Part 1: James Lathrop, candidate for Rhode Island General Treasurer

IAN DONNIS: James Lathrop, welcome to The Public's Radio.

JAMES LATHROP: Well, thank you for having me.

DONNIS: Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you want to be Rhode Island General Treasurer.

LATHROP: So I'm a finance guy. This is my first real political campaign. I'm a CPA by nature, I worked in public accounting for about 15 years, had a couple businesses, self-storage and movie theaters. Got into government, I've been here for about 15 years for a couple of different communities. And the treasurer is really a job for someone like me to aspire to. It's really not a political job. I mean, you do run for office, but it's not a policymaker, so to speak, as a legislator would be. And there's a lot of technical parts of the job that worried me that the job was becoming political, that the people in charge didn't have the background that they needed. And it's my money, I have my pension with the state. I pay taxes and some of the stuff they do really does impact on the local level and some of the taxes on what communities have to contribute. So that's why I'm running. You know, with Seth Magaziner, terming out, and I honestly, I didn't feel the Democrats had any strong candidates. This was an opportunity and in life, it's the things that you don't do that you regret, and like I said, This is a job I truly aspire to. And not to take this opportunity. I think later in life, I would regret it.

DONNIS: If the voters were to elect you to one or two terms as general treasurer, what would be at the top of your list for goals that you would hope to accomplish during that time.

LATHROP: I think really to is to stabilize some of the pension investments, I think over the next five years, the markets are going to be crazy. I also believe that we really need to address COLAs while we canceled the COLAs as part of the pension reform.

DONNIS: One second for the folks at home COLA is cost of living adjustment.

LATHROP: Exactly. And while in the period of low inflation, it hasn't hurt that much. But now that we've got eight, nine and 10% inflation rates, I think we need to look at that maybe not bring the full cola. But if someone hasn't had an increase in their pension in eight or 10 years, they're really moving backwards. And we need to address that. We need to address financial education. And we need to address school funding in some of those aspects that we do. The treasurer has also office also has a program called Rhode Island Able, which most people probably never have heard of. I've talked to the office, and it's because they don't have any outreach people. And it's to help basically children or younger family members who are disabled and have a social security benefit. That is a program that I really think if I get elected, I want to promote more because I think it really does help individuals.

DONNIS: There are two Democrats running for general treasurer, former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, who is expected to leave that job any day now. What makes you a better candidate than either of those men?

LATHROP: Well, I think with James, he's a very nice person. But he really doesn't have the experience. I mean, he went right from college with a criminal justice major into politics. He was Central Falls mayor. I mean, they have a budget of what $19 million, just this office alone has a budget of nearly 50 million. In North Kingstown, we have general fund of about 120. Total, it's about 150 million. I just don't think he has the background for this position. And I think it's part of what this office has become. It's a stepping stone for someone who wants a career in politics.

DONNIS: As a financial expert, I wonder how you look at the problem posed by the Providence pension, which has less than a quarter of the money needed to fund its long term obligations. What do you think would be the best approach for addressing that problem?

LATHROP: They really need to have some serious reform in their pension. They need to make hard decisions, they're going to get a lot of people not to like them. But that's the only way they're going to address it. This bond is just I've described it as horrific. It's going to cause Providence to go bankrupt. The unions will have their money in their pension and secured and the town the city will have this debt and they will not be able to meet it. You look at their past performance on their pension. I think it was in 2020. If you look at their actuarial reports, they lost one and a half percent in a good year. How can I expect them to make nine and 10% in the markets coming up to meet the demands of this note? So I really... they've got a difficult choices. And you need -- I think Providence needs like a lot of communities and like myself in this role, someone who's committed to doing their job and not looking for their future job. I come from Connecticut, I think Lowell Weicker, you know, he became governor, we needed an income tax, Connecticut had problems. And he said, Look, I'm running for one term, I'm going to make all the decisions, you're all going to hate me. But at the end, I'm going to do what's best for the state. That's what Providence needs. They need an individual says, I'm going to do what's best for the city. And people may not like it. But at the end of the day, years from now, you're going to look back and say, you know, he made the right decisions.

DONNIS: And we should note that while the city has won legislative approval to possibly issue a $515 million bond with the idea of shoring up the pension fund, it's not clear right now, whether that plan will move forward. James Lathrop, we have time, I think for just one more question. I heard you say in an interview with Bill Bartholomew that you think Republicans have been not as successful as they would like in winning elections in Rhode Island, because they haven't been sufficiently moderate. They've been a little too much to the right. I was struck by that, because 10 years ago, former State Rep. John Laughlin told me the same thing in an interview, he thought the Republican Party needed to be more moderate in Rhode Island to win more offices. So why do -- you what is holding back the Republican Party from being more moderate or supporting more moderate candidates?

LATHROP: I think it's because at their core, the core base is a little bit more to the right. And it's hard to get someone to run, knowing that you're going to probably lose. I mean, it's a very expensive and time consuming prospect of running. And I think that's part of the reason why I think I can run. I tell people, I have a Republican brain and a Democratic heart. You know, I went to NYU, I have some social causes. I believe in mental health is a big priority to me. I've served on some boards, and finances is part of mental health. That's what the Republicans need is that they need to not only address their core, but they need to address those independents. Rhode Island is a moderate state. And if you're too extreme, you're not going to get the support.

