Patricia Morgan first to formally announce 2018 run for RI governor

State Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, is seen in a screen grab from her official campaign launch video.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State Rep. Patricia Morgan has become the first Republican to formally challenge Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, promising to promote jobs and fight corruption if she becomes Rhode Island’s leader.

Morgan, R-West Warwick, announced her candidacy for the 2018 election early Monday morning through a video she posted on her campaign website, PatriciaForRI.com.

“Now, more than ever, we need that grounded leadership and a clear vision and strategy of what needs to be fixed, to guide our Ocean State back to prosperity,” Morgan, 67, said in her announcement.

The video switches between shots of Morgan inside the State House and with her family as well as footage of the Rhode Island landscape. In her taped message, she contrasted Rhode Island’s strengths and positive attributes with its long-term economic malaise, and pledges to focus on the economy if elected governor. She also criticized public corruption.

“For years, we have seen our state leaders take care of insiders instead of hard-working Rhode Islanders,” she said. “I have fought against policies that make our cost of living higher, our property taxes soar, and our jobs stagnant.”

Morgan, who describes herself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, has been a vocal critic of Raimondo, lambasting her RhodeWorks infrastructure plan that authorizes truck tolls and opposing all but her first budget plan as too burdensome on the taxpayers.

She also opposes the proposed PawSox stadium that would provide taxpayer backing for a new stadium in Pawtucket, disputing the theory that tax revenue from the activity there would cover the costs of the bonds.

“I think her policies are bad for Rhode Island,” Morgan said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “And I don’t think, despite all the money she’s spending on corporate welfare, that our jobs climate is any better than it was.”

Raimondo disputed that, telling Eyewitness News her adminstration has grown jobs and improved the economy after a slow recovery from the recession before her administration began. She said the tax incentive program to bring business to Rhode Island that is administered through the R.I. Commerce Corporation is producing the oft-touted “cranes in the sky.”

“The fact is, we’ve gone from bottom of the barrel, worst economy in America, to a thriving economy with people working,” Raimondo said Monday. “And I say we just keep going.”

The governor said she plans to formally announce her re-election campaign sometime next year.

Democratic Governors Association spokesman Jared Leopold issued a statement arguing Morgan “is wrong for Rhode Island,” citing her opposition to abortion, her support for gun rights, and her openness to President Trump’s policies on health care and tax reform. “Patricia Morgan is a far-right politician who wants to bring Donald Trump’s disastrous agenda to Rhode Island,” he said.

Morgan is likely to face Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and former Rep. Joe Trillo for the GOP nomination, though neither has formally announced his candidacy at this time. Fung is set to kick off his bid on Tuesday evening, while Trillo said Monday he is 99% committed to running but not yet ready to make it formal.

“I hate to see the direction that this state is in right now,” Trillo told Eyewitness News. “I believe I can change that direction radically.”

Trillo was an early supporter of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and became his honorary campaign chairman in Rhode Island. He said he believes he is similar to Trump in that he is a businessman, but also has the political experience to bolster his run.

“I’m a very different candidate that this state has never had,” Trillo said.

On the Democratic side, former Gov. Lincoln Chafee is so far the only person who has publicly floated the possibility of challenging Raimondo in next year’s primary, though Lt. Gov. Dan McKee has also refused to rule it out.

Morgan has represented House District 26 – which includes parts of West Warwick, Warwick and Coventry – since she was first elected in 2010. She has served as House minority leader since last November, when she became Rhode Island’s first woman to hold the position. She is also a former chair of the Rhode Island Republican Party.

Morgan said Monday she would “stop tolls, period,” if elected, referring to the soon-to-be-collected levy on large tractor-trailers that will help fund road and bridge repairs. She said it would be up to the legislature to determine what to do about the RhodeWorks law, which authorizes the tolls.

“I can’t repeal the law, but I can stop the execution of that law,” she said.

On social issues, Morgan said she opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother, and strongly supports the use of birth control. “There are dozens of contraceptives out there – ladies, pick one,” she said.

Morgan said she supported the legalization of gay marriage back in 2013 after an exemption for religious leaders was written into the bill. On the issue of transgender rights, she said: “They’re Rhode Islanders. Like everyone else, I’m going to treat them fairly.”

Fleming: You never know in Rhode Island

Eyewitness News Political Analyst Joe Fleming says Morgan’s early entry in the race will give her more time to fundraise, which will be crucial to catch up to the growing war chest of Allan Fung, who has run for governor before and has a base of supporters for the top job.

“She’s not a household name in the state of Rhode Island,” Fleming said Monday. “I think she realizes that, and she knows she has to get out there early.”

If Trillo gets in the race, Fleming said his strong association with PresidentTrump could help him. He pointed out the high turnout for Trump in the Rhode Island Republican presidential primary in 2016.

“I think the Donald Trump supporters in Rhode Island are very much diehard Donald Trump supporters,” Fleming said. “That could benefit Joe Trillo.” But he said if Trillo went on to face Raimondo in the general election, support for Trump likely wouldn’t do him any favors with Rhode Island voters.

At this stage of the game, Fleming said anything is possible – and there’s plenty of time for more fundraising, more candidates and some surprises.

“People might say Allan Fung’s the favorite, but I’ll tell you – Patty Morgan, if she develops steam and a strong grassroots base of support, she could move on,” Fleming said. “You never know in Rhode Island.”

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.