I’m Ian Donnis. This week, I’m talking with two fellow political reporters about the CD2 race and other top campaigns. We have a panel discussion with a trio of UMass/Dartmouth students about how climate change is affecting their political choices. And I’ll talk with the GOP candidate in the First Congressional District, Allen Waters. 

First up: our reporter panel on Rhode Island’s top political races

Ian Donnis: Ed Fitzpatrick from Globe Rhode Island and Steph Machado from WPRI TV Channel 12. Welcome back to both of you.

Steph Machado: Thanks again.

Ed Fitzpatrick: Thanks, Ian. Thanks for stacking this panel with Syracuse graduates.

Ian Donnis: You got it. There's been a lot of national attention recently and papers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times about Rhode Island's second congressional district race. Out of town voters seem surprised that this is a competitive race in Rhode Island, a place where voters normally vote for Democrats, but I think this is unsurprising. After all CD2 leans more conservative. Allan Fung has deep roots in the district. And that's a big part of the puzzle. Wouldn't you say Steph?

Steph Machado: Yeah, I would say local observers knew that this seat could turn red once Alan Fung got in the race and much sooner than national observers caught on to the fact that this was really a race to watch. As you said CD2 leans more conservative Allan Fung was a popular mayor of Cranston, he doesn't hold some of the hard right views, even though he is a Republican, and you know, has said he'll vote for Kevin McCarthy for Speaker and all of that. He's popular among independents and Democrats and Republicans, especially in Cranston, which is such a stronghold of CD two.

Ed Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I mean, you see Fung emphasizing his strengths with ads about how he's a local, likable guy who eats clam chowder and drinks awful awfuls but you also see the Magaziner campaign saying, Well, you might like him, but he, you know, you're not gonna like the Republicans he's affiliated with in DC: McCarthy, Donald Trump. And now you see the like, just this week, the AFL CIO went after Fung's record as mayor putting out a flyer about the Budlong pool falling apart. So yeah, it is on, there's millions of dollars flowing into this race. The New York Times just had a story the other day about the race and all eyes on on Rhode Island.

Ian Donnis: Part of what's interesting to me is how Democrats have been trying to use the same playbook from 2006 when Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse was able to defeat Republican US Senator Lincoln Chafee, who was then very popular by associating him with George W. Bush. This time around, Fung's appeal as a former local mayor seems to have helped him a lot. But let's move on and talk about how Jill Biden the First Lady was in Rhode Island this week, each of you caught up with her a little bit. Ed does an appearance by Jill Biden really move the dial for Democrat Seth Magaziner.

Ed Fitzpatrick: I think it could help him in the sense that she really tried to speak to the independent voters that are lean-- a good chunk are going toward Fung and some Democrats to a surprisingly large number of Democrats say they would support Fung. So she was saying, You know what? Well, there's no us versus them. Was her message last night we we have a lot more in common. And, you know, so, you know, a visit by the First Lady shows how much Democrats are putting on this race.

Ian Donnis: What do you say Steph?

Steph Machado: Well, I don't think she mentioned Allan Fung's name in her remarks, at least at the event that I was at where she was stumping for Seth Magaziner at an Italian feast society, location in Cranston or she was really focusing on we need to have a Democratic majority in Congress so that her husband, President Biden, would be able to get more of his agenda done. So it was less about the individual Republican that was running in the race. And more about we need to keep this seat blue. And of course, you know, she touted the reasons why she felt Steph magaziner is the best candidate, but she wasn't necessarily attacking or slamming Allan Fung. She left that to some of the other surrogates who spoke like Jack Reed, or Jim Langevin who were also participating in these in this big Democratic Party hoopla yesterday,

Ed Fitzpatrick: And she really emphasized that personal story she had of a friend who had an abortion when she was 17 and emphasize abortion rights, tying that in with the national agenda.

Ian Donnis: Allan Fung has been describing himself as a moderate he says he wants to restore a moderate from New England among the Republican caucus in Washington. At the same time, he's been very reluctant to criticize Donald Trump when asked about Trump by reporters, and he took part in a fundraiser in Boston Wednesday with Steve Scalise, a very conservative member of the House GOP in Congress. Isn't it kind of unrealistic to think that Fung if he were to win election is really gonna have a moderating influence on Republicans in Washington Steph?

