has to be in the ballpark of that of neighboring states.
“People and businesses will pay a premium for the quality of life we have here,” Hodgson said. “That [premium] is well below where we are now.”
Pension reform was a first step in that direction, he said, although he fears it won’t be a permanent fix.
Assuming he's re-elected, Hodgson said he’s looking forward to the next session. “I think there will be a lot of people in both parties who will want to work with me.”
Although he’s a Republican, he said, “I can work with some of my biggest legislative rivals.” He mentioned Sen. Michael McCaffery, a Democrat from Warwick who sponsored binding arbitration – something Hodgson vehemently opposes – in that chamber during the last session.
“We see things the same way on law and order issues,” he said.
Over the past two years, Hodgson has seen that his colleagues listen to him when he talks. And, unexpectedly, he said, “I’ve seen myself emerge as a conscious to the chamber."
He said he has had to point out the General Assembly doesn't always act in a way that showcases "the best values of government."
For instance, referring to the end of the GA 2012 session, he said, "Conducting state business at 3 in the morning. It’s uncalled for. You wouldn’t do anything of importance at 3 in the morning.”
To that end, he will try to enforce Senate rules going forward and maybe add to them. “It’s in the Senate rules that no session will go past 11 p.m.,” he said. “But you know what we do at the end of the session, we suspend the rules.”
He’s proud of his reputation. “People really appreciate that I do my homework,” he said. “I will be very direct … but it’s never, ever personal.”
Hodgson said he’s willing to introduce legislation even if he knows it won’t pass – “That’s no excuse not to get the discussion on the table.”
Among his ideas, he wants to enable private businesses to pay employees bi-weekly, instead of having to weekly. He said that Fidelity, for instance, has two payroll systems, one for Rhode Island and one for their offices in other states. And, he added, the state pays bi-weekly.
He also wants to put in place a “sunset” provision – a mandatory expiration – for most new laws and regulations. At the end of a law’s “life,” lawmakers could then look at it again and see if it worked, how much it actually cost to implement, and if it should be revised to work better.
Ultimately, Hodgson said, "It's about much, much more than me – it's about the future of our state."
Sen. Dawson Hodgson and his opponent, Winters B. Hames III, will meet in at the Varnum Armory on Main Street in East Greenwich. The three state House Dist. 30 candidates will also debate that night. If you have any questions for the candidates, please post them below or here or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.