PROVIDENCE — Ashley Kalus, a healthcare executive and former New England Golden Gloves boxer who is new to Rhode Island, on Tuesday announced that she will run for governor as a Republican.
Kalus, who bought a house in Newport last year and registered to vote in Rhode Island in January, issued a news release that highlights what other states, such as Massachusetts and Illinois, have done in areas such as education and infrastructure.
“A state that finds a better way of doing something for (its) own people can be a model for dealing with similar challenges by other states,” the announcement said. “After eight years of a Kalus administration, other states will look to Rhode Island to emulate our wide-ranging success.”
Kalus is the first Republican to jump into this year’s gubernatorial race, joining five Democrats: Governor Daniel J. McKee, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, former secretary of state Matt Brown, former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz.
With House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi saying he won’t run for governor and with North Kingstown Republican David A. Darlington changing his mind about running, Kalus appears to have a clear shot at the GOP nomination. Kalus has never before run for political office.
Rhode Island Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Cienki said she knows of no other Republican candidates for governor, and she predicted Kalus will make this a “very competitive” race. She said Kalus will be able to compete with the Democratic candidates when it comes to campaign funding.
“She has a great background, she is a very smart lady with chief executive experience,” Cienki said. “She is a young mother of three young children. She brings a lot to the table.”
Cienki said that while Kalus is a newcomer to Rhode Island, she grew up in Massachusetts and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Weinzweig, completed his plastic surgery residency at Brown University. Kalus did not live with him in Rhode Island at that time, according to the campaign.
Kalus, 39, was born in San Diego, moved to Massachusetts when she was 11, and lived in Quincy and Cohasset before graduating from Scituate (Mass.) High School, according to the campaign.
In an “open letter to Rhode Island,” Kalus wrote: “My mom raised two small girls as a single mother who once left a grocery store embarrassed after attempting to pay for groceries with food stamps. Undeterred by circumstances, she built a business and created a good life for us.”
Kalus said she has always worked, starting at a pizza shop at age 15. “To make ends meet, I was a hostess, a waitress, a barista, and in retail. I worked two jobs and still could not make it financially. I won the New England Golden Gloves at a time when I could not even afford my $30 gym dues,” she wrote.
Kalus went on to graduate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in finance and legal studies, and earn master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and Columbia University.
“My husband, Jeff, and I originally hoped to start our life and family together in Providence,” Kalus said in the announcement. “But the financial crisis hit and opportunity disappeared. With a quarter of a million dollars in student loan debt, we had to leave for better opportunities.”
Kalus worked as director of public engagement for former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, from January 2015 to November 2016, and she was coalitions coordinator for Citizens for Rauner Inc. from 2014 to 2015.
She worked as CEO of Adhereon, a Chicago-based maker of medical devices, from November 2016 to December 2021, according to her LinkedIn profile. And she is now an executive at Doctors Test Centers, which has state contracts to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccine services.
The couple bought a house on Narragansett Avenue in Newport, R.I., for $770,000 in May 2021. And she registered to vote in Rhode Island as a Republican on Jan. 18 of this year, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Tuesday’s announcement described Kalus as “a political outsider and businesswoman who is not beholden to any special interests and is only committed to the people of Rhode Island.”
Kalus quoted former US Supreme Court Louis Brandeis, who in a 1932 dissent said, “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
“Individual states are the best place for practical solutions to complex problems,” Kalus said, listing eight areas where Rhode Island could model itself after other states. For improving education, she would look to Massachusetts for inspiration for solving Rhode Island’s education issues, to Illinois for infrastructure, and to Florida “so our state and local taxes are competitive.”
But while Kalus held up Illinois as a model for infrastructure, US News & World Report ranked Illinois 26th in infrastructure, while Rhode Island ranked 49th and Nevada ranked first. Her campaign noted that CNBC ranked Illinois first in infrastructure.
US News & World Report ranked Florida 8th in economy, with Rhode Island 34th. But it also ranked Rhode Island ninth in health care while Florida was 25th, and Rhode Island ranked seventh in natural environment while Florida was 18th.