Kilmartin, Hodgson battle in heated attorney general debate

Republican Dawson Hodgson, left, and Democrat Peter Kilmartin debate on WPRI 12's Newsmakers in October 2014.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic Attorney General Peter Kilmartin defended himself against a barrage of verbal attacks from Republican challenger Dawson Hodgson during a debate Friday, touting his record as the state’s top prosecutor over the last four years.

Kilmartin and Hodgson also argued over the ongoing 38 Studios investigation, public corruption and crime in Rhode Island’s capital city during an hour-long debate on a special edition of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

Kilmartin, a former state representative and Pawtucket police officer who was elected attorney general in 2010, said he has focused on making communities safer from “guns, gangs and drugs,” protecting children from predators and fighting corruption. He cast Hodgson as a candidate with little experience for the job.

Hodgson, who worked as a prosecutor in the attorney general’s office between 2005 and 2011 and was elected to the state Senate in 2010, painted himself as a fresh face who will focus on safe streets, a stronger economy and restoring public trust in government. He criticized Kilmartin for having a cozy relationship with elected officials after serving in the General Assembly for 20 years.

Hodgson said there “has been no justice” on the 2010 deal that led to a $75-million taxpayer-backed loan for 38 Studios, the video game company founded by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling that went bankrupt in 2012. The state is currently suing several key architects of the deal and the State Police say an investigation is underway, but Hodgson has criticized Kilmartin for voting for the legislation that created the Job Creation Guarantee Program, which ultimately led to the loan.

“The results speak for themselves and there aren’t any,” Hodgson said.

Kilmartin said Hodgson “has been misleading the public since the beginning,” arguing that he only voted to create the program and never knew that $75 million would go to 38 Studios. He said an investigation is ongoing and suggested Hodgson’s proposal to create an independent commission to look into the deal was “political.”

Kilmartin called his biggest accomplishment as attorney general the creation of an internal unit that focuses solely on child abuse and child molestation. He said his department works closely with the hospitals and other outside agencies to ensure that children aren’t placed back into dangerous settings. Hodgson credited Kilmartin with leading the way on a campaign to prevent text messaging while driving, but said he’s running to “fix Rhode Island’s reputation” as a “good old boy network.”

Both candidates said they oppose the legalization of marijuana and the elimination of nightclubs on Federal Hill and agree that certain emails from public officials should be made public as part of the state’s Access to Public Records Act.

Hodgson said he supports a constitutional convention while Kilmartin said he will vote against the ballot question on Nov. 4. Kilmartin said he supports granting driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants; Hodgson opposes that action.

On crime in Providence, Kilmartin said his department has worked closely with the city’s police department and the U.S. Attorney’s office to lend support wherever it can. He touted his office’s work to prosecute the leader of a notorious street gang in the city. Hodgson said the attorney general needs to play a “leading role” in the city and indicated he would consider Providence one of his top priorities.

The candidates continued to question each others’ ethics, with Kilmartin attacking Hodgson for failing to include certain information in a disclosure filing with the state Ethics Commission and Hodgson suggesting Kilmartin’s office gave a sitting state senator a no-bid legal contract. Hodgson said he made a “clerical error” with his disclosure form and Kilmartin said his office was not required to publicly post a job position as conflict counsel that went to Sen. William Conley.

Kilmartin said he wants to strengthen the state’s gun laws, including banning assault weapons and extended clips, and criticized Hodgson for receiving an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. Hodgson said he’s concerned that gun laws currently on the books are not enforced.

Both candidates said they support the state’s good time laws for prisoners, but each argued that improvements to the program can still be made. Kilmartin said he worked with the General Assembly to “rein in” the policy after convicted murderer Michael Woodmansee was released for prison in 2011.

On Deepwater Wind, Hodgson referred to the project as “insider dealing” that “set back the credibility” of renewable energy projects, but acknowledged that “the ship probably has sailed” on stopping the plan. Kilmartin said he supports the project and argued that he has looked out for energy ratepayers throughout his term as attorney general.

Kilmartin, the only incumbent statewide officeholder who is seeking re-election this year, trails Hodgson when it comes to campaign cash after the Republican received a boost from the state’s matching funds program. Kilmartin reported $77,609 cash on hand in his latest campaign finance report filed Tuesday, compared with Hodgson’s $163,652.

The election is Nov. 4.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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