Steph Machado: Yeah, I think that is what it can be a little bit confusing about Allan Fung is that he does say that he that he has more moderate views than the rest of his party, talks about climate change, for example. He says he supports a woman's right to choose, you know, to a certain extent, along in the pregnancy, but then we see him fundraising with Kevin McCarthy with Steve Scalise this week, he says he will vote for McCarthy because look, he's going to be a freshman if he's elected a freshman Congressman who will want to be in with the party leaders and not entering Congress immediately as a pariah, but to voters, I think it can be a little bit confusing to see what he says his views are on individual issues, and then to see the way he interacts with other members of the party that have different views.

Ian Donnis: On the other hand, Ed, we know that voters care a lot about pocketbook issues, even if the causes for high inflation are in part due to the pandemic, supply chains, different work habits, all that. Is it no surprise that high inflation continues to put wind in the sails of Republican candidates?

Ed Fitzpatrick: That's totally true, Ian. I mean, the Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll showed that cost the inflation cost of living was the number one issue by a longshot. I mean, abortion was the second most important issue to voters, but it was far behind in the second position.

Ian Donnis: And we see Magaziner shifting his message now to focus more on the economy. After earlier talking about the Republicans in Washington, how more than 130 members of the US House voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. What do you make of this change in messaging Steph?

Steph Machado: Yeah, I mean, as Ed said, both the Globe poll and the WPRI Roger Williams poll showed that cost of living is the number one issue for voters. Yes, they care about abortion rights, it obviously provided a bit of a boost for Democrats, when Roe v. Wade, was first overturned over the summer. But cost of living is on everyone's mind. It affects everyone from the cost of rent, to gas to groceries, and all of it and so Magaziner put out a new ad touting his economic message. And he's really been hammering his message that he wants to hold the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies accountable and, and shifting that a little bit and shifting his message about Fung as well, rather than calling him an extremist, focusing again, on the fact that he would align himself with Republicans that have, you know, anti abortion views and views that the average Rhode Islander may not agree with.

Ian Donnis: Well, let's shift gears to talk a little bit about the race for governor. Speaking of inflation, Republican candidate, Ashley Kalus, has been talking a lot about inflation, the cost of living some of the downsides, perhaps of Governor McKee's rule: underperforming schools, the ILO group controversy, do you think she's making a persuasive enough case, Ed to overcome doubts about her relatively short time in Rhode Island?

Ed Fitzpatrick: Well, she still been trailing in our most recent poll by 10 percentage points. But in that race, too, I mean, cost of living is the big issue. And she's been emphasizing that a lot. Government McKee comes back by talking about the unemployment rate being near record levels, record low levels right now. And some of the tax relief that the General Assembly passed this year so that it remains to be seen if she gets enough traction there.

Ian Donnis: Both of these candidates talk about education Steph. That's a subject that you cover a lot. Do you think one of them is making them better pitch to voters on that issue?

Steph Machado: Well, Governor McKee has a history of working in education and what he did when he was Cumberland Mayor, but that was also quite a number of years ago. So do voters have that long of a memory or do they take that into consideration. That's something he did quite a number of years ago when they're deciding whether to elect him Governor. Ashley Kalus, though, is really still an unknown figure in Rhode Island. Who doesn't have any specific bona fides to speak of when it comes to Rhode Island education. She has been hammering McKee about the RICAS scores not being released before the election. But he also has only been governor for a short time and the test was taken last spring. So it's hard to say whether the voters would blame him specifically for low scores, if that turns out to be what they are. So I think education is a huge issue for voters. I'm not sure either candidate yet has made a clear case as to why they are the best. But again, I still still think it's much to be seen.

Ian Donnis: Ed, one race I'm keeping an eye on in terms of the General Assembly is Republican challenge to House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, the Republican candidate Dana Traversie is not well known. What are you looking for in legislative races?

