A Hummel Report Investigation
John Robitaille - 2010 Republican Party candidate for governor
Click HERE for more of the inteview.
The break room at Smithfield's LFI Incorporated is packed on this Wednesday morning and John Robitaille has the floor.
The Republican candidate for governor is largely preaching to the choir at this high-tech manufacturing plant, but others have questions - which Robitaille is more than happy to answer...
Robitaille: ``I believe people always ask you why are you running for governor? That's probably the one question every candidate probably has the most difficult time answering. Because you don't want to sound cliche. But I'm running because I can do a good job. I really do. I believe I have the skills and the experience...and the temperament to do a good job.''
Robitaille jumped in the race at the beginning of the year after businessman Rory Smith dropped out - and Steve Laffey continued to waffle about a run. Robitaille sized up the rest of the field, which at that point included Patrick Lynch, Linc Chafee and Frank Caprio.
Hummel: ``Maybe I don't have their pedigrees - I went to PC, not Harvard but I've got a lot of experience. Military leadership, two big companies, labor relationship, started my own business - couple of years in the executive branch. Why not me?''
And it's been quite a ride for Robitaille, who a year ago was Gov. Carcieri's communications director. He watched first-hand how his former boss operated...and more importantly how government operated.
Robitaille: ``I don't think the governor of a state should be down in the engine room tinkering with software and turning the valves. He should be up on the bridge heading the ship in the right direction. And you need to surround yourself with the best people you can find.''
Hummel: ``What surprised you the most?''
Robitaille: ``The slowness and inefficiency of government. And the real issues that arise when you have a government that's not balanced - when you have all of the power concentrated in one branch of government. And I think the waste and almost the archaic nature, if you look at organizational design, if you look at the way government is designed versus the way a high-tech streamlined company is. It is top-heavy, we have a lot of redundancy.''
Since then it has been a furious pace of campaigning, as he is out the door early from his home in Portsmouth most days - hopping behind the wheel and driving himself - the one time during day he gets a little solitude.
Without the war chests of his opponents, Robitaille has attended hundreds of events, losing 24 pounds along the way. He is often accompanied by his wife Linda.
Hummel: ``Where does she fit in with this campaign?''
Robitaille: ``She's my most trusted advisor. She knows me better than anyone.''
Hummel: ``Is that good to have your wife advising you?''
Robitaille: ``Yeah, but she advises me not on policy, she advises me on staying centered and being who I am and speaking from the heart. And we have an agreement if I ever start sounding like a real politician she's going to whack me in the back of the head.''
And part of that conversation has centered on whether to go negative. Robitaille - who has preached a standard Republican message of tax cuts and spending reduction - has been climbing in the polls. But some wonder if his positive message may not be enough to bridge the gap.
Hummel: ``It's pretty clear to me that you're trying to take the high road. And in the last couple of weeks I've heard people say - he needs...if Caprio and Chafee clearly are the frontrunners - the high road's not going to work, because the nice guys finish third. In this race. Is there an inclination to jump in and get in that mud bath?''
Robitaille: `` Absolutely not. I don't believe - in a two-way race it's probably right - but in a four-way race. No. I have a pathway and it's going to stay out of the gutter. The gutter's pretty cluttered right now - the fast lane is wide open that's where I will stay. I will resist going negative. This is a four-way race. I've got three of them in there throwing bombs at each other right now. What new am I going to add? What advantage is it to me to point out something the other two have already pointed out on the third person?''
As he talks to business owners, workers and others, Robitaille says he has tried to do a lot of listening.
Robitaille: ``People are angry people - they don't trust government. I think people want to have a governor who - I don't want to use the word trust - but who they believe is telling them the straight stuff. You hear a lot of rhetoric lot of politicians make promises, many of which they know they don't have it within their power as governor to deliver.''
Robitaille says the fact the state has had a Republican in the governor's office of the State House for all but four of the last 26 years is a signal that voters want balance on Smith Hill. And he believes they are confused about what the other candidates really stand for.
Robitaille: ``This race is very convoluted. You've got a former Republican, Chafee who is running so far left, I don't even call him a Democrat - he's a progressive, which is confusing - there are Republicans who say they're still supporting him, I don't know why, because he's really running like a liberal Democrat. You got Frank, whose voting record in the General Assemlby says he's a pretty traditional Democrat, who wants to run like a conservative. Then you've got Ken who says well I'm not left, I'm not right, I'm not Democrat, I'm not Republican - well, where are you? He's all over the place. And you've got Robitaille, who's running as a traditional Republican candidate. I don't have the identity crisis. They all do.''
Robitaille concedes he and his wife last year toyed with the idea of leaving Rhode Island altogether, distressed at where the state was heading.
Robitaille: ``There's a human emotion: it's fight or flight. And Linda was born here, I was born here, this is our home, we love where we live. And I almost felt I was being driven out of my home state And instead of flight, I decided to fight.''
A fight that next week for John Robitaille will be either just ending....or just beginning.
Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.