Politics & Elections

A conservative Republican with freckles of libertarianism, Alex Cannon is running for State Senate

“It comes down to solutions,” said Senate District 3 candidate Alex Cannon. “There are problems we face as a society. There are solutions that government is authorized to address and is best suited to address. How do we implement good solutions when we use the government to do that?”
Photo for A conservative Republican with freckles of libertarianism, Alex Cannon is running for State Senate

Published on October 22, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Alex Cannon is a technology professional for a prominent Rhode Island-based organization running as a Republican in the Senate District 3 special election on the East Side of Providence. He is running against Democrat Sam Zurier, who won a five-way primary election two weeks ago. This interview was conducted over Zoom and edited for clarity.


See also: A big love for education: Democrat Sam Zurier is running for State Senate

Important dates:

  • October 13 – November 1, 2021: Early in-person voting period for the election
  • November 2, 2021: ELECTION DAY – Polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.  

UpriseRI: My first question to everybody, when they’re running for office, is always, As you walk the district and meet with voters, what are the top two or three issues you’re hearing about?

Alex Cannon: Education and the situation with the public schools is probably the most frequent one. Number two is probably the ATVs on the streets, and the motorcycles and the policing of that, or at least the enforcement of that. School choice and policing. Other than that, I don’t know if there’s any commonality among the voters I’ve talked to.

UpriseRI: Providence right now doesn’t have control of their public school system. We’ve given oversight to the state. During your term, Providence schools may be given back to city control. In the meantime, as a State Senator you may have some decisions to make about education policy. What are your thoughts about schools and education in general? What are your thoughts about Providence schools specifically, and what are your thoughts on the state takeover? Was it a success?

Cannon: We know that based on that Johns Hopkins report, which was dismal, that there’s something that needs to be done. I don’t think the transfer to the state was necessary, but I haven’t followed this issue from its inception. That may have been a rash decision or maybe hadn’t been fully thought out. I don’t know what the logic or the rationale was. Why should we suppose that the state could do any better of a job, other than having more central authority over the schools? Maybe there’s an argument that the state could streamline and get more efficiency out of the administration, have more accountability or transparency, whatever it may be. There was, maybe, a rush to say, “We need to fix this so let’s hand it over to the state because the city is incompetent.”

On education in general, I’m a product of public education. I came from Clark County School District in Nevada. It’s the fourth largest school district in America. I think public schools, when when they’re run well, provide a decent education. I’m all for that, but I’m also for school choice. Now, in the implementation of things like school choice, charter schools have been the predominant thing and people talk about vouchers where we funnel taxpayer money to put the pupil in a charter school. But I think the scholarship granting organizations [SGOs] mechanism is an interesting idea. I would support increasing the cap on that so that private philanthropy, if it chooses, can pay for kids’ tuition at any private school of their choice, and the philanthropist gets a little bit of a tax deduction.

If you look at per pupil spending, and I was looking at this when I was on the candidate forum for the Neighborhood Associations, Providence is spending $18,000 per pupil on average. I come from Clark County, where we spend $10,000 for students, on average. If you looked at the total dollars spent, Providence schools spend as much money, total dollar wise, as the entire Clark County School District. That blows my mind because how is there that much waste? There has to be an enormous amount of waste and in that spending, because, though economies of scale is probably part of it, our spending is exorbitant.

Just because throw more money at education doesn’t mean it’s going to be better. I talked to somebody on Hope Street that said there’s mold in the school buildings. We had a special vote last year for $700 million in school bonds. You see all this money and it’s like, where’s it all going?

I’m definitely in favor of school choice, because right now we have a problem. The kids in the schools, on the public education side, are not getting a good bargain. So what do we do in the meantime? If we can put kids in charter schools and private schools through SGO philanthropy, then that addresses the short-term and immediate need to make sure that we don’t lose a generation of kids. Then we need to actually work on what’s going wrong on the public side that I haven’t done a ton of research into.

We can’t even get the bodies in the seats. You look at Hope High School and there’s a 50% chronic absenteeism rate.

