Lieutenant governor candidates tangle over experience, healthcare, role of office

State Representative Aaron Regunberg, News Director/debate moderator Bill Haberman, and incumbent Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee during WPRO’s Lieutenant Governor primary debate. Photo by Tessa Roy, WPRO News.

By Tessa Roy, WPRO News

In WPRO’s final debate of the primary season, incumbent Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee and challenger State Representative Aaron Regunberg clashed over who should be the Democrat that gets to run for the office in November.

McKee said he had the years of experience that qualify him to keep the office, while Regunberg asserted he has the legislative track record and trust of the people to win.

“I think Rhode Islanders want change. They want someone who’s going to shake things up at the State House, someone who’s got a record of taking on the State House machine. That’s experience that I don’t think my opponent has,” Regunberg said, rejecting the notion that he’s too young to go from lieutenant governor to governor if it ever becomes necessary.

McKee highlighted what he felt were his financial successes during 12 years as a mayor, his experience working in a family business, and his carrying out of his duties as Lieutenant Governor while in office. That, McKee argued, is the experience Regunberg does not have.

“By the time I was Aaron’s age, I had opened two businesses, had payroll, met payroll, had to deal with economic circumstances that are very difficult on small business,” he said.

McKee also said taking on National Grid to save ratepayers money and initiatives to combat the opioid addiction crisis were among his accomplishments. Regunberg countered, saying ratepayers were “scammed” by websites McKee helped set up and that Super PACs supporting McKee’s reelection had accepted “massive” donations from pharmaceuticals and large out-of-state companies.

McKee called Regunberg’s claims “dishonest.”

“We control what we control,” McKee said of the donations, saying he’s made an effort to push back against and sue opioid manufacturers.

Regunberg and McKee largely squabbled over healthcare, with McKee criticizing Regunberg for his support of a single payer healthcare system. McKee cited the failure of a single payer system in Vermont, arguing the system would not be “feasible” for Rhode Island.

Regunberg hit back, saying corporate lobbying was what blocked the system in Vermont. He acknowledged implementing single payer in Rhode Island would be a tough fight, but insisted the system as it is now does not work.

“I don’t know what state or reality my opponent is living in,” Regunberg said, describing how he’s met many people who struggle with the rising costs associated with healthcare.

The candidates discussed progressivism in general, which Regunberg strongly embraces, and whether such policies would face resistance. Regunberg said he has not seen pushback to his being a progressive on the campaign trail, and has rather noticed that access to healthcare, getting people out of poverty, “common sense” gun reform, and protecting women’s reproductive rights are “mainstream values.”

Regunberg argued the “State House machine” has hindered the advancement of progressivism. However, McKee insisted progressives were in his corner too.

In their conclusions, the two shared their visions for the role of the lieutenant governor’s office, which some feel is obsolete. McKee said he’d favor a ticket approach where a governor and lieutenant governor run as a team, and Regunberg said he wants the office to function as a government watchdog.

Listen to the full debate below.

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