The three candidates vying to be the next state representative for District 30 met in debate Wednesday night at the Varnum Armory, moderated by ABC 6 newsman (and East Greenwich resident) Mark Curtis.
Independent candidate Kevin McDonough emphasized his 30 years of business experience and his lack of party ties, while Republican Anthony Giarrusso spoke of the need for more jobs the state and few Democrats in the General Assembly, and Democrat Mark Schwager highlighted his years of town government experience and command of the issues.
While the debate, sponsored by the Republican and Democratic town committees and East Greenwich Patch, was a largely friendly affair, there were moments of stark contrast between candidates.
In one instance, both Schwager and McDonough said they would support legislation legalizing gay marriage if elected, while Giarrusso said he would not.
Giarrusso said marriage was a sacrament and allowing same sex couples to marry would degrade “traditional” marriage. He also said he thought it should not be left up to the General Assembly but should be put to the voters as a referendum.
McDonough challenged Giarrusso on that point, saying if we had put abolition of slavery to a vote, it would not have passed. He also said allowing same sex marriage “does nothing against my marriage.”
When asked how they were planning to vote on ballot questions 1 and 2 (allowing table games at Twin River and Newport Grand), again Giarrusso was the odd man out, arguing that casino gambling should be restricted to resort destinations like Las Vegas and the Bahamas so that those gambling are not “using their milk money.”
Schwager pointed out that since gambling is the state’s third largest source of revenue – $350 million, behind income tax and sales tax – competition from new casinos in Massachusetts could prompt a budget crisis.
He asked Giarrusso how he would make up for lost gambling revenues. Giarrusso said he would do it by increasing jobs in the state.
On the question of sponsoring legislation to merge the Fire District with the Town, the three candidates said they would sponsor the enabling legislation if that was the will of the voters.
All three candidates agreed legislative grants – whereby individual legislators are able to give away thousands of dollars to local nonprofit ventures – should be abolished, with Schwager saying such requests would then have to go through the regular budgeting process. [Ed. Note: This paragraph was edited at 10 a.m.]
Referring to the 38 Studios deal that may end up costing taxpayers more than $100 million – and noting that then-Rep. Bob Watson cast the lone “no” vote against the deal – Curtis asked if the candidates were capable of taking similarly uncompromising stands.
“I vote on principle,” said McDonough, pointing out that as an independent he would not be subject to party politics.
Giarrusso said he would never vote yes on something he didn’t think was right.
Alluding to his practice as a doctor, Schwager said he would serve his constituents like he treats his patients, noting that when treating patients he doesn’t answer to the American Medical Association.
Curtis used a combination of questions submitted in the days before the debate to East Greenwich Patch and his own questions. We will be posting video from the debate early next week.