By ALLIE LEWIS If you asked any of his former students, they'd tell you state Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) has a passion for inspiring greater civic engagement. Long before he was an elected official, the deputy majority leader in the
If you asked any of his former students, they’d tell you state Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) has a passion for inspiring greater civic engagement.
Long before he was an elected official, the deputy majority leader in the Rhode Island House of Representatives was inspiring his students at East Providence High School.
Even though most of them weren’t old enough to cast a ballot when he had them in class, Amore began stressing the importance of voter engagement. Free and fair elections, he told them, are at the bedrock of who we are as a nation.
After more than three decades in the classroom, and the better part of the past decade in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Amore hopes to continue his efforts of expanding civic engagement on a much larger scale.
In September, he announced his run for Rhode Island secretary of state.
“I think I bring something else to the table there,” Amore said of his candidacy, “because it’s what I’ve done for my entire life.”
While he’s widely known in his hometown of East Providence, Amore acknowledges he has less recognition at this point in other parts of the state. He is well known, however, in the athletics community, having spent more than three decades as a hockey and baseball coach at various levels. For the last few years, he’s been athletic director for East Providence schools.
In the legislature, Amore has focused much of his attention on education policy, although he has also been a vocal supporter of voting rights. This past legislative session, he was one of the primary sponsors of the Let Rhode Island Vote Act, which would allow for early in-person voting and expand mail-ballot voting by waiving the requirement of either a notary or two witnesses.
During the height of the pandemic, Rhode Island temporarily waived these mail-ballot requirements – though not without significant legal challenges. The Supreme Court ultimately weighed in on the issue, and despite siding with similar challenges in other states, allowed for these requirements to be temporarily waived.
The Let Rhode Island Vote Act would do away with these requirements entirely, and would also allow for same-day voter registration.
“I think we should make voting as accessible and as easy as possible,” Amore said.
Washington State is a prime example of where mail-ballot voting has been running successfully for several years, Amore said. In Washington, mail-ballots are sent to every voter for all elections. In the 2020 general election, voter turnout hit 84.1 percent.
“That doesn’t mean that in Washington they don’t vote on Election Day,” Amore said. “They do, they still offer that, but I find it intriguing because it’s easy. And we should make it easy.”
If elected as secretary of state, Amore also hopes to make it easier to participate in the process of government. Streaming meetings and allowing for virtual participation would go a long way in helping to achieve that for most Rhode Islanders.
“For someone to come testify at the State House – a five o’clock hearing, very limited parking, sitting and waiting for your turn – that’s a process,” he said. “I think a hybrid model is where we should go, what we should be doing.”
Amore has also expressed a desire to create a commission that would look into the possibility of an open primary, rank system voting and runoffs – changes he believes might get a larger percentage of unaffiliated voters to fill out a ballot.
At the moment, no other candidates for secretary of state have stepped forward, although there are several months to go before the candidacy declaration deadline. Liz Tanner, director of the state’s Department of Business Regulation, has told local media outlets she is exploring a run for the post.
In 2012, when Amore decided to make a run for the General Assembly, he found himself in the midst of a tight, three-way primary – facing off against a party-endorsed candidate and one of his neighbors from a few doors down.
“The advantage I had was when I’d go to doors, somebody’s had me in class,” he said. “For the most part, I was pretty well received. My name recognition allowed me to beat the odds.”
In the end, Amore came out on top of the primary race by a mere 64 votes.
In the years that have followed, however, Amore has not faced any opposition for reelection. He won his fifth term in 2020.
“I always have mixed feelings about that, because I’m a civics teacher,” he said. “I want there to be a competitive race in every district.”
The current secretary of state, Nellie M. Gorbea, who Amore commends for how much she’s transformed the office over the past six years, is barred from seeking reelection due to term limits. Gorbea, who Amore views as a fellow champion for civic engagement, has thrown her hat into the upcoming gubernatorial race.
These are some aspects of the job Amore believes he’d go about differently than Gorbea if he were to win the office next year. For one, he said he would not plan on testifying before the General Assembly. While Gorbea has thrown her support behind certain pieces of legislation on occasion, Amore said he hopes to stay behind the scenes more and out of any political fights.
Amore believes his voting record over the past decade speaks for itself, and his colleagues in the General Assembly will, by and large, know where he stands on certain issues.
Similar to his reception on the campaign trail, Amore said he has also been well received by his colleagues in the House over the years.
“I think what I’ve tried to do in 10 years is not dismiss anybody’s ideas,” he said. “Or not judge anybody before I get to know where they’re coming from.”
He believes most people would agree that he gives everyone a “fair shot,” that he’s thoughtful in what he says, that he’s going to do the necessary research, and of course, that he’s going to disagree. Disagreement is inevitable, but he doesn’t think “disagreements have to be as toxic and polarizing as they are now.”
“What’s troubling to me is we have not seen the better nature of angels over the course of the pandemic,” he said. “We’ve seen the worst.”
“I think you can still have fierce disagreement in politics and not think someone is immoral, or not paint 70 million people as racists,” he added. “I think that’s an easy thing to do.”
Rather than talking “at each other in sound bites and on Instagram and on Twitter,” he’d like to see people engage one another as fellow citizens on equal footing, not as opponents to be lectured or demeaned.
Returning to his experience in sports, Amore said he believes his time coaching, and as an athlete, have served him well in life.
“I think politics and sports are very similar,” he said. “You have to get back up when you don’t win, you have to work with the team, you have to understand the long view and that one setback doesn’t mean you’ll be set back for the entire session, or even two years.”
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