UpriseRI: It was bad beforehand, but Covid has hiked that up a lot.

Cannon: Especially when you shift the responsibility to at home learning and it’s like, sign into Zoom. Who’s holding these kids accountable? They don’t have engagement in the home, but we’re mandating compulsory education and expecting the government to take care of it. You look at the outcomes and ask, “Why aren’t we getting good results?” There’s a cultural element to it. It takes more effort from the citizens themselves. If we’re spending $50,000 a year per pupil in the schools, why aren’t we producing rocket scientists and neurosurgeons, and why doesn’t everybody has a $150,000 a year job? It has to start in the home.

UpriseRI: Although there’s not a lot of government could do about mandating behavior in homes. But going back a bit, one of the reasons Providence is so expensive is that we have a high number of English Language Learners [ELL] and that takes more money. We also have a high number of children with special learning needs, which also falls on public schools disproportionately, in part because students who can qualify for charter schools get into charter schools. That leaves a disproportionate number of students in public schools who need more care, more attention, more money. Some people would say that pushing for more charter schools in fact draws resources away from the public schools where the money is most needed. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Cannon: I’d say don’t focus so much on providing vouchers and essentially “stealing” money from the public system, but increase that limit on the SGO cap and allow private philanthropy to pay the tuition for kids that can get into whatever school they want to get into. Leave resources intact for the public system. Then have a systematic approach to go in there and ask, “Are we spending this money efficiently?” Let’s look at how we’re spending this money. Are we using it to the best of our ability? If warranted, reduce that spending. The reduction would be offset by the gains that you find, like if we found that we’re wasting 10% of the budget on stuff that has no impact or is pure waste. That’s where I would start. I didn’t know about the disproportionate number of special needs and English language learners. It makes sense, at least the ELL part.

UpriseRI: Let’s move over to policing. You mentioned ATVs and that is an issue in Providence that a lot of people are very upset about because they’re noisy, they’re doing stunts on the streets, and people feel it’s dangerous. What I hear from Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements is that every big city across the country is dealing with this issue and a good solution hasn’t presented itself. So what do we do?

Cannon: To your point, I think the noise is obviously a nuisance, but my thought is it’s reckless. There’s a potential for a lot of damage, like when they’re doing stunts and lose control. You see them go by doing a wheelie on their four wheeler but that could veer off and strike somebody at a bus stop or cause a multiple car wreck. So from a common sense perspective, and I don’t think anybody disagrees with this, we need to do something about it. What are we going to do about it? I know that right now the legislation on the books is that, if they’re stopped, we impound the vehicle and it’s slated for destruction.

I don’t know why they necessarily need to destroy these vehicles. Maybe we could sell them somewhere and that could be a revenue generator. But from my perspective, it’s the enforcement and the penalties, right?

Let’s take a thought experiment. Somebody that doesn’t have a driver’s license, say a 15-year old riding a four wheeler through the streets of Providence recklessly, gets stopped. The city impounds the ATV, but what are the long-term consequences? Instead of getting your driver’s license at 18, maybe now you’ve got to wait until you’re 25. Let’s look at the punishment structure for that. Do the riders have to show up to court? What are the consequences? Is there jail time on the line for repeat offenders? Obviously the consequences are not dis-incentivizing coming here and act a fool on the streets.

UpriseRI: I’ve talked to ATV riders. They are mostly from low income areas. They spend a lot of money on their ATVs and then, when they’re confiscated by police, the riders don’t recoup that. It’s gone. Many people in that community feel that they’re being unfairly victimized by police, who are basically taking their property without recompense and destroying it. So in some ways there’s already a big financial penalty for when you’re caught.

Cannon: Understandable. I don’t know who came up with the idea of destroying confiscated ATVs. I mean, keep them in an impound and then, if they want it back, make it an accessible route. Don’t make it anything absurd, like, it’s going to cost you $10,000 to get your $5,000 vehicle back. We don’t necessarily need to destroy them. I think it’s flat-out wrong too take someone’s property and destroy it for a violation of riding on the road. To balance out the disproportionate impact – don’t do illegal things. Don’t go riding a dirt bike and doing wheelies on the road on an unregistered vehicle. I would ask the riders, why are you coming out and riding like this?