Ed Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I don't think any of the leaders will get knocked off including Shekarchi but there are some you know, the Republicans have put up more candidates than they did two years ago far more. And they're trying to pick up some seats, trying to target seats like representative Justine Caldwell in East Greenwich. They've prioritized a few races there. But the Republicans are also playing defense, you know, they've had the both the House Minority Leader and the Senate Minority Leader leave and Democrats are trying to pick up those seats. And Justin Price who was down in DC for the on January 6, is also facing a challenge for Megan Cotter Democrat down in Richmond. And so that's one seat the Democrats are hoping to pick up

Ian Donnis: And Steph, you focus a lot on Providence, what are you expecting in terms of the relationship between the cities next mayor, Brett Smiley, and the city council?

Steph Machado: I think it's, I'm very excited to cover it. I think it's going to be really interesting. You know, obviously, right now, everyone has a very all the counselors seem to have a very collegial relationship with Brett Smiley say they're looking forward to working with him. But we do know that he disagrees with some of the more progressive views of Rachel Miller, who at the moment is expected to be the next council president. She supports rent control, for example, which is something that Mr. Smiley does not support. And that's going to be a big issue as rents are rising in Providence and the council and the next mayor are going to be grappling with what should we what can we do to try and bring these prices down and increase affordable housing? That could be something that they disagree on. Councilwoman Miller, when I spoke to her a number of weeks ago said she thinks that's that's a good thing, right? They're not going to agree on everything, but as long as they can, you know, work together and collaborate. So we always tend to see the mayor and the council clash. And we know that Mayor Elorza and council president Igliozzi have had many many fights. So it'll be interesting to watch and we'll have to see. All right, we've

Ian Donnis: All right, we've got to leave it there. Thank you so much. Target 12 investigator from WPRI TV, Steph Machado.

Steph Machado: Thanks for having me Ian

Ian Donnis: And reporter from the Boston Globe's Rhode Island office, Ed Fitzpatrick

Ed Fitzpatrick: Thank you.

How is climate change affecting the votes of students at UMass-Dartmouth?

University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth was recently ranked as one of the top colleges in the state for student voting. Today we’re talking with three students from the college about how climate change and the environment will affect the way they vote in Massachusetts next month. Independent voter Barbara Gurgel is a graduate student studying professional writing and communications, while also pursuing a master's degree in Journalism at the Harvard Extension School. She lives in Medford. Independent voter Aidan Goddu is a senior studying history and will be voting in Mashpee. Democratic voter Kelsey Wink is a freshman pre-law student studying political science, and living in Dartmouth. 

Ian Donnis: How important is the issue of climate change to you this election season? And how might it affect the way you vote? Let's start with Kelsey.

Kelsey Wink: So over this past summer, we've seen an increase in storms like Hurricane Ian, which we experienced this past month. Wildfires, drought, dry heat across the US. My hometown state is New Jersey. So I had the opportunity to complete my mail in ballot as I attend an out of state university. When choosing who I was going to vote for I considered each candidate's stance on particular environmental issues, such as protection and preservation of our biosphere, their thoughts on climate change, and how it's going to be tackled, and considerations for New Jersey achieving 100% renewable energy. I voted for the candidate who best matches my views on these topics, and other considerations such as serving our state, with their voters best interest in mind.

Ian Donnis: How about you Aidan?

Aidan Goddu: I definitely think climate change is a very important political issue. It's certainly affected the way that I vote. For me personally, it's put a lot of focus on local issues as well. Where I'm from on the Cape I'm from upper cape, the town of Mashpee, there is a military base, very large air force base that is on the upper cape. And what's been a recurring theme for over 20 years now has been essentially the runoff from fire retardants that the base uses. It's not infrequent to see votes related towards kind of managing water and wastewater. And so I always try to tell people in my locality, you know, to pay attention to that.

Ian Donnis: Barbara, how important is climate change to you as a voter?

Barbara Gurgel: I really wish that I could say that it's the most pressing issue in this current election. Unfortunately, it does seem like our democracy is being eroded out from under us at the current moment. It is still top of mind, I'm double checking that every candidate that I vote for does support climate change measures and is as concerned as I am with climate change. But luckily, we live or I live in Massachusetts, my local candidates do seem to be quite concerned.

