Foulkes brings new dynamic to governor's race

Posted 10/20/21

STORY OF THE WEEK: Former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes is both an untested candidate and someone with a lengthy public record. That explains why she instantly became a serious player last week in Rhode Island's 2022 race for governor - and faced

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Foulkes brings new dynamic to governor's race



Former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes is both an untested candidate and someone with a lengthy public record. That explains why she instantly became a serious player last week in Rhode Island’s 2022 race for governor – and faced almost immediate questions about some past political contributions.

One day after formally launching her run, Foulkes said she was sorry for a 2014 donation to Mitch McConnell, now the U.S. Senate minority leader: “One of the last Republicans I contributed to many years ago was Mitch McConnell and it’s something I deeply regret and would never do again. It was before he colluded with Donald Trump to destroy the Supreme Court and more. I sincerely apologize.”

The good news for Foulkes, 57, is that this came on the second official day of her campaign (and if people hold this against her, they probably would not vote for her in any case). The bad news for her is how McConnell is reviled by Democrats – and her rivals will remind voters of this six-year-old contribution at every turn.

Foulkes’s calling card is her decades of business experience, including overseeing 200,000 employees and $80 billion in sales as the president of CVS’ retail business (and, as pointed out, championing the move to eliminate sales of tobacco). But not all Democrats love big corporations, and Foulkes’ private sector record will come under close scrutiny.

For now, the Narragansett resident makes for an expected six-way Democratic primary field for governor next September. Some call Foulkes the 2.0 version of Gina Raimondo – an unwelcome thought for those who dislike the former governor. The more salient observation, though, is how the glass ceiling has already been broken in the governor’s office, and the deep-pocketed Foulkes has the opportunity to make her own case.


Elections are about contrasts, so the RI Political Cooperative-aligned Matt Brown may be the main beneficiary of Foulkes’ campaign, since his sharp outsider critique of state government marks the biggest difference from her profile as a pro-business Democrat. (And some progressives debate the competing appeal of Brown and fellow Democrat Luis Daniel Munoz.)


Was the controversy involving the McKee administration’s award of a contract to the ILO Group a factor in Helena Foulkes’s decision to run for governor? That lingers as a question for now.

On Political Roundtable last week, GOP House Whip Mike Chippendale (R-Foster) was asked whether he was surprised that McKee has not broken the contract. Chippendale’s response: “Whenever something like this happens, saying, ‘I’m sorry’ – the mea culpa right upfront and a reversal of course is always the easiest and oftentimes the right thing to do. And in this case, if he were seeking my counsel, which he certainly doesn’t, I would have counseled him to do exactly that – sever all ties immediately and scrub the whole thing.”

(McKee spokeswoman Alana O’Hare declined comment, citing an ongoing investigation by Attorney General Peter Neronha.)


If RI House GOP Leader Blake Filippi emerges as the top Republican candidate for governor, he will offer a sharp contrast from some other candidates on the proposed collaboration between Lifespan, Care New England and Brown University.

Supporters say keeping the collaboration within Rhode Island is a good thing for the state. However, during a recent Providence Athenaeum panel discussion, Filippi called on state regulators and the Federal Trade Commission to kill the deal. He blames former Gov. Gina Raimondo for chasing away Partners HealthCare, which runs Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham & Women’s, from buying CNE a few years ago.

If the Lifespan-CNE-Brown merger happens, “they’re going to control 80 percent” of the health care market in RI, Filippi said. Partners is “one of the best hospital groups in the world and we chased them away to preserve this ‘Rhode Island thing.’ We don’t want outsiders here. I want outsiders here. I want the medical establishment from Boston running hospitals here. I want competition in health care. You want to drive down costs, let’s get some competition.”


Emma Caccamo, whose political experience includes work as deputy political director with Everytown for Gun Safety, is the campaign manager for Helena Foulkes … Jennifer Bell, most recently communications director for U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, has signed on in the same role for U.S. Rep David Cicilline.


Rhode Island’s political community was deeply saddened last week by the death of Democratic strategist Ray Sullivan at age 44. While Sullivan served in a variety of roles over time – being a state rep, leading Barack Obama’s 2008 RI campaign – his top legacy involves leading the successful campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. That was a textbook case of how shifting public sentiment and a smart ground game upended the equation at the Statehouse.

Many of us have our own fond memories of Ray – his smile, the wink in his eyes, his skill at telling a story, his crack impersonation of former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy. “He was big-hearted and vivacious,” Devin “Short Pants” Driscoll, who succeeded Sullivan as Obama’s RI director in 2012, told me. “He loved people, fought passionately for the causes in which he believed – especially issues of equity and dignity for working people. In his time as a member of the General Assembly, a political strategist and communicator, and a campaign leader, Ray made real, measurable change in the lives of his fellow Rhode Islanders.”


Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner died last week at age 58 after a battle with cancer. Goldner’s business record includes this, via Ted Nesi: “A New York native who started his career in advertising, Goldner joined Hasbro in 2000 and became CEO in 2008. The company’s annual revenue rose from $4 billion to almost $5.5 billion during his tenure. Over that period, Hasbro branched out from its traditional physical toys like Play-Doh and board games to emphasizing multimedia efforts like movies, cartoons and video games. The company partnered with Hollywood studios on films based on its toy franchises, like the ‘Transformers’ series. ‘I love what I do every day, and every day is different,’ Goldner told 12 News in 2018. ‘I’ve been at the company 19 years, and I’ve had about eight different jobs. I constantly am working on different parts of our business and honing the way we innovate and that we tell stories, or the way we garner consumer insights. No one day is the same as the next one, so that’s what’s fun.’”


As my colleague Ben Berke reports, the leaders of Fall River and New Bedford are divided about whether the two southeastern Massachusetts cities should be united in a single congressional district: “All nine of the Democrats who campaigned last year to lead the 4th Congressional District came from Brookline, Newton or Wellesley – suburbs of Boston where the median family income is more than triple that of Fall River or New Bedford. The winner of the election, Congressman Jake Auchincloss of Newton, said this summer that he would prefer to keep northern Fall River within his district.”

In related news, Auchincloss – who last year won the seat vacated by Joe Kennedy – already faces an unexpected opponent, as Lisa Kashinsky reports for Massachusetts Playbook.


The legal battle over RhodeWorks, the ambitious bridge and road improvement effort championed by Gov. Raimondo, continues. But climbing toll revenue from big trucks refutes opponents’ arguments that they would seek detours around Rhode Island highways. As part of a story I did this week, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said the state remains on track to cut the number of structurally deficient bridges in RI to 10 percent by 2025. But considering how Rhode Island ranked at the bottom of national report cards for bridges a few years ago, there’s still a lot to do.


Brown University’s eye-popping 51.5 percent investment return during FY21 (along with a total endowment of just under $7 billion) is already renewing chatter about how much the university pays in lieu of taxes to the City of Providence. Considering how Providence’s underfunded pension is a top concern, perhaps the city could borrow Brown’s investment advisers.


Via a news release from the RI Democratic Women’s Caucus: “Once again, the state Democratic party is trying to deny Democracy to The Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus – this time quite literally. Recently, the state ‘Democratic’ party sent a letter to The Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus, challenging the Caucus’s right to call itself Democratic. The state party claims this is to ‘avoid confusion’ regarding the Women’s Caucus’s affiliation with the state party, and instructs the Caucus to ‘cease using the word Democratic in your title, and in all communications.’ The Women’s Caucus has been in existence for almost two years now, since November 2019, without the party having raised this issue. There is no valid reason for the state party to do this now. This attack on our identity shows their continued contempt for our members, an active group of women and allies who are proud to call ourselves Democrats. The letter, sent by Senior Advisor to the Rhode Island Democratic Party Kate Coyne-McCoy, goes on to cite a section of the Rhode Island law, 17-23-7, which limits the use of the word ‘republican’ or ‘democrat’ in clubs or associations.”


“Newport housing is a very limited resource. And so any pressure is pronounced here, because, you know, we’re on the tip of an island,” Kim Salerno, longtime chair of the Newport Planning Council, tells my colleague Antonia Ayres-Brown. In leaving her post, Salerno is warning about diminishing quality of life concerns in the City by the Sea. But, as Antonia reports separately, Newport is still a great place to sail, especially with a group of fourth-graders.


While covering a Democratic unity event after the 2014 gubernatorial primary, either Jim Baron (who has since passed away) or I made a riff on William Faulkner’s famous quote – “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In Rhode Island, that can only refer to the specter of 38 Studios, which reappears when we least expect it. Now, 38 promises to figure to get re-litigated at least some degree in the race for governor, with Lincoln Chafee criticizing Helena Foulkes (for ostensibly backing as an EDC member more credits for the company) and Karl Wadensten (who cast the lone EDC vote against the ill-fated concept) defending her. Truth to be told, though, 38 Studios no longer lives rent-free in the minds of most Rhode Islanders, the most recent signal failure of state government still casts a shadow, what with many municipalities still relying on the same fiscal adviser, to cite one example.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. You can follow him on Twitter@IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit www.thepublicsradio.org.

politics, Donnis


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