By DANIEL KITTREDGE Like so many aspects of daily life during the pandemic, Democratic Dist. 16 Rep. Christopher Millea's first term in the General Assembly has not gone according to plan. "e;COVID has really taken over,"e; he said. "e;It wasn't really a full
Like so many aspects of daily life during the pandemic, Democratic Dist. 16 Rep. Christopher Millea’s first term in the General Assembly has not gone according to plan.
“COVID has really taken over,” he said. “It wasn’t really a full term.”
Now, as he seeks reelection to the seat he won in 2018, Millea said he remains focused on protecting the state’s “most vulnerable” populations, including children and seniors.
“If we don’t take care of those populations … we won’t take care of ourselves,” he said, later adding: “Schools are my No. 1 priority, and the elderly are my No. 2 priority … So that’s what I’m concentrating on.”
Millea, 48, and his wife have two children ages 11 and 9. A criminal defense attorney for more than two decades, he has also handled prosecutions as one of Cranston’s assistant city solicitors. On the side, he works part-time as a hockey referee for the AHL and Hockey East.
Millea is among the incumbent Democratic lawmakers facing progressive challenges this year, and he will face first-time candidate Brandon Potter in the Sept. 8 primary.
During a recent interview for the Herald’s “Radio Beacon” podcast, he responded to criticism he has faced from his opponent, defended his record, reflected on the current crisis and spoke about specific measures he hopes to see enacted if he wins reelection this fall.
“I came from a family where the old picture pretty much on the wall in our living room was a picture of John F. Kennedy, and that was the person that we looked up to as a family and politically,” he said. “I believe that we need to help people in the Democratic Party. That’s what the Democratic Party is about … helping people succeed. That’s what makes a person a Democrat. And to say that I’m not a part of that party, or I shouldn’t be a part of that party – and I won’t get into tweets or insults that have been thrown around. I’m not going to lower myself to that. My party knows where I stand, and I have the support of my party.”
He added: “We are in such a crazy time politically, statewide and nationally … I find it absolutely abhorrent what our country is right now, that we are so divided on many issues. And we need to come together, not split apart.”
Making his pitch
Potter has criticized specific aspects of Millea’s record, including his ties to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and the support he has received from the National Rifle Association and the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee.
During his interview, Millea pushed back against what he described as “infighting” on the part of more left-leaning segments of the state’s Democratic Party.
“The progressive wing of the party is arguing about unity, and yet they’re also at same time trying to separate us,” he said. “We’re supposed to be under one tent, so to speak. We’re supposed to work together.”
Millea described himself as a “very moderate Democrat” and said bipartisan cooperation is an essential part of the lawmaking process.
“I truly believe that we’re not going to get anything done in the state unless we work across the aisle and work with our colleagues on the Republican side,” he said. “They have to be included. They have a voice. They have votes. And they have a lot of good ideas. And some of the best bills in the last 10 years to come out of the State House have involved collaboration with the Republicans and Democratic side.”
Regarding his support from the NRA, Millea said: “I am supported by the NRA. I make no bones about it. I have been a criminal defense lawyer for 23 years. Until you’ve stood in my shoes with a family and young children and had people make veiled threats to you about your job, you can’t understand where I come from. I support the Second Amendment and I support those rights. You don’t have to. That does not make you not a Democrat. That’s an American right.”
Asked about Mattiello and whether constituents have expressed concerns over the current leadership in the legislature, Millea said: “I’m not hearing almost anything about leadership or about the speaker.”
“I support the speaker 100 percent,” Millea said. “He’s the leader. I consider him a friend, and I think he’s done an excellent job for the people of the state of Rhode Island.”
Millea also addressed criticism over the Assembly’s decision not to pursue alternative meeting options earlier in the crisis. He described the challenge at hand as a “difficult balancing act” between conducting needed business and ensure the publicly can safely participate in the process.
“Our rules don’t allow for remote voting. So in order to properly have remote voting, we would have to come in, we would have to meet on the Rules Committee, we would have to allow public comment,” he said. “And it’s very difficult, remote meetings of the size, to then allow public comment. And I think that’s the biggest thing we need to focus on.”
Millea also addressed the fiscal crunch facing both the state and Rhode Island’s cities and towns. He echoed Gov. Gina Raimondo and Mattiello regarding the importance of additional federal stimulus to help the state address the situation.
“We were in a deficit before COVID started … Now that number is going to balloon,” he said. “And if we don’t get some aid, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
Millea said he views the continuation of the car tax phase-out as an important means of easing the burden on Rhode Island’s taxpayers. But he acknowledged how difficult the budget picture will be going forward – all as the state faces the likelihood of high rates of joblessness and increased housing insecurity.
“I’m praying myself that my fears don’t come true. I really am,” he said. “I just have this fear in my heart that there’s going to be a lot of people hurting out there.”
Regarding the school reopening process, Millea noted that his wife is a school nurse in Coventry and said: “I’m uncertain myself on the correct process. I certainly believe we need to leave it up to the scientific experts, the doctors … She’s very scared about the potential of going back to school with this virus still around. The idea that a child can be infected, just one child, to get sick and maybe even die, is one too many.”
Looking ahead and political thoughts
In a new term, Millea said he would continue to push for legislation he has pursued the last two years – a cap of K-2 class sizes at 20 students. He said he has found general support for the measure among his colleagues, although he acknowledged it would be a “tough bill financially” for local school districts to implement without additional support.
“In this day of COVID and where we are now, I can’t see that bill being any more vital to the people of the state of Rhode Island, limiting class sizes … If we can protect them by having no more than 20 children in a classroom, then that is the right thing to do. And so I really am going to push that bill in the next session,” he said.
Millea said he also intends to push for additional compensation for front-line health care workers, particularly those in nursing homes.
“I don’t know if we need necessarily more workers, but we need to compensate them appropriately,” he said. “So if there’s more money that can come in, if we can find it, I’d like to find a way to steer that toward the nursing home workers and the rest of the front-line workers.”
In terms of what he’s hearing from constituents, Millea said schools “seem to be the No. 1 concern on people’s minds.”
He said the proposed Costco development at the Mulligan’s Island property – which sits just outside his district – is another issue about which he is frequently asked.
“I’m not against Costco, I’m not against any type of business. I’m pro-business. I don’t believe that taking green space and taking that area and using it for what is proposed at this point is the right project at all for the city of Cranston … certainly not in that residential area,” he said.
Asked about the race to succeed Allan Fung as Cranston’s mayor, Millea said: “I’m officially staying out of the race. I’m staying in the District 16 lane, and I’m sure that whoever comes out on the other of the primary in the Democratic Party will be an excellent candidate.”
Millea has endorsed Dylan Zelazo, one of four Democrats seeking a citywide seat on the City Council this fall. He said he does not intend to make any other endorsements, but added of the council field as a whole: “I think we have all good candidates who put themselves out there under the Democratic tent this year.”