DONNIS: We've got to leave it there. James Lathrop, Republican candidate for general treasurer. Thank you for joining us.

LATHROP: Well, thank you for having me. And I hope I get invited back again.

DONNIS: Absolutely.

PART 2: Jeann Lugo, candidate for Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor.

IAN DONNIS: Jeann Lugo, welcome to The Public's Radio.

JEANN LUGO: Thank you for having me, sir.

DONNIS: Tell us a little bit about your background and why you are running for lieutenant governor in Rhode Island.

LUGO: I'm a migrant from Puerto Rico. I came here at the age of five and I I ended up in a DCYF system at the age of 13. I was in foster care and to the age of 18, where I would then work in different places, security field and ultimately went to Boston to work at a security company. Ultimately wanted to come back to Rhode Island and do something that is more community related. So I decided to become a police officer. And that's where I am now. I now live in Warwick, Rhode Island, serving in Providence as a police officer. I'm running for lieutenant governor because I believe the quality of life in the state has declined. We see it in our businesses. We see it in our schools, our social services, so I am running specifically to improve on those aspects.

DONNIS: People in Rhode Island sometimes like to debate about whether the state really needs a lieutenant governor. The late Robert 'Cool Moose' Healy ran for that office with the idea of eliminating it. What do you say on the question of why does Rhode Island really need a lieutenant governor?

LUGO: I would understand where he's coming from it is a $1.2 million budget is see if the lieutenant governor to see doesn't get drastically improved or changed, then I would have to agree with that individual. However, if I was to get elected or another individual and they use the platform, to advocate for certain things, instead of just being a figurehead, then I would believe it would be useful. There's a lot of issues in Rhode Island that needs to be advocated for. And if that position or that individual does advocate for these small little sections of the community, I believe that money will be good use. If not, I can understand why it should be taken away.

DONNIS: Typically in Rhode Island most Latinos and we know Latinos are not a monolith. There are people from a number of who trace their ancestry to a number of different countries in Rhode Island. But typically Latinos identify with the Democratic Party. Tell me why I you're a Republican. 

LUGO: I am a Republican, because I actually wasn't. Let me try to make it as clear as possible. I used to be unaffiliated. When I went to register at the age of 18, I believe that both sides usually have something good to say about a topic. But over the years, especially the past two years, I believe, I don't know if you know this term called the Overton window. The Overton Window is basically a clock. And basically, the middle, which will be me, at first will be 12, the left being three o'clock and the right being nine, or vice versa. Over the past two years, the clock has shifted so far left on a lot of issues, that I feel as though the middle ground has eroded and now I am considered a Republican through those means.

DONNIS: One of the hot topics in Rhode Island is the issue of gun violence. We see how the General Assembly has approved three gun bills that are expected to be signed by Governor Dan McKee. The most controversial would limit magazine capacity for guns to 10 rounds, tell us whether you support or oppose that concept and why.

LUGO: So I don't I think one of the things that I don't like about those bills is it's just the wording of it the language. High Capacity means high capacity, there is drum, drum magazines. There are high capacity, handgun magazines. But normally what they're trying to do now is they're trying to say a 30 round magazine in weapons such as an AR 30 rounds is considered standard, they're considered as a high capacity to get an emotional response from the public. These things are very important. There's a reason why the police officer have a service pistol as to have 15 rounds. We need the rounds, in order to be able to take down the threat as fast as possible. By reducing the amount of ammunition inside one of these magazines, you're reducing the chance for a citizen to be able to defend themselves. In addition to that the individual in Texas had a backpack full of magazines full of rounds. And it only takes less than a second to actually do a reload. This bill specifically for the magazines won't really change anything.

DONNIS: Well, we should note the argument from the other side is that even if it takes a second or two to change a magazine that might give law enforcement an opportunity to take down a shooter in a mass shooting situation. But let's move on. Jeann Lugo we've seen how Republicans have faced an uphill battle in trying to win more elective offices here in Rhode Island. Why do you think that is?

LUGO: Oh, that is a good question. I believe that there is there's been a shift recently in, like I said, the Overton window has shifted, and I believe the country as a whole has been slightly shifting to the left until I believe this year, I think people have had enough. You've been seen it a lot in minorities and specifically in Spanish communities. I think that in when a particular party has been entrenched for so long, they push certain narratives into the population. And what it does is it changes the minds of voters. But once voters start to see that these, these policies are not working out for them, as you can see, with the inflation, the gas prices, how the schools are being mismanaged in the state, how the laws are being the rights of people's citizens to bear arms are being infringed upon. I think people are finally having a change of mind as to why they're keep voting for the Democratic Party.

DONNIS: All right, Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor Jeann Lugo that's all the time we have, so we need to leave it there. Thank you for joining us.

LUGO: Thank you, sir. Appreciate your time.