CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — With embittered Central Falls retirees nipping at his heels – and Donald Trump’s brand of GOP politics hanging over his head – Republican Robert Flanders, a former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice and one-time Brown University football star, on Thursday declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
Before announcing his bid to unseat two-term Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse, Flanders sat down with The Providence Journal to spell out his views on guns, embattled GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore, the children of immigrants in the United States illegally and much, much more, including the nation’s “Twittering” president.
“I voted for Trump. I liked his goals. I thought he was a candidate who would shake up the usual establishment in Washington,” Flanders, 68, said.
But “I reject the idea that just because Trump is the president I have to ‘run with him’ and marry everything that he does. That’s not going to happen,” said Flanders, drawing lines where he agrees, disagrees and, in the case of “tax reform,” is waiting to see how it all shakes out.
A sampling of his views: Moore should exit the U.S. Senate race in Alabama in light of the “serious” sexual-abuse charges lobbed against him. Congress should adopt “common-sense limitations” on the constitutional right to bear arms, including a ban on devices that turn guns into “massive killing machines,” and it should remove “the incentive” for undocumented immigrants to sneak their children across the U.S. border, while making some “accommodation” for the children already here.
He told the crowd of about 80 cheering supporters gathered for his announcement: “It’s time to send silver-spoon Sheldon home. It’s time to stick a fork in all the arrogance, the prosecutorial pomposity and the climate-change bullying that have characterized his tenure.”
“I can’t think of what he has done other than speak about climate change,″ he said of Whitehouse. (His own view on climate change: “Yes, I believe it exists. We should continue to diversify with encouraging non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources and consider implementing a revenue-neutral carbon tax.”)
Whitehouse’s response to Flanders’ candidacy: “We welcome him to the race and look forward to a debate with whichever Republican emerges from the primary.”
The Flanders-bashing role fell to Kevin Olasanoye, executive director of the R.I. Democratic Party, who equated a vote for Flanders with a vote for the Trump agenda: “providing tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy at the expense of working people, stripping health insurance from families, decimating the Social Security and Medicare benefits…and rolling back civil rights.”
“Yes, I am running as a Republican,” Flanders said, “but I am an independent-minded Republican…I am not just going to reflexively follow whatever the president or the Senate leadership or anybody else says.”
Flanders faces Republican state Rep. Robert Nardolillo of Coventry, a 38-year-old funeral director, in a contest for the GOP nomination.
Flanders declared his candidacy inside a converted mill building in Central Falls, where he was the state-appointed receiver who decided that bankruptcy was the only way for the 1.3-square-mile city to get out from under its crushing debts. The Journal’s August 2011 headline: “Central Falls files for bankruptcy; contracts voided.”
In his speech, Flanders hailed his role in righting Central Falls finances as evidence he is a “problem-solver″ who brought all sides to the table.
But a dozen or so Central Falls retirees wielding anti-Flanders signs disputed his account, asserting they had no say before their pensions were slashed. “There was never an agreement with the retirees,” said retired firefighter Larry Newberg. “Never had a chance to negotiate with him. It was just a hammer come down.”
Olasanoye alleged that “Flanders and his frequent business associate Gayle Corrigan extracted more than $1 million in fees from Central Falls’ bankruptcy…paid for with massive tax hikes and cuts to the modest fixed incomes of retirees who dedicated their lives to serving the city.”
A Brown under-grad and Harvard law school grad, Flanders’ past roles include: Barrington town councilman, Glocester town solicitor, R.I. Supreme Court justice, and chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. He is now a partner in the Providence law firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket.
Outtakes from the interview:
Roy Moore: “I think those charges are so serious and substantial that he should step aside, and not seek to become a senator with that cloud hanging over his head.”
GOP tax plan: While the potential elimination of the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes could be hard on the high-tax Northeast, Flanders said he cannot, in a vacuum, rule out a vote on a package that eliminates these deductions.
“I don’t ever want the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” he said.
Guns: Flanders describes himself as a “firm Second Amendment supporter,” but says, “There should be reasonable limitations, such as bans on bump stocks and the kinds of devices that enable … guns to be converted into automatic weaponry … with mass killing power of the kind that devastated Las Vegas and other communities.”
He said that there should be “higher levels” of scrutiny — and, perhaps, a need for people to declare a “justification” before they are allowed “to get their hands on …massive killing machines.”
Undocumented immigrants: Flanders does not favor amnesty or automatic citizenship for children brought to the U.S. illegally, but says “there ought to be some accommodation’ that allows those already here to stay, such as a residency program.
Flanders said Congress also needs to clearly “eliminate the incentive that now exists for illegal immigrants to bring their children with them on the theory that ‘even if we get deported or don’t end up being citizens, at least they’ll let our children stay.’
“We need to do a better job securing our borders,” he said. Asked if he would vote for money to build Trump’s border wall, he said it would depend on how much, but he is not opposed if it is combined with other measures, such as stepped-up border patrols and tunnel-detecting technology.
Obamacare: Flanders said he never would have voted for the Affordable Care Act. “One of the problems with it was, it was strictly a one-party bill and Sen. Whitehouse, of course, supported that. It is now imploding.
“Frankly, the Republicans made the same mistake,” he said. “They tried to force through a similarly all one-party type of bill, and it didn’t work. They couldn’t even agree among themselves… Now the answer is obvious: that we need to have a [bipartisan] compromise of some sort.”
He voiced dismay at the impact the Trump administration’s decision to cut “cost-sharing” payments to insurance companies to help reduce the cost of coverage to low-income people has already had on insurance rates in Rhode Island. Rates shot up by double-digits.FacebookTwitterGoogle +