Ian Donnis: Aidan, are you satisfied with efforts to address climate change? It seems like a lot of times we hear a lot of talk, but not that much action. If this is the case, what will it take to get politicians to act more forcefully?

Aidan Goddu: On the one hand, I'm glad that many politicians are starting to recognize it as an issue. But I would say I've been dissatisfied with the actions that they've taken so far. In many cases, I think immediate action is necessary. And so part of what we can do is both contacting our representatives by emailing their offices, and kind of letting them know that this is what we care about as voters. But another issue is also a lot of times people don't necessarily pay as much as attention on kind of local issues. A lot of focus is on the national stage. But at state level politics and county level and town level, there's a lot of action that I think we could do to support it as well.

Ian Donnis: Barbara, what do you think it'll take to spark more action on climate change?

Barbara Gurgel: I'm not satisfied, right? It's too little, it's too late. Unfortunately, it seems like people have waited until now, you know, to make meaningful action. Some action is better than zero action, but it's not enough. And in in order for politicians to pay attention, we have to hold them accountable. Right. If this is a life threatening event that is looming over us, we need to make them care about it as much as we care about it. Because the politicians in general, the state, they're not going to care about things until the public makes them care about things.

Ian Donnis: How about you, Kelsey, how can the public make politicians care about this issue?

Kelsey Wink: I mean, climate change, I believe is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. And it's something that has to be more addressed like what Aidan said, in our local, our municipal and our congressional areas. We do have like in New Jersey, we have experienced massive erosion shorelines, plastic waste and marine ecosystems. It's just going to take a long time to fight this issue.

Ian Donnis: Finally, Democrats ability to maintain control of Congress in midterm elections next month may depend on turnout by young voters. Voters in Massachusetts typically vote for Democrats. So it might be difficult to assess the situation out of state. But Barbara, do you think young voters are energized enough to keep democratic control of Congress this year?

Barbara Gurgel: No, frankly, I don't think that young people are energized. They are disillusioned, and rightly so I wish it weren't the case. But I think a lot of them a lot of young people see voting, like brushing your teeth, right? It's the least amount of thing that you can do. It's the baseline thing, but it can't be the only thing that you're doing. But a lot of other -- young people are just not interested in participating in the system that is not serving them in any way. I think it's hard to strike that balance of doing the bare minimum, even though you know that doing the bare minimum may not be enough.

Ian Donnis: What do you say, Kelsey?

Kelsey Wink: Young voters today, most do not believe that the government cares about them, nor that the efforts will produce any meaningful change. Unlike older generations, who have always cared about what the government has to say and what it has to offer them. The young generations today, they don't really have an awareness of how politics affect them. So at that point, it's like why should they care in the first place? However, I do hope that the young population will become very influential. Their voices can make a difference in any type of election, especially this upcoming midterm election, which could potentially surprise us in one way or another.

Ian Donnis: Aidan, how do you see the level of energy among young voters?

Aidan Goddu: It's definitely lower than it is with with older demographics. Part of it comes from younger people take less interest in these things, and a sort of sense of disillusionment that I think is very present in our generation. However, I do think that this particular midterm election presents a very interesting opportunity to see if we can change young voter turnout with the recent presidential policy of student debt relief, the recent pardoning of many people who had convictions for marijuana possession. I think it presents an opportunity for young voters to prove that if you enact policies that we like, you will essentially be rewarded with increased voter interest in turnout.

Ian Donnis: Thank you for joining us, Aidan, Barbara and Kelsey

Allen Waters, GOP candidate for RI CD-1

Democrat David Cicilline is running for his seventh term as the congressman from Rhode Island’s First Congressional District. I’m joined now by his Republican opponent Allan Waters, who grew up in Providence and has run for a series of public offices.

Ian Donnis: Allen Waters, welcome to The Public's Radio.

Allen Waters: Oh, thank you very much. So glad to be here. First time on, and looking forward to a great five minutes.

Ian Donnis: Why are you running in Rhode Island's first congressional district?

Allen Waters: Well, you know, overall, the nation has some problems, you know, we're polarized, the growth of, you know, we have some problems with long term politics on both sides of the aisle. And I just think as an ordinary citizen, I wanted to make a difference. And then Rhode Island, of course, can do a whole lot better with statistics that we measure.

