Tense House Dist. 30 Forum Pits Incumbent Giarrusso Against Challenger Caldwell

by | Oct 2, 2018

This story was amended Wednesday 7:40 a.m.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Anthony Giarrusso and Justine Caldwell staked their positions on issues ranging from state aid for education and affordable housing to the Burrillville power plant and gun control at Monday night’s candidates forum at New England Tech. But in a contest already marked by acrimony, even the U.S. Senate’s vote on Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court became a topic. 

In lamenting the negativity on social media, Giarrusso brought up that someone Monday said he’d written a letter endorsing Kavanaugh, and that it wasn’t true.

“Don’t spread lies,” he said. “It doesn’t work.”

Caldwell, however, said Giarrusso’s name was on such a letter, dated Aug. 24.

The letter (ALEC Kavanaugh Letter), sent by the conservative organization ALEC, included a list of state legislators from across the country who urged “the swift confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Giarrusso and state Sen. Elaine Morgan were listed as the two signatories from Rhode Island. On Tuesday, Giarrusso said he had signed the letter back in August but had not written it, as was characterized in the Facebook post. He said he was withholding his opinion on the Kavanaugh appointment pending the FBI investigation and that he would not have signed the letter if the request came after the allegations arose.

The two did outline their legislative priorities.

Giarrusso said his top three were better workforce training, lower taxes, and limiting government. Caldwell listed gun violence protection, jobs and education, and women’s issues and health care as her top priorities.

After Caldwell noted Giarrusso’s vote against same sex marriage in her opening statement, he responded he was not anti-gay.

Rep. Anthony Giarrusso.

“And just like I’m a homophobe?” said Giarrusso. “Some of my best friends are gay! It doesn’t mean I’m a homophobe because I think marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

He also said he had no hand in a letter that went out “about a spouse that has an issue with the law in Ohio,” a reference to a letter sent to some East Greenwich residents in August that referred to Caldwell’s husband, David Caldwell, as having a warrant out for his arrest in Ohio for failing to respond to a housing complaint in 2012 (that case has since been dismissed).

The two candidates agreed on some issues. They both said the General Assembly should pass a law giving the governor line-item veto power and that the state should have an inspector general – an official to look into waste and abuse as well as ethical lapses within state government – with Giarrusso saying his name has been on such a bill for six years.

Justine Caldwell

Both candidates also said the legislative grant program should be abolished but Caldwell said she would seek grants for the district as long as the program remains. Giarrusso said while he did seek legislative grants for the district initially, he no longer supports them.

The Burrillville power plant is not an issue that comes before the General Assembly and Giarrusso said he was glad not to have to take such a tough vote, but added that the state needed energy. Caldwell said she was against the plant.

With regard to schools statewide, Giarrusso said he advocated vouchers, so that children at lower-performing schools could attend private schools, and charter schools. Caldwell said she supported the $250 million bond referendum for school building repairs on the November ballot.

The two differed on the need for additional gun control laws.

“Gun violence is a public health crisis in America,” Caldwell said. “More guns means more gun violence.” She noted Giarrusso voted against the “red flag” bill signed into law in the last session that is meant to allow authorities to take guns away from individuals deemed a threat to themselves and others. Caldwell said the NRA supported the bill. The NRA did not support the Rhode Island bill, according to the Providence Journal, although it has said it supports red flag bills in theory. 

Giarrusso called for school resource officers in every school and said he had introduced legislation that would allow schools to hire retired military and police to fill that role instead of full-time police officers.

“I’m not an NRA member. I don’t own a gun,” he said. “But I am a constitutional person,” with a nod to the Second Amendment.

On criminal justice reform, Caldwell said too many people were being sent to prison. Giarrusso said he had supported legislation to “ban the box” – making it illegal to ask about a person’s criminal history on a job application.  

“These people need a shot,” he said.

On pay equity for women, Caldwell said she would support such a bill. Giarrusso said he also would “if they were doing exactly the same job.”

Around 100 people attended the forum, which was presented by East Greenwich News and the EG Chamber of Commerce. The forum was moderated by RIPR’s Chuck Hinman, an EG resident.

You can watch the entire exchange on the EG News Facebook page livestream. We will be sharing a higher quality video of the event later this week.


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24 Comments

  1. Judi Zimmer

    Mr. Giarrusso’s refusal to recognize the seriousness of sexual harassment and assault as proven by his refusal to participate in a forum on the issue for state legislatures was bad enough, showing gross disrespect to the thousands of victims in Rhode Island. To have the utter nerve and cold-heartedness to call the forum a “dog and pony show” was a slap in the face to the people trying to educate others about this scourge. To lie about the Kavanaugh letter issued by ALEC insults the intelligence of people who have the evidence. EG needs a change and needs it now!

