Cranston Mayor Allan Fung made it official last week that he intends to challenge Gina Raimondo during next year’s gubernational election in November of 2018. However he will have to defeat a handful of fellow Republicans to earn the nomination, as House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan has already declared and State Senator Giovanni Feroce and State Rep. Joseph Trillo are likely to announce as well.
Fung sat down with the Beacon during a small campaign gathering at Arooga’s in Warwick on Thursday evening to talk about his upcoming campaign and his motivations for running again, after coming within just a few percentage points behind Gina Raimondo in 2014.
On why he’s running again
Fung reiterated dialogue from his announcement speech, claiming high levels of dissatisfaction with Raimondo’s performance as governor and his beliefs that her policies have caused real damage for Rhode Islanders.
“I really have been ticked off with the way the governor has been handling not just the state and its finances, but us as Rhode Island residents,” Fung said. “She’s forgetting about us.”
Included in that group, Fung said in his speech and again on Thursday, is his own father, who is battling Parkinson’s Disease and had to be moved into the Cedar Crest nursing home in Cranston. Fung said that the facility’s computer system lost his father’s application not once, but twice, causing emotional turmoil and much confusion in an already dark time.
Fung said that his story is just one of many related to the bug-embattled overhaul of the state’s healthcare computing system, the $445 million Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), which has caused problems with food stamps and Medicaid recipients, among other computing issues. The rollout has been so negative, in fact, that senior staff resigned over its premature rollout and Raimondo issued a public apology about it in February.
“That is not the government serving our neighbors, our friends or our family members. That is actually the government making it harder on their lives,” Fung said. “That’s not what I got into public service for. It’s supposed to be about helping people.”
In fairness, the contract which included the terms for UHIP was drawn up and signed by former governor Lincoln Chafee, not Raimondo. However, Raimondo supported the system and made claims that it would begin to pay for itself in the first year of its rollout – which has been anything but a reality, and senior staffers for Raimondo have admitted that the projections were based on unrealistically optimistic projections.
A major aspect of Fung’s campaign is to battle the notion that Rhode Island has become irreparably corrupted and taken over by “insiders.” Fung said that he is not just running a campaign, but starting a movement to take back Rhode Island for the people, and restore faith in responsible government.
“I think people are tired of seeing that culture of shady behavior, and that includes the Governor,” he said. “That’s what shakes the confidence of so many Rhode Islanders ... “This isn’t just a campaign, this is a movement. I’m asking everyone to join this movement to take back our Statehouse and believe in the potential of Rhode Island again – because a lot of people have lost hope.”
“Fix the finances first”
In a larger picture, Fung said that the state has the wrong approach to running its finances, and that should he be elected governor, he will make sweeping cuts to unnecessary administrative positions – such as over 70 jobs and a multimillion dollar budget just for Raimondo’s public relations staff – and collect debts owed, as he said he has proven capable of doing during his two terms as mayor in Cranston.
“Fix the finances first. A lot of it is the same recipe I did in Cranston,” Fung said, pointing to collecting over $10 million in debts and uncollected concessions owed by the Cranston public schools and labor unions when he was first elected, as well as difficult cuts he had to make to personnel across most major departments.
“I have that expertise and track record of fixing our finances and I’m proud of the fact that we are now significantly better, with the highest bond rating the city’s had in two decades,” Fung said. “We have the largest rainy day fund of any community in Rhode Island.”
Fung said that he would personally make concessions as governor that would save taxpayer dollars as well.
“I still drive my own car to this day whereas [Raimondo] has round-the-clock trooper car,” he said. “Not to begrudge her for that, but do you really need troopers 24/7? That’s some of the little things that, if you’re going to ask us to make cuts and have sacrifices, it should start at the top too.”
Fung has touted himself as a business-friendly candidate with a track record of success at creating new jobs and taxable commodities in Cranston. During his announcement speech, held at Chapel View, he cited adding about 3,800 new jobs in the city along with 62 new businesses opening up shop during his administration. He said that the focus at the state level can’t just be on large potential business ventures.
“We have to make sure we still focus on business – and not just going after the Amazons of the world – focus on places like Arooga’s and places like Jerilyn’s Sewing Shop like I said in my speech,” he said. “We can’t forget about the small businesses – nobody is helping them.”
In addition, Fung said being an attorney gives him a better track record than any other candidate of being able to negotiate good deals with unions that benefit whole communities, and that he has a record of saving Cranston money by not hiring legal counsel for all labor negotiations – because he is able to perform some of those negotiations at the table personally.
“That chief executive experience is key…dealing with labor unions is difficult,” he said. “I’ve always had very good relationships with our bargaining unions, and I’ve dealt with some of the toughest – police, fire, teamsters and laborers. I’ve been picketed myself but we’ve always had the level of respect to get a deal done. I’ve always made sure the deals are of the best interest to our neighbors in Cranston, and that’s what I’ll continue to do at the Statehouse.”
Fung agreed that one of the most difficult challenges that would await him as governor would be dealing with pension liabilities across the state, which has grown from a $3.2 billion debt in 2015 to $3.5 billion in 2016, according to numbers from the State Data Lab. He said that he will focus on enacting more 401k programs for state employees rather than guaranteed pension programs.
On Trump and being a Republican
Republicans in Rhode Island have long known they are outnumbered by Democrats, but Fung said he is not intimidated or threatened by this fact.
“You don’t need more individuals who have been up there [at the Statehouse] who are going to continue to do the same thing over and over again,” he said. “You need someone who’s ready to shake it up.”
Addressing comments from Democrats criticizing him for not denouncing the behavior and actions of president Trump – who has been long adrift in an ocean of controversy and, most recently, had his former campaign manager get indicted by federal prosecutors on Monday – Fung said that such a tactic only serves to distract voters from the real issues facing Rhode Islanders.
“You know why they’re doing that? Because they can’t get away from [Raimondo’s] failed record. Whether it’s true or not, they’re going to throw that out there and try to attack me,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I operate in my own way and have been from day one. I don’t govern by Twitter, although I use social media, and I work with people. I’m not afraid to hold my ground and throw punches when I have to, but I will also negotiate and do what’s right for all of our friends and neighbors. I’ll take that same level of decorum to the Statehouse. But I’m my own person.”
Fung said that, even if you don’t like the president, it is prudent for a governor to be able to work with him.
“You respect the position and, if there are opportunities where you can benefit your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, then you do it,” he said. “Because if it’s good for Rhode Island, it’s good for all of us.”
Fung talked a little about his stances on policy, notably on the opioid epidemic, claiming that more treatment programs needed to be funded in the state and that more preventative education must be a part of budgets going forward.
“Enforcement is great, but you also have to have a proactive approach with education, especially at a younger age,” he said, adding that he hasn’t taken an official stance on recreational marijuana yet, as he wants to study the topic more before committing one way or another.
For schools, Fung is pro-choice and is a big proponent of charter schools and increasing awareness and funding for technical education. He said that technical schools, like the Career and Technical Center in Cranston, provides kids with an opportunity to learn a valuable trade and also get credits for college if they choose to go that route.
“It’s great that we’re seeing this push to go to college – which I support – but sometimes you’ve got to make sure that you have options for students too,” he said.
As for the day-to-day operations of handling state issues, Fung believes his experience as mayor has readied him for the role of governor, and that under his leadership the state could start a healing process, not just financially, but politically and sociologically as well.
“There is a better way, and we’ve proven it in Cranston,” he said.