PROVIDENCE — Like many of the more than 70 applicants vying to fill the lieutenant governor position now that Dan McKee has been sworn in as governor, Riley Rancourt, Tommy Goggin and Andrew Demosthenous are passionate about serving the state of Rhode Island. They believe the vaccine rollout and education are two of the biggest issues facing the state, and they’re all eager to bring new voices to the Rhode Island political scene.
The catch? They’re all under the age of 23, and they’re all full-time students.
The role of Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor is seen as ambiguous at best and unnecessary at worst. Its main purpose — and the only one outlined in the state constitution — is to fulfill the duties of the governor in the event of a vacancy. Other statutory duties include chairing councils on emergency management, intergovernmental relations and small business, serving on four other boards, and making appointments to other boards and commissions. McKee, who still had two years left in his term when he was elevated to governor, has said that he will pick his successor sometime in the next few weeks.
Rhode Island has seen unexpected candidates for lieutenant governor in the past. The late Robert Healey of the Cool Moose Party ran for lieutenant governor several times, promising that he would abolish the office if he were elected. While he never won an election, in 2010, he came in second to Elizabeth Roberts with 39.2 percent of the vote.
“If that many people in the state feel that this position is unnecessary, then I think we should take steps in order to redefine what that role looks like and what it’s statutory duties are going to be,” said Rancourt, a 22-year-old Warren resident and graduate student at Salve Regina University in Newport. “I applied because I was allowed to apply, which is really one of the main problems with this role — it’s so poorly defined by our state constitution.”
Goggin, an 18-year-old senior at Cumberland High School, said that he applied to make a statement.
“Anybody can run for it and there’s no qualifications technically that you need other than being 18,” he said, adding that he “also thought it would be kind of funny” to apply.
“I feel like the position itself is basically the role of a trusted adviser,” said Demosthenous, a 22-year-old Lincoln resident and law student at the University of Maine. “Although our state government officials are very smart and wise, I just feel like a youth perspective can be important.”
That perspective may have been useful when the state was evaluating 38 Studios, the video game company owned by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. The state gave the company $75 million in bonds when they moved to Providence with the promise of bringing 450 jobs to the state, and before any games had been released. Though one game, “Kingdoms of Amalur,” was initially successful when it was released in 2012, the company went belly-up the same year, leaving Rhode Island taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.
Demosthenous believes that first consulting with young people, who are a target demographic for video game companies, could have helped avoid the disaster.
“Most [politicians] went along with it because, you know, kids like video games, but what they didn’t realize was that the video game industry is one of the riskiest industries there is,” he said. “I think that having people of our generation [involved] would have helped in avoiding that deal.”
Education policy and school choice, two of Governor Dan McKee’s key issues, could also benefit from youth input, according to Demosthenous.
“If you’re big on education policy, you might want someone in that cabinet who is still in education or barely out of high school,” he said.
Having a young adult in office would also encourage more people in the age group to get involved, said Goggin, the high school student. In today’s contentious political climate, many young people are engaged in politics through protesting, voting and volunteering, but Goggin believes there is still “room for improvement.”
“Kids will see that there’s not someone much older than them who’s in a high position in the state,” he said, “and that might motivate them to get involved, and that’s something I really want to do.”
The applicants’ ages and school schedules are certain to raise red flags for some, but they aren’t worried. They’d prefer to be recognized for their dedication to public service and to Rhode Island than anything else.
Rancourt and Demosthenous said that they would take a leave of absence from their studies at Salve Regina and the University of Maine, respectively, if appointed. Goggin would put off college for two years, the length of time remaining in the lieutenant governor’s term.
“I think age and experience are two different things,” said Demosthenous, who wants to go into administrative or regulatory law. “Some people may be ready for public service at 18. If you’re the right person for the job, I think you can do well in it.” He likes the “challenge” of public service as well: “It’s a way where you can truly help people, especially in the time now where we are facing numerous crises as a state.”
Rancourt’s grandfather, a former marine, sparked his interest in public service.”He instilled in me that public service was the highest virtue a person could ever really aspire to,” he said. Rancourt also serves on Warren’s Charter Review Commission, elected in 2020.
“The ultimate goal for me is a job on Capitol Hill, whether that be as an elected official myself or just working with one,” said Goggin, who plans on studying political science or international relations in college. “I want to help people and I think that [public service] is the best direct way to do it.”