    Reply
  2. Liz mullen

    Hold on…did this guy just say he can’t be a homophobe because he has gay friends?! Just like racists can’t be racist because they have black friends?! (while they continue to support legislation going against the best interests of minorities, of course.) Giarusso smells of the same privileged, antiquated ideals that are holding this country back. Out with the old and in with the new.

    Reply
    • Judi Zimmer

      Glad you noticed that, too, Ms. Mullen.

      Reply
  3. Glenn Valentine

    With regards to Mr. Giarrusso’s position on sexual harassment and assault, I do recall him addressing this on WPRO. He owns a business with a personnel director that conducts this type of training which must be at his directive. In addition, he stated his company rigorously enforces that policy. Why attend training when you’re walking the walk and talking the talk?

    Reply
  4. Judi Zimmer

    Why then call it a dog-and-pony show? And since when is too much knowledge too much knowledge? We can all learn something new. I’ve attended numerous seminars, forums, and conferences on subjects with which I am well acquainted because I am not arrogant enough to think I know everything. In addition, his signature on the ALEC letter that supports Brett Kavanaugh, dated August 24th, way before we had as much information as we do now indicates that his rigid assertions leave no room for him to actually listen and weigh both sides of issues. That’s not the kind of representative I want.

    Reply
    • Glenn Valentine

      I think the dog and pony show was a reference to having to answer to generalizations about things he’s said or done, generaliztions that create unfair illusions regarding his positions and actions. The Kavanaugh letter is a perfect example. Sending a letter prior to the accusations is vastly different than sending it after. Stating that he voted against the red flag bill without including why is an unfair generalization. There were portions that were great and others that even the ACLU is currently preparing to challenge. Stating the NRA even supported the red flag bill was just flat out untrue, it was the bump-stock bill (H7075)they initially supported. The bump-stock bill banned a novelty item while the red flag bill raises concerns regarding due process, something liberals and conservatives hold dearly. The Speaker himself expects legal challenges to the law.

      Reply
  5. Judi Zimmer

    Doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what he said. It was arrogant, it was self-serving and according to those who attended, it was untrue. The Kavanaugh letter is a perfect example of toeing the party line before all the evidence in in. One waits to get all evidence before jumping to a conclusion. Facts remain: he does not respect women, either their being harassed or their having the say about their own bodily autonomy. His position on school gun safety flies in the face of what RIers and EG residents have said they want over and over again.How can one call oneself a representative when one doesn’t represent what the majority of constituents wants?

    Reply
    • Glenn Valentine

      I hesitate to respond since what I think doesn’t matter but I’ll give it a go. If you dig deeper into his position on guns in schools you’d learn that it’s based on the fact that the bill being proposed would strip the ability of schools to hire private security firms since they are issued permits under RIGL 11-47-18 and RIGL 11-47-18. In addition it would allow retired officers to carry if they were licensed via the state but not if they have completed the federal LEOSA qualification, meaning the most qualified security personnel hired by a firm could not eb able to work in our schools. (Like in the state of CT). If the bill passed our school distict’s only option would be a full-time officer to the tune of 70-90k per building. I’m certain the majority of folks in EG would agree if they were given the facts.

      Regarding non-LEO, we live in a country where the opinions and positions of the majority don’t dictate the rights of the minority. It is a civil entitlement to carry a firearm in RI, so says the RI Supreme Court not me. So rather than having a person conceal a firearm, as they have been doing in RI since 1790, folks will resort to unloading and loading firearms as well as leaving them unattended in their car…all 30 ft from the school parking lot. That sounds much safer.

      This no guns in school bill is a political stunt nothing more.

      Reply
      • Judi Zimmer

        I know what his position is and I know it is opposed by Mons Demand Action, the RICAGV, law enforcement professionals, educators and medical professionals. You call it a political stunt, others call it protecting students and teachers. I’m proud to be one of those. So tired of ‘experts’ who aren’t experts coming up with half-assed ideas regurgitated from the NRA.

        Reply
        • Glenn Valentine

          Moms Demand Action and RICAGV? Take a look on the Secretary of State’s website and search where their money is from where it goes. 99% out of state and spent more in the first 6 months of 2015 than the NRA has in the last 10 years. Just shy of $160,000. Some of that money has made it into the Democrat’s campaign account while Mr. Giarrusso has never taken money from the NRA.

          Reply
          • David Caldwell

            Mr. Valentine’s dark insinuation that “some of that money” has made it into Justine Caldwell’s account is ridiculous.

            A friend of mine who I met because — as an undergraduate — he volunteered on an LGBT rights campaign of mine fifteen years ago, and now works for a gun safety group, gave Justine $50.

            He and I met because I was fighting for LGBT people like him, and undoubtedly that shared experience — along with his agreement with Justine’s issue positions on gun violence! — is why he gave.

            Rep. Giarrusso, by contrast, still wants to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

            Mr. Valentine gave four times that amount ($200) to Mr. Giarrusso, and he heads up a leading Rhode Island gun rights PAC.