UpriseRI: I sometimes think, what would happen if you let the registration lapse on your car, and then got pulled over by a police officer and they say, “We’re going to take your car and we’re going to turn into a cube somewhere.” People would freak out, yet with ATVs, we do it and only a few people question it. As far as I know, you can go and buy an ATV right now, completely legally. There’s nothing illegal about buying and owning an ATV. If we wanted ATVs off the streets, we could pass laws to make them illegal statewide.

Cannon: Maybe the incentive was with the foreknowledge that people spend a lot of money on ATVs so the penalty is that we’re taking them or destroying them. I disagree with that on principle. You don’t seize somebody’s property. One, it makes no sense, but two, obviously that method isn’t discouraging. So let’s go back to the problem and come up with another solution. Let’s not double down on something that we see as not working.

UpriseRI: Some people feel that policing in some communities is too harsh and are asking for the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights [LEOBoR]. What is your position on LEOBoR, which is a labor guarantee, made by the state with police officers statewide, that says police have certain rights when it comes to being accused of improprieties?

Cannon: I think wholesale repeal is not a good idea. In a profession like that, we can’t open the gates and say that anytime you’re accused of something, you basically have no protections. I see value in its protective ability, or at least its ability to prevent things. The parallel I draw is that in a litigious society it’s easy to sue people and there’s no recourse for doing so. That’s the same as accusing a police officer for abuse of power or any wrongdoing. LEOBoR prevents – I don’t want to say baseless or frivolous because I don’t want it to sound pejorative, but – police officers need protections in order to do their job effectively. If every decision you make is, “Oh crap, am I going to be held civilly liable? Am I going to be able to be sued for this or am I going to get fired over this?” That puts you in a mode of paralysis because at the same time you could get in trouble for not taking any action, like, “Why didn’t you enforce the law here?” It puts you in a pickle.

However, I don’t think police accountability should be the exclusive domain of the police union and the police administration, where the public has no input and the public has no visibility. I think police should be subject to more public scrutiny, or at least public input. I don’t know what the proposed revisions to LEOBoR are. I know there’s one floating out there.

UpriseRI: Right now the police chief in any municipality can suspend an officer for two days without invoking the protections of LEOBoR. If the chief wants to impose a greater penalty, the officer has the right to invoke LEOBoR. And that point a tribunal is set up consisting of three police officers, one chosen by the officer, one chosen by the police chief and one neutral. Each side has a lawyer. That process can drag out for quite a bit of time

Cannon: And they remain on the job while that tribunal is going.

UpriseRI: Yeah, they get paid and they remain on a job. It depends on how severe the accusation is. When we talk about a Sergeant Hanley type of case, where a Providence Police Officer sat on a person’s neck and physically and verbally assaulted them, he was suspended, with pay, for 180 days. The changes to LEOBoR under the proposed bill would be to extend the suspension period from two to five days and to expand the number of people on the review board from three to five. Only 15 states in America have LEOBoR and Rhode Island is the only New England state. Massachusetts and Connecticut don’t have LEOBoR.

Any other thoughts on policing?

Cannon: I don’t think the defund issue is – I mean – I know that was a national thing but it didn’t seem to take too much root here. I think most people are pretty rational about it and understand that we have to have a police force. Can we improve it? Yeah, probably, in terms of its interaction and engagement with society.

UpriseRI: Defund is an interesting topic because there are people who want to get rid of the police outright, and there are people who say, defund is about putting less money into the police and more money into mental health and substance use services, so the question is how do we shift some of that money? It would be like the way we defund public schools, where we want to put more emphasis on successful program or get more efficiencies. Broadly that’s how I understand the two kinds of defund that people talk about, although I’m over simplifying it. When I talk to people in different communities, there isn’t a big appetite to get rid of police. People don’t want police to go away, they want a police force that works for them, in South Providence, the same way it works for us, here on the East Side. When a police officer approaches you or me, they’re generally respectful, generally decent, and they sometimes help us with our problem, while in South Providence youth of color report routine harassment such as being told to dump out their backpacks on the sidewalk. They don’t feel like they’re treated with respect.

