PROVIDENCE — On the Rhode Island Report podcast, former CVS executive Helena Foulkes made her case for unseating Governor Daniel J. McKee, saying, “My argument is that Rhode Islanders deserve better.”
“I hear often from people that the governor just doesn’t feel decisive,” she said. “He doesn’t feel like the kind of person who could make the big decisions that matter for the next decade.”
The 2022 Democratic primary for governor is expected to include McKee, Foulkes, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, former secretary of state Matt Brown, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz.
Foulkes faulted McKee for not doing more to prepare the state for a COVID-19 surge in November when a confidential internal state report warned the virus was spreading rapidly. And, she said, “I think we also could have been much more aggressive about our testing capabilities, making sure we didn’t have people waiting three hours in line to get tested or five days to get their PCR test back.”
While she has never run for public office before, Foulkes argued that her 25 years of experience at CVS sets her apart in the Democratic field.
“I’m the only person in the race who’s managed a giant organization,” she said. “I lead a team of 200,000 people. I led a team where I had an $80 billion budget.”
Foulkes said she received calls from Democrats urging her to run for the 2nd Congressional District seat after US Representative James R. Langevin announced on Jan. 18 that he will not seek re-election after 22 years in office, and she received calls from people asking her to stay in the governor’s race.
“At the end of the day, it was fairly easy for me to say my gut instinct and my heart is in being governor,” she said.
Foulkes conducted the interview on the day that she submitted her first campaign finance report, which showed she raised $969,958 in the fourth quarter while putting in $100,000 of her own money. She ended up with $830,896 in cash on hand, placing behind only McKee, who had $844,087 in campaign cash.
While that represent a strong fund-raising debut, Foulkes has received criticism for donating $500 to Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, in April 2014 – months before Republicans regained control of the Senate in the November 2014 midterms.
“Let me just remind everyone listening that this was part of a CVS effort to make sure that we were working with people on both sides of the aisle,” Foulkes said. “So I did make that donation in 2014. I wish I hadn’t.”
While criticizing McKee, Foulkes faced questions about her own judgment.
Former Governor Lincoln D. Chafee has said that in 2012 he replaced Foulkes as vice chair of what was then the state Economic Development Corporation board because she supported the idea of extending additional tax credits to 38 Studios, the ill-fated video game venture launched by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
Foulkes noted she was not on the EDC board in 2010 when it approved a $75 million state loan guarantee for 38 Studios. “I would not have supported it,” she said. “That’s a venture capital move, not something we should be doing as a state.”
But the EDC board did look “at every single option, regardless of politics,” trying to keep the company from going under, she said. “At the end, we decided unfortunately, there was no good economic route for us, so we didn’t propose making any additional investments in 38 Studios,” she said.
So Chafee was wrong to say she supported the idea of extending $15 million in additional tax credits to 38 Studios, Foulkes said. “I don’t know what he’s talking about,” she said.
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.
The Globe Rhode Island will be inviting candidates for governor and Congress to come on the Rhode Island Report podcast to discuss policies, priorities, and politics. What would you like us to ask them? Use this form to submit your proposed questions for the candidates: