PROVIDENCE — House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi delivered the Republican response to Tuesday’s State of the State address, blasting Democratic Governor Daniel J. McKee’s for issuing “unlawful” COVID-19 executive orders and inking new Providence teachers contract “with no meaningful reforms.”
Filippi, a Block Island Republican, announced in December that he would not run for governor in 2022. But his speech provided a glimpse at what a Filippi gubernatorial campaign might have looked like.
“The uncomfortable truth about the pandemic is that our government has abandoned the rule of law and our system of checks and balances, and undermines our most basic liberties,” he said. “And your General Assembly, which is supposed to be the check and balance on the Governor during emergencies, has handed over the keys, with little meaningful oversight.”
Filippi ticked off the executive orders and regulations that McKee and his predecessor, Gina M. Raimondo, issued over the past two years of the pandemic.
“All this has been by executive action,” he said. “No laws passed. No debate. And little meaningful public involvement.”
He noted that the General Assembly passed a law in July to limit many of the governor’s emergency powers to 180 days.
“And how did Governor McKee respond?” Filippi said. “He did not follow the law and seek the General Assembly’s waiver from the 180-day limit.”
Rather, McKee issued an executive order in August declaring a state of emergency through Sept. 18 because of new COVID-19 variants.
“It is lawless, and the uncomfortable truth is that most of Governor McKee’s recent executive orders are unlawful,” Filippi said. “No matter our opinion about how to address the pandemic, and there are many differing ones, I understand that, we cannot abandon the rule of law and our constitutional separations of powers. It is destructive to society and will have long-term consequences.”
Filippi emphasized the importance of education, saying, “It is a civil rights issue that, more than anything, will determine our future. Yet, the hard truth is that we are failing generations of Rhode Islanders — predominantly in struggling communities.”
He noted the state took over the Providence school system in 2019 following a scathing report outlining widespread dysfunction and subpar student performance.
While the takeover presented a chance “to set a new course,” Filippi said McKee approved a new contract with the Providence teachers union that he said represented the “status quo — the old way.”
“Republicans have proposed transformational plans to allow parents the choice to get their children out of failing schools, and into school systems that will build strong adults,” he said, without detailing those plans. “To the many decision makers who oppose our plans: If you fail to offer your own concrete solutions to this crisis, you are part of the problem.”
Filippi also called for McKee and Attorney General Peter F. Neronha to oppose the proposed merger between Lifespan Corporation and Care New England, which he said control more than 80 percent of healthcare delivery in this state.
“That is a prescription for disaster — taking away medical choice and innovation from patients, and driving up costs,” he said. “And healthcare workers: You’ll be stuck at the only employer in town.”
Filippi criticized the state’s economic development system, saying, “The rich, and the politically connected, obtain handouts of taxpayer money, and the average business just can’t compete. These handouts are on the backs of every Rhode Islander. They add up, and hold us all down.”
“Our State Government must get out of the way, and secure free and fair markets, so that we can all compete on a level playing field, where small businesses can thrive, and which will lead to the ground up organic investment we need,” he said.
Filippi said the state Department of Children, Youth and Families is “chronically understaffed, is without a director, can’t obtain national accreditation, and children are bounced around temporary homes across New England.”
He said the Department of Environmental Management is underfunded. And he said many children are being poisoned from lead in their drinking water.
“Neighbors,” Filippi said, “Rhode Island needs to shed the past and set a new course, to live up to our potential, and seize the future.”