Moving on, the third issue a lot of people bring up is climate change. And as a State Senator you would be dealing with a lot of legislation on climate change. The state passed Act on Climate, which is a gigantic bil, that may have a deep impact once implemented. All the future legislation and policy is going to have to incorporate something from Act on Climate. What should the state be doing about climate change?

Cannon: I think any action we should take should be grounded in reality and thoughtful analysis. I remember on the neighborhood associations’ candidates forum one of the ideas, I believe it was from Geena Pham and maybe Hilary Levey Friedman echoed it, was turning the state’s entire vehicle fleet into an electric vehicle fleet. The first question that popped into my mind was, “How many miles a year does the fleet of state vehicles drive?” And if you back into that calculation – When we spend the money to electrify the fleet how much did we reduce carbon emissions? How much did we reduce expenses on gasoline? We need to thoughtfully analyze it and ask – What’s the impact of this? Does this even make sense? Is the ROI [Return on Investment] on that positive? – Instead of naively saying we ought to get rid of these combustion engines.

Let’s be practical about it and make sure that the efforts we’re taking are going to have the desired impact. I was reading The Economist last night and when you open it up, the first two pages are full page ads. I had never heard of this company, I guess it’s called it’s Aramco, but on the left side, they’ve got carbon cured concrete, and on the right, it’s mobile carbon capture. The ad talks about freight trucks with mobile carbon capture. They can capture 40% of the carbon emissions. And if every freight truck in the world had mobile carbon capture on it, it’d be the equivalent of planting like 80 billion trees or something in terms of the reduction in carbon emissions.

Then there’s the carbon cured concrete, which actually creates a stronger concrete product. It cures concrete in three days instead of 28. The ad mentions that concrete is the most utilized material in the world. So I look at things like that. To me, that’s an innovative solution. Iff we take the argument that CO2 emissions are the problem, then we need to cap CO2 instead of saying we’re going to stop using fossil fuels completely. Let’s start with things like trying to capture as much carbon as we can. Let’s repurpose it and use it for other things so there are spillover benefits to it.

We need a lot of innovation in that space, I think. The bottom line is that if we’re going to stop burning coal and natural gas and we’re going to go to solar power and wind turbines – how do I want to say this? – Those are pieces of the puzzle, but they’re not the long-term solutions. I mean, we look at what happened in Germany last winter where they had this ridiculous dark winter. Solar production plummeted in Europe this past summer. It was a less windy summer so the wind turbines didn’t produce all the expected energy output. They had to switch back to burning coal or natural gas or oil or whatever it was. I think in terms of climate, we are directionally headed where we should be, but I don’t think the solutions are as simple as, “We’re going to switch to all electric cars and we’re all going to switch to solar and wind power.”

And what the spillover or reciprocal effects of that switch? What happens when you decimate the traditional energy market, when we shift away from that? It’s going to have a lot of impacts that can’t be immediately recognized. You have to watch it ripple through the system.

Act on Climate says that if the state doesn’t meet its targets people can sue.

UpriseRI: There’s an individual lawsuit aspect to it. You or I could sue the state if they’re not in compliance with Act on Climate and then the state would have to rectify that. I don’t think there’s monetary gains for us to do so. We wouldn’t be making a million dollars. A successful suit would simply force the state to comply better with the law.

Is what we’re doing on climate change fast enough? Are we going to make it when the polar ice caps are gone and Rhode Island is actually a series of islands because the floods have come?

