GOP’s Taylor kicks off bid for RI lieutenant gov.

Catherine Taylor, flanked by her husband and children, kicks off her campaign for lieutenant governor in Providence on June 23, 2014. (photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican Catherine Taylor on Monday kicked off her campaign to become Rhode Island’s next lieutenant governor, pledging to use the state’s second-highest office to bring people together, improve the economy and help the elderly.

“I want to make the connections that we’re not seeing yet, offer leadership that inspires acting on those insights, and thus bring about the transformation that produces the economic vitality that I know is possible,” Taylor told a group of supporters at the Business Innovation Factory, a Providence-based nonprofit founded by former R.I. Economic Development Corporation executive director Saul Kaplan.

Kaplan argued Rhode Islanders need to “transform the place” to improve the state, and suggested Taylor could help make that happen. “We need some new and fresh thinking up at the State House,” he said.

Taylor, 53, is a rare Republican who has managed to win large numbers of votes in heavily Democratic Rhode Island in recent years. In 2010, she came within 4,000 votes – out of 328,000 cast – of unseating the incumbent Democratic secretary of state, A. Ralph Mollis. She received about 40,000 more votes than any other Republican on the ballot.

Taylor said her party affiliation is one of the chief reasons she’s running. “I’m a proud Republican,” she said. “I want to make sure we move ourselves toward rigorous two-party competition. … In this state I think the foundational problem is the lack of two-party competition.”

Taylor could wind up in a rematch with Mollis, who won the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s endorsement for lieutenant governor on Sunday. He faces Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee and Warwick Rep. Frank Ferri in the Sept. 9 primary. The incumbent lieutenant governor, Democrat Elizabeth Roberts, is barred by term limits from running again.

Ferri’s campaign manager, Dawn Euer, said he will kick off his own campaign for the office on Tuesday at Embolden, a digital communications firm in Pawtucket, after declining to seek the party’s formal endorsement. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, an influential force in the institutional Democratic Party, is backing Mollis.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Ken Block, left, and Allan Fung, right, smile with Catherine Taylor at her kickoff. (photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)
Republican gubernatorial candidates Ken Block, left, and Allan Fung, right, smile with Catherine Taylor at her kickoff. (photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)

Taylor, a married mother of four who lives in Providence, recently stepped down after serving as Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s director of elderly affairs since 2011. She previously spent two decades working on the U.S. Senate staffs of both Chafee and his late father, John Chafee, as a speechwriter and legislative assistant.

Candidates for lieutenant governor sometimes strain to articulate a purpose for the office, which has few formal duties and has been repeatedly targeted for abolition by foes such as Robert Healey of the Cool Moose Party. Taylor said she understands what Healey and others are thinking, and wants to make sure the office is effective and useful. The total budget for the lieutenant governor’s office is $1.1 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

In her speech, Taylor noted the lieutenant governor is responsible under state law for overseeing three bodies: the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, the Small Business Advocacy Council and the Emergency Management Advisory Council. She said she would lead those organizations “thoughtfully and with expertise” while also finding additional ways to make an impact.

Taylor also emphasized her experience with issues affecting the elderly. She said Rhode Island has the highest per-capita population age 85 and older but only the 11th-highest population age 65 and older, as well as the fourth-highest nursing-home utilization rate. That suggests younger seniors leave the state but return home when they’re older and sicker, she said.

Among those on hand for Taylor’s kickoff Monday were Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Barrington businessman Ken Block, who are locked in a fight for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The two men smiled for photographers flanking Taylor on both sides, and said they were there in the interest of party unity.

The Rhode Island Republican Party now has candidates for four of the five statewide offices: Fung and Block for governor, Taylor for lieutenant governor, North Kingstown Sen. Dawson Hodgson for attorney general, and “State of the State” host John Carlevale for secretary of state. Party Chairman Mark Smiley told he expects a candidate for general treasurer will come forward by Wednesday afternoon, which is the deadline for candidates to file.

Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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