Running for RI lieutenant governor, Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, Jamestown

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PROVIDENCE — After more than a decade as a state lawmaker, Jamestown Democrat Deborah Ruggiero is running for lieutenant governor.

Ruggiero, who is perhaps best known for her renewable energy, gun-safety and broadband-access efforts at the Rhode Island State House — as well as her role in the “Reform Caucus” that took on an iron-fisted former Speaker — announced her candidacy via video. 

With the Newport Pell Bridge as her backdrop, Ruggiero promises to stay focused on “the 4 E’s — the economy, education, environment and our elders.”

“Most importantly,” she says: “We need to do more for our seniors. We need more investment in home health care so our parents can age in place.” 

“The office of lieutenant governor has so much untapped potential,” she said in an accompanying statement.

Election 2022 Update: The latest news in the highest-profile 2022 races in Rhode Island

Ruggiero’s entry puts her in competition for the Democratic nomination with current Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who has not yet officially announced that she is running for the $122,740 job to which she was appointed last spring, and first-term East Providence Sen. Cynthia Mendes.

Republicans Jeann Lugo, a Providence police officer, and Paul Pence, who works in quality management for Toray Plastics, are also running for the job, in Pence’s case for a second time. 

In Rhode Island, the lieutenant governor has few statutory responsibilities. But the person elected is literally a heartbeat away from becoming governor. 

The last occupant, Dan McKee, was automatically elevated from lieutenant governor to governor in March 2021 when then-Gov. Gina Raimondo left for a Biden cabinet post. He chose then-Providence City Council President Matos to replace him in the No. 2 spot.

Political Scene: Out with the old, in with the new is not so easy for short-term governor

Ruggiero, 64, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.

In her private life, she is president of DR Communications Group, an advertising and marketing company, and the creator and host of “Amazing Women,” a radio show  which interviews “R.I. women who make a difference.”

She co-chaired the task force that studied the nexus of mental-health laws and gun rights following the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and sponsored the resulting law requiring Rhode Island to submit more data to the national database used to screen gun purchases.

No matter whether someone is from the National Rifle Association or the PTA, “no one wants anyone with serious mental illnesses to have access to a gun,” she said at the time.

She is currently chairing a task force considering an overhaul of the Coastal Resources Management Council, the entity responsible for establishing and maintaining rights of way along R.I.’s 420 miles of coastline and oversight of dredging projects, marinas, permits for aquaculture and offshore wind projects.

She was one of the original 21 members of a “Reform Caucus,” within the House, that rebelled against the heavy-handed leadership style of then-House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.  

“The abuse of power and the bullying are unacceptable regardless of your political ideology,” said Ruggiero, at the time. Her stance cost her the chairmanship she had at the time, of the House small business committee.

Cybersecurity bill intorduced following RIPTA breach

She currently chairs the House Innovation, Internet and Technology Committee.

Late last week, she introduced a bill sparked by one of the highest profile computer hacks Rhode Island has seen: the theft sometime in August of last year of “a sensitive file from the computer of a payroll clerk at the offices of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.”

“It wasn’t until Dec. 21 that a letter [disclosing the breach] was sent…to the more than 17,000 state employees whose Social Security numbers, names, addresses, health insurance claim information and more were included in it,” she said in a statement about the impetus for her bill.

Her legislation — H 7883 — would require notice to the attorney general within 24 hours of a breach and create a “cybersecurity incident response group” to develop protocols for what should happen next.

“In 2022, it shouldn’t take months to notify people that their information was included in a data breach,” she said in a press release announcing the legislation.

This year, she also introduced legislation that would give Rhode Island the most ambitious timeline in the nation for the conversion of its electric system to a reliance on renewable sources. 

In keeping with her pledge to focus on the needs of older Rhode Islanders, she introduced bills to beef up the state’s elderly-affairs agency and to raise the income-eligibility ceiling to $50,000 for seniors to qualify for an $850 property tax credit against their income taxes.

Campaign funds

At year-end, Ruggiero had $55,762 in her campaign account. First-quarter reports for 2022 are not yet due, but her campaign reports she ended the quarter with $83,000 cash on hand and has a fundraiser scheduled for this Thursday at The District.

Her campaign staff includes newly appointed campaign manager Anthony Cherry, who was on Raimondo’s fundraising team and managed one of U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s past campaigns, and political consultant Joseph Caiazzo.

Caiazzo was a senior staffer on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary campaign and later that year, Hillary Clinton’s Rhode Island state director. Two years later, he managed U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s re-election campaign.



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