Q&A with Tony Jones: “Rhode Island is in a fiscal crisis and we must start somewhere to get things on track.”

tonyjones2014’s Rhode Island elections are drawing near, and one candidate for the lieutenant governor’s office is looking to eliminate it altogether. Vice Chairman of the Libertarian Party Rhode Island and radio show host Tony Jones seeks election to the office – only to dismantle it – and would do this without taking salary or staff.

Crimson Al-Khemia:  With states such as Maine, New Hampshire, Tennessee and West Virgina that would move power to the senate president and states such as Arizona, Oregon and Wyoming that would move the power to the secretary of state, RI’s Constitution states in Article IX, Section 10 that the absence in the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house would fill the role. Originally, the lt. governor acted as the senate president until 2003, when the senate was allowed to elect its own officer. If RI eliminated the office of the lt. governor and the chain of power could be amended in the constitution, would you be more in favor of the senate president, the secretary of state, or the speaker of the house as the next in line to fill the governor’s vacancy?

Tony Jones:  I personally like the idea of simply making it one of the duties of the secretary of state. Normally the secretary of state already has a deputy secretary of staff on staff, [and] he or she will be ready to step up should the secretary of state be called on to become governor. Unlike past elections cycles, we have a unique opportunity to actually make this happen. This will be a question on the November ballot in regard to a RI Constitutional Convention, which I support should this pass, the Constitutional Convention could be utilized to eliminate the office among other things.

CA: Eliminating the lt. governor’s office would save taxpayers $1 million a year. How far does a million dollars go in RI’s spending in a single year? Is it really saving a substantial amount of money compared to what the state already spends?

TJ: In the whole of the budget one million dollars isn’t much money. However, when people are struggling, one million dollars is a lot of money. Rhode Island is in a fiscal crisis and we must start somewhere to get things on track. I would also hope my election would serve as inspiration to anyone with ideas on how to cut wasteful spending in the state. In essence, I’ve found a million, let’s add to that. Does anyone else have any ideas?

CA: If elected, you said on the Libertarian Party of Rhode Island’s website that you “would serve alone, hire no staff, take no budget, and refuse to accept a salary.” While your main focus would be on eliminating the office, will you take the time to address any other concerning issues facing the state and if so, which would they be?

TJ: With my election I would serve as a voluntary place holder while working toward the elimination of the office. I would also use the so called “bully pulpit” of holding the office to advocate for small business, support RI music, art and culture and talk about the legalization of marijuana. These are all things I am very passionate about. However, and unlike my opponents, I am willing to do this work voluntary and would never be so bold as to ask the taxpayers of RI for one million dollars a year to work on my pet projects.

CA: According to Gallup polls, since 1996 both Democratic and Republican Parties have had a steady decline in public approval ratings, however, a majority in power on state and federal levels are from one of the two parties and not of any other. Is it a lack of public awareness on the media’s part of educating voters of the other parties and candidates, or are third parties and independents not trying hard enough to stand out?

TJ: In my opinion there are a few things going on. Most people are creatures of habit. When I’m out talking to folks I often hear, “My parents were Democrats, so I’m a Democrat.” Same with Republicans.  Secondly, third-party candidates are often shut out of the major debates by the mainstream media, so their message is not heard by a critical mass of voters. New and alternative media is playing a key role in leveling the playing field; also, there is the idea of the traditional political party maybe out-living its usefulness. Most people pride themselves of their independence. I like the idea of loose coalitions of people working together toward a common goal while leaving labels out.

CA: For the state and the country, do you feel the electoral vote or the popular vote is more important in electing leaders?

TJ: I like the The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which is an agreement among several states to replace current rules of the Electoral College with rules guaranteeing the election of the candidate with the most popular votes in all fifty states. On the local level I’d like to see instant-runoff voting: the voting system used for single winner elections in which voters can rank candidates in order of their preference. With IRV, no longer is the voter asked to select one the “lesser of two evils” or in the case of the major party, oftentimes low-turnout primaries, we would be left with a candidate who best represents the choice of the people.

CA: As you are seeking a job without pay, there are many in the state seeking jobs with pay. RI is currently tied with Mississippi for the worst unemployment rate in this country at 7.9%. What is being done wrong or going wrong in the state for this to happen and how would you turn it around?

TJ: Small businesses continue to be the backbone of the economy, and yet are squeezed out of existence be overregulation on the local and state level. We should ask the state government to run as lean and efficiently as possible in its support of new and existing small business. Also, some of the regulations most responsible for job-killing are the ones that are placed on adult education. Currently, most of the nation’s colleges do not provide the kind of training that small to mid-size businesses are in need of, and businesses that hire untrained individuals must dedicate a large amount of money, time and resources to provide such training. There is a need for skilled individuals, but this is prevented by state regulations.

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