Cannon: Based on the stuff that I read, they say that we still have a window, but it’s rapidly closing. Personally I highly doubt that we can still impact climate change. I don’t think there’s much we can do in 10 to 20 years that’s going to fundamentally or materially pause or reverse what’s going on with temperatures rising. I know that sounds cynical, but then again, I try to be a realist about it. We definitely shouldn’t be causing more harm to accelerate the process. If we stopped using all fossil fuels immediately, is there an analysis out there that estimates what that impact would be? If we cut carbon emissions to zero across the world today, what effects would would we stop?

UpriseRI: We would stop the rising temperatures and hold them where they are now, I think. If we stopped using fossil fuels, the temperatures would cease going up super fast. You and I will probably be dead by the time the worst worst effects happen, but some of the worst effects are coming this century. Of course, I can’t predict future. I read the same science and try to figure out what’s going to happen.

Anything else about climate change?

Cannon: There are issues related to the Transportation Climate Initiative [TCI], the regional pact. That’s another one of those things where I get the intent, I get what the objective is, but it doesn’t work. Excise taxes on gasoline, unless they’re sufficiently large, are not going to drive any meaningful decrease in carbon emissions. The TCI is essentially a gas tax that gets passed on to consumers. It’s going to increase the cost of transport for goods to stores, so the items that we purchase as consumers are going to go up. The price to fill your tank is going to go up. TCI is not going to materially change driving habits, but it hits that sweet spot where it generates some revenue and legislators can do it under the guise of trying to curb carbon emissions.

Let’s look at the data and do an economic analysis. What’s the elasticity of consumer demand, the price demand elasticity for gasoline? We know that it’s very inelastic. People don’t respond much differently if it’s $2 a gallon or $6 a gallon. There’s still going to be a base level of driving. They may reduce their frivolous driving. I like to drive around Rhode Island because I came from the desert. So sometimes I’ll go drive five hours on back roads and I drive, you know what I mean? I probably wouldn’t do stuff like that, beause that’s a tank of gas. Gas taxes generate revenue, but don’t have any meaningful impact.

And if it’s done under the guise of, “it was a noble effort,” well, we need to get rid of this idea of “it’s a noble effort.” Let’s do things that actually have an impact, instead of raising the cost of living for everyday people, because that’s the problem with tax incentives. They always gets passed onto the consumer. It doesn’t matter – any tax that comes in, whatever it may be – it always gets passed down and nobody’s picking up that tab on our behalf, saying, “We appreciate the 90% of you out there that aren’t billionaires or millionaires. And we’re not going to increase the price of Tide Laundry Detergent because our chemical input costs and transportation costs have gone up. We’re going to bite the bullet on that one for you.” Things like the TCI tax, unless you said gas is now $15 a gallon, people aren’t going to make material changes to the way they live.

UpriseRI: I think if the United States stopped subsidizing fossil fuel companies, gas would start creeping up in price. We give a lot of tax dollars directly to a fossil fuel companies and if we didn’t do that their costs would go up and we would be paying higher costs already.

Cannon: I have this in a statement on my site, to the effect that if the government steps in to solve one problem, it’s probably going to spawn three or four other problems. And then they’ll step in to solve another problem. And it spawns. That’s a great example of when the government interferes in the market, it distorts things. Particularly with environmental stuff – they talk a lot about negative externalities, saying, “We have pollution because people don’t pay the full cost of consuming this resource.” Are we truly paying the costs for gas?

When you incorporate all of its implicit costs, maybe we don’t even need to go to taxes to incentivize behavior. Maybe you say, “Let’s quit doling out all this money and subsidizing gas. Let’s get the price to its natural market level and let behavior change accordingly instead of trying to maintain the status quo and add another layer of complexity. We come up with these complex solutions that are interacting with an already complex system, and then we wonder why, when we pulled this lever, we didn’t get the expected result. It’s because you’ve got a Rube Goldberg thing going on here. If we can get to the basics and strip out the fundamental intervention, we can at least get a clear understanding of where we’re at. If you remove some of the market interference that comes from government intervention, at least we could say that these are the true costs being paid for certain resource utilization. Then we can work to sway that behavior or decide it’s acceptable.