            So cut it out, Mr. Valentine; you know this is ridiculous. My wife met you canvassing (even though she knew exactly where you stood, she still wanted to knock on your door and hear your perspective), so we know you’re more reasonable than this. You know your dark characterization is misleading.

          • Glenn Valentine

            @David

            I think you have proven my point.

            The concern I raised above is that out of state money has made it’s way into promoting progressive candidates in RI.

            As for my donation, I am one of Mr. Giarrusso’s constituents. I made a donation to him personally, not with PAC funds or funds from any other organizations which I am associated. I hope you are not trying to label my $200 donation as ‘gun money.” I guess a claim of “High School Physics Teacher Donates Money to Rep” doesn’t garner as much attention with your base. If that’s not what you’re implying I apologize for making that assumption.

          • David Caldwell

            No, I am not claiming your $200 is “gun money.” You are. If my friend’s $50 (also from his “personal funds,” as yours was) is money from an anti-gun group, then yours certainly is “gun money.” Pick a standard, yours or mine — or, sure, rail against the FIFTY DOLLARS my personal friend gave Justine as “out of state” and go from there.

            I think you’ve proven my point, actually, which is that if you look at the specifics, none of this — including your contribution — is any big deal.

          • Glenn Valentine

            But I live in district 30 and he lives in New York.

          • David Caldwell

            Says the guy who gave to Mike Chippendale (you don’t live in his district), Nick Mattiello (you don’t live in his district), Doreen Costa (you don’t live in her former district), Stephen Archambault (you don’t live in his district), and Charlene Lima (you don’t live in her district).

            But you gave them money because you like their policies on guns. Over $2,000.

            My friend gave my wife’s campaign $50 because of some combination of him liking me, him liking her policies on LGBT people (of whom he is one), and him liking her policies on guns. (And maybe other policies; we didn’t ask.)

  6. Jody

    For the record, the “dog and pony show” comment came from Representatives Teresa Tanzi who chaired the commission. Anthony was referencing her comments on the commission. She said she was, ‘disgusted’ and called it a, ‘dog and pony show’. She continued to say – “we have learned our lesson, and we won’t let that happen again.”

    Reply
    • David Caldwell

      For the record, “we have learned our lesson, and we won’t let that happen again” is actually a quote from Justine. Your facts are wrong; you are misreading Justine’s news release.

      https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qlrRNr6KafkShEMBl-fuN5Kysr7iuujkFw7n_wp7JXE/edit

      And Judi’s right — Giarrusso’s comments were about the training, not the commission.

      Finally, your repeated assertions that Justine is making character attacks on Giarrusso, or that she is trying to “paint him as” “disgusting,” aren’t borne out by any facts. I notice you just repeat and repeat and repeat to try to make it true. If it were true, you’d provide quotations from Justine to illustrate it. But you can’t — because it’s not true.

      Reply
  7. Judi Zimmer

    First of all, he did not cite her, and second of all, his use of the term was certainly not the same as hers and you know it. This wasn’t about the commission, this was about the training session he couldn’t bother to attend.

    Reply
    • Jody

      That is exactly what he was referring to and I do know that. The training session was ALSO a dog and pony show, rushed and ineffective. It’s helpful to know that Tanzi understands this and won’t let it happen again.

      What isn’t helpful is the baseless character attacks on a well respected man, who by all standards of measure, is far from any of the disgusting things his opponent is tying to paint him as. Completely baseless, out of line and reality – and the Democratic women who serve with him agree.

      Reply
      • Judi Zimmer

        Jody–character attack? Like loudly calling Dr. Caldwell an obscenity at the forum. Just stop it.

        Reply
        • Jody

          I’ve heard that ridiculous rumor. Absolutely NEVER happened. I didn’t say that nor did I hear it. Typical lie. I absolutely DID call her out on her massive eye rolling – (clearly visible in the video) but that was it.

          Making yourself a victim (constantly) is not a great campaign strategy either.

          Reply
          • Judi Zimmer

            Deny, deny, deny, deflect, deflect, deflect. Typical Republican strategy. I was there. I know what I heard. And I know who said it. I’m not a candidate and therefore have no campaign strategy.

  8. Marie C Hennedy

    I sincerely appreciate New England Tech’s hosting the EG News/EG Chamber of Commerce candidate forums. But I hope that the students who place microphones on the candidates be able to do so in a manner that records their voices loudly and clearly, and does not muffle what they have to say.

    Reply
  9. Jody

    Judi,

    Agh – more hate. FYI – I’m not a Republican. And you are a straight up liar if you’re saying this was me. Nice try – thankful to have finally nailed down where this complete fabrication originated. You can ask anyone who knows me – call me many things -a liar is not one of them. #keephating and being angry and making $h%t up.

    Reply

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