WEST WARWICK, R.I. — When she was a teenager, Ashley Kalus says she “beat the crap” out of a “girl from Harvard” to win a New England Golden Gloves championship in Lowell, Massachusetts.
“I’ve never picked a fight that I have not won, and often my fights are quick but decisive,” Kalus said. “I started boxing and within a year I was the Golden Gloves champion. So it’s going to be the same thing with being the governor.”
But Kalus, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, now finds herself down in the polls as she squares off against Democratic Governor Daniel J. McKee in the Nov. 8 general election. A Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll released Monday shows McKee leading 46 percent to 36 percent, with less than a month to go.
While she no longer enters boxing matches, Kalus still trains once a week at the Fight Factory, a boxing gym in an old mill in West Warwick. As part of the Rhode Island Report podcast, she recently stepped into the ring — taking swipes at McKee, ducking questions, and throwing combinations of punches at her coach’s boxing mitts.
Critics have called Kalus a carpetbagger who bought a house in Newport in May 2021 and registered to vote in Rhode Island in January 2022.
During the interview, she countered that she grew up in Massachusetts and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Weinzweig, completed his plastic surgery residency at Brown University. “We were here for a number of years, and like many Rhode Islanders, we had to leave for opportunity,” she said. “And then I was able to come back.”
Kalus returned as an executive at Doctors Test Centers, which had multi-million-dollar state contracts to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccine services. “I was not lucky enough to be born and raised here,” she said. “But I will fight to ensure that my children can stay here.”
During a forum in May, Kalus named Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the current or former elected leader she admires most. But she dodged questions about whether she would still name DeSantis, now that the Republican governor has sent nearly 50 migrants from Venezuela to Martha’s Vineyard without notice.
Kalus said she likes the economic policies that DeSantis has used to draw businesses to Florida. “Tons of Rhode Islanders are saying, ‘I’m moving to Florida to start a business because I can afford to live, work and raise a family there,’ ” she said.
But Kalus noted she issued a statement calling the shipment of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard “unacceptable,” saying, “People, especially women and children, should never be used for political stunts.”
“I’m one of the only Republicans in the Northeast who quickly came out and said that,” she said.
Kalus declined to say whether she would sign a bill, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz, a North Smithfield Republican, that would prohibit “an abortion of an unborn child capable of feeling pain, unless necessary to prevent serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”
Kalus noted the General Assembly passed the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019 to protect abortion rights in the state, and while she is “pro-life,” she said she would do nothing to change that law if elected governor. “The people spoke through their elected officials,” she said. “I truly believe this issue is settled.”
When asked if she would sign the de la Cruz bill, Kalus said, “I’m not going to do hypotheticals.” But she has said that she would not sign the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, which would provide for abortion coverage in the health insurance of Medicaid recipients and state employees.
On Oct. 3, Kalus took part in a march to McKee’s office as housing advocates demanded the state declare a state of emergency over the inadequate number of shelter beds available this winter. Advocates report that 1,260 people are waiting for shelter and 405 are living outside or in cars.
Kalus said she would commit to housing those people. “We need to deal with the problem immediately,” she said. “(McKee’s) lack of planning is not justification for leaving people on the street.”
Kalus called for cutting regulations and taxes. “We need to be more competitive regionally, which means a more competitive business environment,” she said. Rhode Island regulations contain many more “restrictive words” than those in states such as Arizona, she said.
After leaving the ring, Kalus was heading to an event to release an economic plan that calls for cutting income tax and sales tax rates. ”My goal in reducing taxes is to protect working families, to sort of correct for inflation,” she said.
Kalus said there’s a difference between boxing and brawling. “When you’re in the ring and you lose control, you start brawling, and that’s when you get knocked out,” she said. And in the race against McKee, she said, “He’s brawling — I’m boxing.”
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.