And it doesn’t matter – people are going to continue to do what they want to do at the end of the day. That is a reality. The cost of burning a gallon of gasoline could be $65. And some people would say, “I’m totally okay with that. I’m going to keep burning.” That’s where you break the divide between the practical and the philosophical and ask, do we tell somebody that we don’t like what they’re doing? Are we going to say you can’t do it? Or are we okay with the idea that if you want to pay the cost to be the boss, then have at it. Most people won’t pay it, so you get that natural equilibrium where most people won’t do it and it’s effectively wiped out.

UpriseRI: As a side note, cap and trade was originally suggested by people like Milton Friedman. He’s the father of free market economics. Cap and trade has free market roots. His followers aren’t into it though.

Cannon: I don’t think they’ve got a problem with cap and trade as a solution, but – this is going to be weird analogy. It’s like Bitcoin, right? You suddenly say there’s permits for a billion metric tons of carbon emissions. And the government holds all those. And then they sell them off or dole them out and then people start trading, but the valuation has to come in at the start. To me, that’s where the mechanism starts to fail, because companies like Amazon are going find some way to scoop up all those emission permits. All you’ll do is shift pollution from being dispersed among lots of businesses to polluting just as much, but now it’s all in the hands of a single polluter.

UpriseRI: Bezos still has to go into space, so he’s going to get all the fuel he needs. He can pay whatever you ask.

Cannon: That’s true. He’s burning those rockets. Absolutely right.

UpriseRI: I honestly could talk about economics all day, but we should move on. I want to talk about some of the bread and butter issues. Former State Senator Gayle Goldin was very instrumental in codifying Roe v Wade into state law. We have legislation now to make sure that Medicaid pays for abortions and to allow state government health plans to pay for abortion services. Right now we have these exceptions that adversely impact communities of poor people who are on Medicaid and state workers on public health plans. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Cannon: I’ve given a lot of thought to it and I don’t know if I’ve actually changed my position over the course of my life. I don’t know when I started thinking about abortion all that much. With Roe v Wade codified at the state level, even with the Supreme Court review, as a state we we should be fine. The issue of whether we fund it through Medicaid and through tax payer money – that’s one of those where I’d say, “No, we shouldn’t fund it.” There are people with legitimate objections. Why should we be complicit and paying for abortions? But private philanthropy, like the SGOs with education – there’s plenty of money out there that that side of the aisle dumps into campaigns every year. Divert some of it and set up a community program.

UpriseRI: I know there are some community programs that do that. The Women’s Health & Education Fund [WHEF] does that.

Cannon: If you want it to sum it up, I’m a pro-lifer. But to qualify that, I’m not into trying to mandate people’s behavior. That’s not something I’m in favor of as a conservative Republican with freckles of libertarianism. That said, why am I not pro-choice? My dilemma, and maybe the dilemma for lots of people, is when do we say life starts, and when does an abortion become murder? It gets back to that fundamental question, at least in my mind, are we killing another human being? At which point, depending on the outcome of that decision or that belief, are you violating the rights of another human being? That’s why we step in and say you cannot do that because that would not be in line with our principles. You can’t kill people. I don’t think that question’s ever been fully resolved. I was reading a couple months ago that they’re trying to get to the point where they determine when the fetus has consciousness…

UpriseRI: If we can properly define consciousness.

Cannon: Yeah. I guess my biggest problem with it, how do you define life?

UpriseRI: Part of it is religiously based. There are religions that believe that that life begins at conception, so even something like the morning after pill is abortion and should be outlawed. And there are people who believe that life starts at birth. I believe the Jewish religious tradition says life starts at birth, not at conception. And both sides use biblical reasoning to justify their position. But some people who hold these religious views say, above all, it’s the pregnant person’s choice because they are ultimately the person who has to make the decision. That’s the pro-choice position, not ignoring the philosophical and religious issues, but acknowledging a person’s right to act on their beliefs.

