Rhode Island's gubernatorial tilt is attracting more attention than any other of the state's budding races. And understandably so. There are two heavy-hitting Democrats, Treasurer Frank Caprio and Attorney General Patrick Lynch, running for the top job. A big-name independent, Lincoln Chafee, is in the mix, and the GOP has its first candidate in John Robitaille.
But Caprio's decision to go for the crown has created an interesting scramble for his job, too. A couple of seasoned pols — Representative Steven Costantino and State Senator William Walaska — are voicing interest in the treasurer's office. And venture capitalist Gina Raimondo, too. But the most intriguing figure in the race may be Tom Sgouros, a software engineer who is known in political circles as the affable policy geek behind the Rhode Island Policy Reporter — a bimonthly publication that takes a joyful look at budgets and other normally eye-glazing topics.
Sgouros, whose candidacy has generated excitement on the left, represents an unusual opportunity for a gadfly to step into elected office. The Phoenix asked him about the potential transition from one role to the other, among other topics, in a recent Q&A. The interview came just hours after Chafee proposed an expansion of the state sales tax, at a reduced rate, to cover exempt items like food and clothing — all in an effort to deal with the state's yawning budget shortfall.
The interview is edited and condensed for length.
WHY SHOULD AVERAGE VOTERS CARE WHO THE TREASURER IS? I think they should care that any elected official has their priorities and their interests at heart. That aside, the treasurer does have a hand on some small, but significant parts of both the state's economy and the state's budget.
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF LINCOLN CHAFEE'S PROPOSAL TO EXPAND THE SALES TAX TO COVER SOME ITEMS THAT ARE CURRENTLY EXEMPT? I haven't actually spent a lot of time with it. But I will say that what we've done — what state policy has done over the past few years — is we seem to have gone out of our way to make life difficult for people who have the least money. And since there are [large numbers of low-income people], what that means is we've essentially taken money out of the state's economy.
I ASSUME YOU'RE REFERRING TO THE REGRESSIVE NATURE OF THE SALES TAX, HERE? TO THE FACT THAT IT FALLS HEAVILY ON THE POOR? Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about.
YOU HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE STATE'S LEADING GADFLIES IN RECENT YEARS. DO YOU THINK A GADFLY CAN BE AN EFFECTIVE POLITICIAN? HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF TRANSITIONING FROM ONE ROLE TO THE OTHER? I expect to be doing the same kind of work, as the treasurer, that I've been doing for years. So, I see running as an extension of the things I have been doing, not at all as a contradiction.