RHODE ISLAND – Who’ll be Rhode Island’s next lieutenant governor? One of several dozen applicants who submitted a letter of interest.
The Transition Office of Daniel McKee announced the selection process a little more than two weeks ago, and their request for applicants was heard loud and clear by a myriad of candidates.
When Gov. Gina Raimondo leaves the Ocean State to join President Joe Biden’s cabinet as commerce secretary, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee will be stepping up and assuming her responsibilities. The question of who assumes his role and responsibilities has yet to be answered, however.
During a two-week window, the net cast by his transition team came back with dozens of applicants from an array of professional backgrounds – from finance and consulting, to the tech industry and healthcare.
One of the most notable applicants includes Aaron Regunberg, who in 2018, ran a close primary in the race for lieutenant governor. The results of the Rhode Island Democratic Primary put Regunberg 2,466 votes behind McKee – separating the then-28-year-old challenger from the incumbent by 2.2 percent.
“We are living in critical times,” Regunberg wrote in his letter of interest. “So many families are struggling to survive the health and economic crises battering them. We know Rhode Island can do better for the working people of our state, and we all have a part to play in addressing the challenges ahead.”
“I am submitting this letter of interest because I believe I have the energy and skills to support the new administration’s work in the months ahead,” he later added, after touting his experience in community organization and highlighting his two terms in the Rhode Island General Assembly.
More than two months before the transition team asked for letters of interest, and before Raimondo had been tapped to serve as commerce secretary, Regunberg publicly announced he was exploring another run for lieutenant governor in 2022.
A few days after the selection process had been announced, Regunberg confirmed to the Narragansett Times via an email correspondence that he planned to submit and application “on behalf of the thousands of people who were excited about our vision for this office, and the 49 percent of Democratic primary voters who supported our campaign in the last round.”
“Whatever happens, I’m strongly rooting for the success of the incoming administration, and looking forward to continuing this exploratory process — talking to my neighbors, gathering ideas from our communities and envisioning the changes we need to make Rhode Island a fair, healthy and just home for all of us,” he wrote.
In addition to Regunberg, a number of other local politicians have also put their names forth for consideration — like Rep. Anastasia Williams (Dist. 9 – Providence). She most recently made headlines as the prime sponsor of legislation that allowed Rhode Islanders to weigh in on the official state name.
In November, the voters of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations decided to shorten the official state name — which Williams championed as one of many steps in addressing the state’s long history of systemic racism.
Williams believes she has proven her “ability countless times over the course of [her] 28-year legislative career,” and is the right woman for the job.
Other applicants include Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, Westerly Town Councilman Caswell Cooke, Providence City Councilwoman Sabina Matos (Ward 15) and former Narragansett Town Council President Matthew Mannix.
Mannix, who made an unsuccessful run for the Rhode Island State Senate this past fall, submitted an application with the best interest of taxpayers in mind — of whom Mannix said he was a strong advocate for during his time on the council.
“You will need that type of person as your right hand in your role as our state’s next governor, dealing with a gaping budget deficit created by pandemic lockdowns,” Mannix wrote in his letter of interest. “I have withstood criticism from special interests looking to increase spending for their programs and projects at the local level.”
“I will bring that same steadfast commitment to fiscal responsibility as your lieutenant governor,” he added, also commenting on his goals for supporting small businesses and expanding charter school options.
Other recent candidates to through their hats into the ring include Maria Bucci, who ran as a Democrat with hopes of replacing long-time Republican Cranston City Mayor Allan Fung, and Dylan Conley, who made a run for Congress.
Those who’ve expressed interest in filling McKee’s vacancy are not all closely tied to the political scene in Rhode Island, and come from a wide array of backgrounds, though a local meteorologist makes for one of the most surprising submissions.
Channel 12 Weekend Forecaster T.J. Del Santo might not appear to be a likely choice, but he believes his professional experiences have positioned him to address the issues of climate change.
“As a meteorologist, I know all too well the climate challenges our state and region face,” Del Santo wrote in his letter of intent. “I was in flooded homes and businesses in 2010. I walked through the destruction of Superstorm Sandy and countless other storms. Families and businesses need help before and after disasters, and I’d like to be there for them.”
In addition to being a voice people will listen to on this issue, Del Santo said he has first-hand experience of the types of struggles small businesses face even in the best of times.
As the husband of an accountant with her own practice, and the son of former floral shop owners, Del Santo said Rhode Island small businesses “need to know the state has their back and will work to give them ways to generate funds.”
The list of 60 applications, all of whom have been authenticated by the transition team, were released on Tuesday afternoon.
“I am heartened by the response we received from Rhode Islanders who are interested in getting involved to strengthen our state,” the incoming governors said in a statement on Tuesday. “I thank them for sharing their unique perspectives on how the lieutenant governor position can help move Rhode Island forward as we roll out vaccines and rebuild our economy.”
McKee will not address filling the position until after he is sworn in as governor, but the individual selected to fill his vacancy will be subject to approval from the Rhode Island State Senate.