Two well-respected and experienced candidates will face off in what promises to be a tightly-contested and closely-watched contest for a position once thought to be irrelevant. Obviously neither Democrat Dan McKee, a small business owner, successful advocate for charter schools and the six time mayor of Cumberland nor Republican Catherine Taylor, a veteran staffer for both Senators Chafee, recent director of elderly affairs for the state and someone who came within 1% of unseating Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, see it that way.
The office of lieutenant governor, which the two are now seeking, comes with clearly delineated responsibilities. At the top of the list, of course, is to be prepared to take over in the event of the incapacitation or absence of the governor. But in addition, the lieutenant governor is responsible for overseeing councils focusing on long-term-care, small business and emergency management. And though their priorities may differ, either candidate will bring considerable experience and heft to the position if elected.
In June, Catherine Taylor resigned as head of elderly affairs after three and a half years of service. “Even though I could have remained in office, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to manage state contracts and run for the office at the same time,” she says. She feels her life’s experiences encompass all aspects of the job and she can’t wait to get started. “I’m troubled how some people seeking this office, see it as nothing more as a holding position until they get ‘promoted’ or use it to advance a pet project.”
She argues that her small business experience, legislative background and recent managerial position will allow her to bring the different parts of the job together. “A physician for example is a small businessman. If we can help him run his business... by cutting red tape, reducing paperwork, creating appropriate tax structures... this has implications for overall health care expenses too. It all fits together.”
She also hopes to tackle an overlooked state problem as well. “Everyone laments that our children can’t find jobs and move out of our state. But more troubling is what happens to our young retirees in their 60s. They go off to Florida, or even nearby Mass because of our estate taxes, our sales taxes, our perceived corruption. No one seems to pay them much attention because they’re not job creators. Young retirees must be encouraged to stay here. They’re the natural customers of what our state does best... offer great restaurants, boating, the arts. Plus they support our charities.”
And of course Taylor has some thoughts on the importance of a two party system. “Over my years with John Chafee, I saw how things worked when the moderates of both parties got together. It made for robust dialogue, more useful debates and ultimately better decisions,” she says. “I look forward to being part of that.”
Catherine Taylor was born in Connecticut, went to Yale and worked for over 20 years for the Chafees in both Washington and Providence. She lives on Lloyd Avenue with her husband Rob, an attorney, and her four children.
As the owner of the Woonsocket Health & Racquet Club in Woonsocket for the past 30 years and as mayor of Cumberland for the past 16, Dan McKee has certainly experienced the roller coaster ride that is the Rhode Island economy. But he feels this has now positioned him to try and help the state itself: “I’m calling my candidacy A Campaign for a Better Rhode Island. The plan is to focus on the economy, on job opportuni- ties and on public education.”
He points to two specific areas where he feels he has been particularly successful: fiscal responsibility and educational leadership. “I inherited a town that had just endured a five point rating downgrade when I was first elected,” he says. “We rebuilt the finance department and have been able to win an eight point upgrade during my administration and are now rated AA.”
Similarly, the mayor was part of an effort to create a successful charter school program called the Mayoral Academy, that now educates over 1,300 students in Cumberland, Lincoln, Pawtucket and Central Falls at the elementary, middle and now high school levels. “Our students reflect the diverse nature of the four towns and in fact our elementary school was just rated number one in the state.”
His hope, if elected, is to make the lieutenant governor’s office a place where municipal officials can come together and solve common problems. “I plan to bring in experts on the three areas of responsibility the office has,” he says. “I don’t think anyone has the experience in regionalization that I have. The unfounded mandates are killing us and I feel this office, could help by providing financing suggestions and suggesting areas of cooperation among towns and cities.”
Dan McKee is a lifelong resident of Cumberland and is currently the mayor of Cumberland. He and his wife Susan have two grown children, one in New York and one in Boston.