Ian Donnis: What makes you a better candidate than the Democratic incumbent, David Cicilline?

Allen Waters: Well, some things make me better and some make things may be different. I'm a Black Republican candidate, endorsed by the Rhode Island Republican Party running in the first congressional district. I think I offer a broad based views. Married, family, five children, four grandsons. I look at life, perhaps a little bit differently. I grew up in a family, fourth generation Rhode Islander, fourth generation Providence, I spent a career in financial services like investment consultant, I'm not now. By the way I'm on Social Security. I'm 66. So I might be Republican. But all those stories about Social Security is not going to happen. I support Social Security and Medicare.

Ian Donnis: Do you support the stance of some Republicans to raise the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 and Social Security to 70?

Allen Waters: Well, you know, we have raised them over the years because people live longer. The whole program was designed really, when people were most, very poor, but it became more broad based. That said, part of my platform is fiscal responsibility. And both sides of the aisle keep running up the debt. And we have more expenses, and probably we need more departments. And I just believe that as a response from hopefully responsible adult in the room as the next congressman, for CD1, I'm going to do things such as promote reducing federal expense, not increasing it.

Ian Donnis: You've run for office a number of times, and we see how Republicans have had a hard time winning office in Rhode Island. Currently, only 15 members of the 113 lawmakers in the state legislature are Republicans. Back in the 80s and 90s, the GOP here had more success when it was a little bit more moderate. Is that a sign that Republicans need to be more moderate in Rhode Island to win success at the ballot box?

Allen Waters: Well, of course, we get tagged by the competition of what we are, I think the Republicans have a problem, just a marketing problem. Defining yourself, especially in off years, where then people get to understand what we really are about But that said, sure, I think people who are more moderate, have a better chance, a broad based chance probably winning over those independents that could swing Republican. But uh, you know, I just like to say that, even though we're moderate, I mean, on the other side of the fence, people like Jack Reed, David Cicilline, Whitehouse. You know, if you look at the voting record on gov track, they act like moderates, but they vote like leftists. So, you know, depends on what the people want.

Ian Donnis: What would you cite as an example of a leftist vote by one of those members of Congress?

Allen Waters: Well, you know, I think some of their standards in terms of abortion is getting much more radical. You know, I believe abortion -- first of all, I'm personally pro life. I did get the endorsement or suggestion, recommendation by the Rhode Island right to life committee. That's a nice, it's a beautiful thing. But I'm pragmatical I'm a politician, it should be safe and rare. And some of the stances that go to aborting children just about at birth. It's just a little aggressive for me, and I'll leave it at that because we only have five minutes.

Ian Donnis: We see how there are a lot of Republican candidates running nationwide who reject the results of the 2020 presidential election. Do you accept the results of that election?

Allen Waters: President Joseph Biden is certified. That means he's the President of the United States. It's time to move on and any corrections or fixes we can make in the future should be done so by both parties.

Ian Donnis: With some prominent Republicans like Kari Lake, a candidate for governor in Arizona promoting this false belief that the election was stolen, do Republicans like you have an obligation to speak out more about how Republicans should support the results of the 2020 election?

Allen Waters: Again, we're being pushed by the competition on who we -- if President Joe Biden is the president, but there if there are other people be they Republicans and not conservatives and not want to continue to investigate the election, that's their prerogative. But I'm Allen Waters running for Congress in the first congressional district of Rhode Island. I can't worry about somebody named Lake I'm worried about Allen Waters.

Ian Donnis: Allen Waters, Republican candidate in Rhode Island's first Congressional District. Thank you for joining us.

Allen Waters: Thank you very much.

Thanks for listening to our show this week. If you have a question or comment, drop us an email at news@thepublicsradio.org. or connect with me on Twitter @IanDon. This has been a production of The Public’s Radio. Our producer is James Baumgartner, with additional help this week from Leah Freeman and Mareva Lindo. Our editor and executive producer is Sally Eisele and our CEO and General Manager is Torey Malatia. I’m Ian Donnis and I’ll see you on the radio.