Editorial & Opinion

Lenny Cioe: A new facade on an old building

“The Senate President claims he wants a “transformational” legislative session, but we will never have true change if the man with the power to make that legislation reality is merely a puppet of powerful lobbyists and wealthy corporations…”
Photo for Lenny Cioe: A new facade on an old building

Published on January 18, 2022
By Lenny Cioe

At the beginning of the year, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio published an op-ed that outlined his goals for the upcoming legislative session. In some ways, I applaud Ruggerio’s effort. He knows that the people of our state are demanding progressive changes like the ones he proposes. 

But while Ruggerio says that he wants to make these changes to “reinvest in the state and its people,” a closer look at the corporate lobbyists who bankroll his campaign, as well as his voting record in the past few years, demonstrates that Ruggerio is not and has never been interested in working towards the progressive change he lays out in his op-ed.

For example, in the op-ed Ruggerio says he wants the senate to “redouble its efforts to enact strong climate legislation.” But while he says he’s ready to make greater efforts now, his campaign donations and voting record suggest otherwise. 

For example, despite months of protests by local climate activists, Sea 3, a huge out-of-state corporation, is attempting to expand their fossil fuel storage in the Port of Providence by over half a million gallons. Instead of siding with climate activists, Ruggerio has cozied up with their opponents – taking over a thousand dollars from Nicholas Hemond, the head lawyer and lobbyist with Sea 3. Hemond is only one of the many fossil fuel lobbyists who bankroll Ruggerio’s campaign. 

The interests of Ruggerio’s corporate fossil fuel lobbyists are directly reflected in his legislative agenda. For example, just last year, Ruggerio made it one of his top priorities for the senate to vote on and pass a massive tax break for ExxonMobil, one of the largest oil and gas corporations in the world.

How can we trust Ruggerio to act on his word when his campaign is financed by the very industries he seeks to regulate and create policy about?

In his time in the Senate, Ruggerio has voted for budget after budget that slash Medicaid spending in our state. Under his leadership as Senate President, he has rammed through two state budgets (in 2018 & 2019) that massively slashed Medicaid funding for Rhode Islanders. These cuts to Medicaid – which Ruggerio has championed – do not represent the interests of Rhode Islanders. They do, however, represent the interests of his donors. While cutting the funding for  Rhode Islanders’ life-saving care, Ruggerio has solicited tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists for health insurance corporations and multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies.

The Senate President claims he wants a “transformational” legislative session, but we will never have true change if the man with the power to make that legislation reality is merely a puppet of powerful lobbyists and wealthy corporations. The reason corporate lobbyists donate to political campaigns is because there is the expectation that money talks. Nothing is different with Ruggerio, regardless of what he may write in an op-ed. 

I’m running against Ruggerio and refusing to take donations from PACs or corporate lobbyists because I believe pay to play politics should have no role in our state governance, and because I’m championing a series of new policy ideas that will help rebuild Rhode Island.

I brought these problems to light long before Ruggerio noticed them, such as in December of 2020 when I published an op-ed calling for us to change our budget priorities and reinvest in schools, healthcare, and housing. We also need to fully fund our public schools by raising taxes on the wealthiest one percent of Rhode Islanders, a change he refused to make in a recent interview. Nurses and health care workers should be receiving combat pay, and we need to do an audit on the insurance companies managing Medicare and Medicaid to fully understand how those public funds are being used. 

These are fresh ideas for Rhode Island that center the needs of our community, not the lobbyists up at the State House. My vision for Rhode Island is truly transformational. It’s a world in which all have access to a good public education, green climate jobs, free college, and well-paid teachers and nurses, changes our community desperately needs.

Lenny Cioe is a registered nurse and a candidate for State Senate District 4.

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