Cannon: There are sex selective abortions. In some countries they looked at the birth rates. Normally, the ratio between boys and girls born in any general human population or civilization is 107 boys for every 100 girls. That’s the natural, golden number. But they’re seeing in countries like India it’s 117 boys to 100 girls. Where are these girls going? This doesn’t happen in nature. So people seem to be detecting a biological female and aborting because they want a boy. If we get to a point where we can genetically test and say, “This fetus is going to be six foot two with brown eyes and moderate athletic ability,” all limits are off. You know what I mean?

UpriseRI: Marijuana legislation will likely be taken up at in the next General Assembly session. What are your thoughts on marijuana and marijuana legalization?

Cannon: For the recreational use? This will be my libertarian side coming out. Legalize it, regulate the cultivation, distribution and retail sales. A couple of things happen with that, so I’ll do this in two parts. If you decriminalize it, that stops the arrests and the incarcerations due to offenses related to it. That has some pluses. We already have a burdened correctional system – lots of time wasted and resources wasted in courts over stuff like that. The way I look at it, alcohol is illegal and alcohol does way more damage to society than marijuana. I don’t know many people who will argue against that.

So you’re free to use marijuana If you choose to. Who am I to judge and say that you shouldn’t be able to do that? We hear a lot about how it’s going to be a financial windfall. I don’t necessarily agree with that. What are we going to do to control the illicit market? Because it’s already well-established. The illicit operations would continue. We’d generate some revenue off the taxes and all that, but I don’t think we would get that much of a financial boon out of it, which is one of the arguments I hear in favor of it.

The other piece is impaired driving. As far as I know there is no reliable way to test if you are actively under the influence of marijuana and determine the level of impairment on your faculties. All we can do is test and say there’s THC in your hair. We know you smoked sometime within the last six months. That’s a problem.

UpriseRI: I don’t want a cop to give me a blood test when he pulls me over to find out my THC levels are.Not because I’m smoking pot, but because I don’t want needles jammed into me by cops.

Cannon: There’s a temporal lag, because THC in your system doesn’t mean you’re high right now.

UpriseRI: I’m not sure what the solution to that issue is. Although I guess in places where it is legal, like Massachusetts or Colorado, we could look at data and figure out if accidents went up.

I’m interested in the issue of records expungement. Should we automatically expunge the criminal records of people previously convicted of marijuana related crimes once it’s legal?

Cannon: I don’t think so. If you think about the impacts of having a criminal record, we don’t necessarily need to erase the record. As a hiring manager, when I’m reviewing an application, I wouldn’t consider that because I know we’ve legalized it. We know that that was a bad idea to be fighting the war on drug. You could expunge everybody, but is it worth the time? The private sector, for lack of a better word, the market, incorporates that. When we do a background check on a person for a job and it came back positive we’ll look at the report and say, he’s got a DUI and a marijuana charge. Well, we don’t care about the marijuana charge because, effectively, that shouldn’t be showing on there. So do we need to have the automatic expungement?

UpriseRI: COVID and COVID restrictions. What should we be doing about COVID and what do you think about the restrictions, mask mandates and vaccine mandates?

Cannon: The precedent for vaccine mandates was that case in 1905 in Massachusetts, smallpox. So from a legal standpoint, it’s pretty much accepted that the state has the police power to compel vaccination in the interest of public health. I’m not in favor mandates. I’m not anti-vaccine, but in situations like this, where they’re saying you will get vaccinated, or you will be fired, that doesn’t sit right with me. The vaccines, we know, work to a degree but there are still breakthrough infections. It’s not the silver bullet it was played up to be. But we should work towards increasing vaccination, and try and get as many people to take the shot as we can get without forcing people out of their jobs. Make reasonable accommodations. Some people have legitimate medical issues or concerns. I think it’s multi-pronged – continue with the vaccination efforts, continue with testing and gently nudge people to make a wise choice. If you’ve been exposed and you don’t know whether or not you have COVID, you should probably stay at home for awhile and be respectful of others.

