We talked to many of the local candidates running for public office in the upcoming 2020 election. We asked each of them the same set of questions, with the promise to print their answers only lightly edited for clarity. The following answers are from Paul Roselli (D), running against incumbent Jennifer de la Cruz (R), for RI Senate District 23.
Motif: What are, in order, your top three priorities or issues if elected?
Paul Roselli: First and foremost, my top priority is for the economy to get back on track due to COVID-19 with the rescue of our small businesses. The pandemic has shown us that there are weaknesses in how businesses are regulated. We are using 20th century regulations in food delivery and security, managing and creating livable walkable neighborhoods, business management models, loan and banking services, hiring practices that need to adjust in a world ravaged by this disease. We can no longer look backward to solve our problems. Our business as usual model must become a thing of the past.
Second is the environment. We must stop cutting down our forests. Incentives for solar installations must be revamped for already disturbed lands, more incentives for roof tops, more training for installers, engineers, to include solar panels on all buildings in our state. Also, we need a line item funding source for open space purchases. The concept of voter approved bonds is a good one that has worked since Governor John H. Chafee instituted the Green Acres program in the 1960s. But that model is costly. We need a bottle bill that will help fund open space and preservation of what little land we have left.
And third is health care. The health of Rhode Islanders has come under scrutiny with the coronavirus. I want health equity regardless of location and income. Develop more of Dr. Michael Fine’s community health centers. When all of us are healthy with primary care options that are affordable and timely, then all of us will be able to enjoy the world around us.
Motif: After the election, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case with ramifications that could eliminate the Affordable Care Act, potentially reducing the high insured rate in Rhode Island. In a country without ACA protections, what should healthcare for Rhode Islanders look like?
PR: I’ve been a small business owner for nearly 40 years. I own and operate a documentary film production company. During that time, there were years that I didn’t have — and could not afford — healthcare insurance. There were no options other than high deductibles and low coverage health insurance. Today, I’m on Medicare. We must lower the age of Medicare. Make community based primary care easy to access. Set state mandated rates that hospitals can charge for services and procedures. Educate populations on healthy lifestyles. Without the Affordable Care Act we will go back to a 20th century model of high rates and little services. Healthcare workers want to take care of people. Healthcare owners want to make money. As a state, we will need to adjust our regulations to include primary care options for all residents, children, mothers and anyone who can work.
Motif: Do you think police departments are overfunded, and if so, how would you reallocate those resources?
PR: I do not believe that police departments are overfunded. But I do believe that the resources need to be reallocated for increased training, additional personnel trained in social services, trained in medical care, problem solving and de-escalation of potentially dangerous situations. The right to protest is inherent in our society and written into our laws and regulations. I want a police force that listens, sends me people who are skilled and trained in working with community organizers offering guidance and support and who listen intently to the needs and desires of a community in need. We all feel the pain when situations escalate and turn violent. Money needs to be spent in community supported programs that help people deal with strife and inequalities. This is the only way all of us can move toward a better world.
Motif: Should school funds be pooled and redistributed on a weighted scale to address statewide equity issues, or should districts continue to fund their own community schools? Are there school districts that should be combined?
PR: Its hard to believe that in Rhode Island’s 39 towns and cities there are 66 school districts. Local control of local schools is a must. And that has been the model for the last 200 years or so. With technology and bringing education into a community, we can lessen the cost of education by reducing transportation and infrastructure costs, using solar canopies on school parking lots can add money for more teachers, more resources for our students who may be at home, in school or both. Equity is a must for all to prosper. We need to redistribute funds with a better system than the one we now have. Using funds from generating solar energy can be an equalizer for urban and rural schools alike. Pooling tax supported funds can help with purchasing power of supplies, food and fuel. State mandated regional approaches to snow removal, street cleaning, school monitors and more can save money that should go to education, teacher supported services. And we must move rapidly toward getting high speed internet across Rhode Island and into our schools. Doing these will help equalize the regional and local disparities.
Motif: COVID most harshly impacted a lot of core industries in Rhode Island (eg, hospitality, restaurants, arts/entertainment). What can elected officials do to revitalize these industries and improve the lives of our poorest residents?
PR: First, we must stop 20th century business as usual model of hospitality, restaurants, arts and entertainment and more. Transportation is key here. Getting cars off our highways. Designing livable walkable areas in existing towns and cities. Designing cities and towns with more venues for our core industries. Rhode Island is a small business state. I’m a small business owner. As an elected official, I see my role in working with folks from Save the Bay, SmartGrowth, Health Equity Zones to create policy that would open our streets to dining, making our ponds and rivers clean and usable, creating areas in parking lots as educational zones for solar canopies, new technologies that will increase use of the internet. We currently design spaces for cars. That is a 20th century approach. Let’s design our spaces to include trees, open space, forests, places to kayak, swim. We can open up the economy by spending on areas that already have the infrastructure. When we do that, small businesses will move in. And most importantly, we need to adjust our way of business thinking and instead of giving incentives to big corporations, we need to give incentives, low cost or no cost loans, training to anyone who wants to start a business in a neighborhood. We must stop our give away programs to the mega rich, and instead give them to people who need it. We must turn our workforce into owners and entrepreneurs.
Motif: Climate change is a very real threat in Rhode Island — we are in close proximity to the ocean and broke temperature and drought records this year. If elected, what steps would you take to protect the environment?
PR: I’m an environmentalist. I’ve been endorsed by Clean Water Action, The Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club and Climate Action Rhode Island. First we need to control our waste — we need a bottle bill. The funds from the bottle bill would reduce our waste management costs and could provide funds for the purchase of open space. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management must update their greenhouse gas emissions standards to the latest as provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The RIDEM must strengthen and enforce all environmental regulations in our state and as such, the agency must receive more funds to hire more people in each of their departments. As a legislator, I would immediately call for a moratorium on the clearcutting of forests in our state. No rate payer money would be used to clearcut forests. I would call for and institute a $0.06 increase in incentives for rooftop solar and solar canopies on disturbed lands. Give no cost grants or low cost loans for anyone wanting to convert their heating system using heat pumps. And I would write into legislation that procurement would not only be the least cost in terms of dollars, but least cost in terms of life cycle. Legislation would be introduced to mandate gas companies to update and improve that gas transmission infrastructure and get to 0% gas leaks as quickly as possible. Rhode Island can be a leader in solar energy. We need a solar panel making facility in Rhode Island. Training for electricians and installers. And, we need to stop the environmental racism that takes place daily along Allens Avenue and in other parts of Rhode Island. Dust and soot from diesel trucks exasperates asthma, causes heart and lung ailments, and troubles the hearing and sensory systems. If elected, I would help institute new regulations to clean up our streets along these areas, reduce air and noise pollution and force the gas and oil companies to pay the bill.