Can Rhode Island do without a Lieutenant Governor?

Human resources executive Michael Vittoria says he’s been shocked while attending business meetings in Connecticut to see how far Rhode Island is ahead of its neighbor in preparing for the pending, far-reaching changes in federal health care laws. More

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POLITICS

Can Rhode Island do without a Lieutenant Governor?

PBN PHOTO/RYAN T. CONATY
JOB CUTS? Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts speaks to a class of Johnson & Wales University students. Robert J. Healey, a perennial candidate for the post, has proposed to effectively eliminate the lieutenant governor’s office if he is elected.
Posted 10/11/10

Human resources executive Michael Vittoria says he’s been shocked while attending business meetings in Connecticut to see how far Rhode Island is ahead of its neighbor in preparing for the pending, far-reaching changes in federal health care laws.

And he credits R.I. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts for that advanced preparation. Stakeholders in the Ocean State have been discussing those changes – including the creation of state-level health insurance exchanges – for months, through a task force of health care providers, businesspeople and consumers, led by Roberts.

“She certainly has used the power of her office and her influence to take hold of a serious problem for businesses,” said Vittoria, vice president of human resources at Sperian Protection Inc. in Smithfield and president of the Business Group on Health. He is also a Roberts campaign contributor.

Others, however, aren’t so sure that the office of lieutenant governor is all that useful.

Grafton “Cap” Willey IV, a longtime member of the Smaller Business Association of New England’s Rhode Island chapter, said that, in the corporate world, the office’s duties likely would have been folded into another position to save money.

“The lieutenant governor really can’t do anything anyway,” he said.

Every four-year election cycle it seems questions arise about whether Rhode Island really needs a lieutenant governor, an office with one primary purpose: Step in when the governor is incapacitated.

But with budget pressures mounting and an unusual case of political maneuvering in which a Republican nominee for the office stepped aside for an independent candidate who was then backed by the GOP, the issue has been getting more scrutiny.

That independent candidate, Robert J. Healey Jr., has vowed to effectively abolish the office if elected, or at least eliminate its six staff members and the office’s $975,000 share of the $7.8 billion state budget. He won’t take a salary, either.

It’s a campaign promise the then-Cool Moose Party candidate made in lieutenant governor races in 2002 and 2006, too, when he was in three-way races with Democrat and Republican nominees.

But with the departure of Republican Heidi Rogers from the race – she said dropped out because she also wanted to abolish the office but didn’t have the name recognition Healey enjoys – Healey said he has the best chance of winning against incumbent Roberts and another independent, Robert. P. Venturini, a public-access TV host.

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