UpriseRI: My last question I haven’t asked of everybody in this race because I think it’s a little different in your case. Historically, Senate District 3 has been Democratic. It’s a democratic stronghold and you’re running as a Republican. So what are your thoughts? What is your path to victory? I’m assuming this isn’t a candidacy to bring up some points in the debate or something like that – You want to win. You want to be the Senator.

Cannon: My campaign manager Dave Talan, is the co-chair of the Providence Republican City Committee. He’s got his thumb on the political pulse. He identified 700 some odd registered Republican voters in the east side that have voted in one of the past or all of the past three elections. So we know that there are Republicans on the east side that are active and engaged. So in terms of a path to victory – or at least the strategy – it’s that, given that it’s been a Democratic stronghold for so long, I think people are accustomed to voting in the primary and then that person walks into the office because there’s nobody on the other side of the ticket.

This is a special election, so there’s probably going to be low turnout – Although we did see a pretty solid turnout for the primary. That was strong. I was at the polls and I was surprised how many people were streaming in. But I think that it’s a new situation, where there’s actually somebody on the opposite side of the ticket and we’ll get a lot of people sitting at home thinking that they voted in primary and it’s all said and done. They think it’s probably a lock. So, I’m hoping to pull a surprise. It’s plausible. That’s the strategy. Also, personal outreach. I’m knocking on doors. We’re sending mailings to registered Republicans and people that we think would be supporters. So that’s the strategy with the intent to win.

It comes down to solutions. There are problems we face as a society. There are solutions that government is authorized to address and is best suited to address. How do we implement good solutions when we use the government? Things like the TCI gas tax – Are you guys taking a shot in the dark because this sounds like it would work? One of my frustrations is that when it comes to critical decisions about how the government is going to spend money and execute its power, the data is nebulous – there’s no quantitative analysis.

It’s like that thing with electrifying the state’s fleet. Don’t come out and say that – Do you have a plan of as to why that would have an impact on carbon emissions? I want to see what the estimates are. I want to see the economic analysis. The childcare thing, that’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue with this billion dollars that we want to spend. In [Governor Daniel] McKee‘s budget proposal there’s two paragraphs. The first one says we’re going to increase the rates at which we reimburse childcare providers to increase the quality of care and expand access. From an economic perspective, raising the cost of something that expand access or do anything to increase quality.

In the next paragraph, the Governor writes that they’re going to increase the threshold from 200% of the poverty line to 250% of the poverty line so that we don’t exclude the people that used to be able to afford it from being able to afford it now. You raised the price of childcare. Did you affect quality? Maybe? I don’t know. Did we expand access? Apparently not, because we had to take action to increase the threshold so that we could maintain the access level we had. Does that solution makes sense?

That’s one of my biggest motivations for running. I look around and see it in the federal government. I see it in state government. It’s one thing to have an idea. It’s another thing to be able to deliver and to actually effect change. I consider myself to be a pretty open-minded person. I’m not coming from an ideological bent. I’m willing to have a discussion and talk about things. And one of the things I mention to people when I’m knocking on doors is that I may not agree with the objective of some legislation, but as a minority member – the Republicans are probably not going to influence any legislation – but if we saw legislation coming through and we see that it’s method of implementation is going to be an utter failure, at the very least we could do is suggest a better method of implementation. That’s my motivation. To come in and honestly assess the situations.

For instance, Sam Zurier brought it up that Providence pension thing, $700 million in unfunded liabilities. Who’s going to solve that problem?

UpriseRI: That’s a generational problem. It took us a generation or two to get into and it’s going to take us a generation or two to get out of, I think.

Cannon: Exactly. And that’s the where the practical problem solving doesn’t come in. We come in with talking points and kick the can down the road, but we’re getting closer and closer to the end of the road where some of this stuff is going to have material impacts.

UpriseRI: There’s talk about teaming all the municipal pensions together – Providence, Cranston, Warwick and more – and a bringing them into the state program as a package. I think that’s the best solution I’ve heard. The state will take a little hit, but over time, everybody will be stronger.

This has been a great conversation and I appreciate your time.

Did you enjoy this article?


More Politics & Elections Coverage