The Block Island Times
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Blake Filippi running for General Assembly

By Lily O'Gara | Jul 18, 2014

It’s not every day that a Block Island resident runs for General Assembly.

Blake Filippi is running as an Independent against Charlestown Democrat and incumbent Donna Walsh, hoping to represent District 36. This District includes New Shoreham, Westerly, South Kingston and Charleston.

If elected, Filippi said that he is prepared, “hands down,” to represent all four towns.

“These are coastal communities that have a lot of the same issues,” Filippi said. “I think there is a lot of commonality.”

Filippi, a civil liberties lawyer, has strong ties to the island; his family has resided in New Shoreham for over 60 years. Filippi currently serves as legal counsel for the Block Island Water and Sewer Commissions. He now splits his time between the island and his office in Providence.

In regards to his choice to run as an Independent, Filippi said, “I feel I represent the best of both parties and intend to work with both parties, as I have done in the past.”

Until recently, when he decided to run for office, he served as the national legal counsel for a think tank called the Tenth Amendment Center, which “formed coalitions all across the political spectrum,” with Demand Progress, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) and Greenpeace.

“I think my record shows that I have the ability to work across all aisles when there’s a common interest,” Filippi said.

Filippi said he is disappointed with the direction in which the state is moving, citing that friends and family members have migrated to other states.

“I believe in good government, one that reflects the values of the people. Unfortunately, we’ve allowed a state government that does not represent our hopes and aspirations…,” Filippi wrote in his initial policy paper. “I seek office because I am afraid we have a government that no longer serves us.”

According to Filippi, the number one issue in the state is financial corruption, which has greatly affected Rhode Island’s business climate and reputation.

“No one is going to invest their money here,” he said. “The state is a glaring ‘F.’”

He said this is in direct contrast to how Block Island operates. Filippi said that the island government is “open and honest.”

The rest of the state is another matter. One of the most recent examples of corruption is the bankruptcy and state handling of 38 Studios, Major League Baseball player Curt Schilling’s failed video game production company. After the company went under, even after receiving a $75 million loan guarantee through the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, the state voted to pay 38 Studios’ bonds. Then, a bill to appoint a special prosecutor to look further into the issue was defeated. Incumbent Donna Walsh, Filippi said, voted against the bill.

“While reasonable minds can differ on the propriety of paying these bonds, the decision to vote against the appointment of a special prosecutor is, in my opinion, wholly unwarranted,” Filippi wrote in his policy paper.

“Right now, we are in the cover-up phase of 38 Studios and, whether unwittingly or not, Donna Walsh is part of that,” Filippi said during an interview with The Block Island Times.

Filippi made it clear that he wants transparent leadership and said that, if he is elected, he would like to see all state legislators placed under the purview of the State Ethics Commission, without exception.

Getting down to business

Apart from curbing corruption, Filippi has several other ideas for improving the state’s economy.

Filippi feels that the state should “aggressively court” businesses in the Boston region technology corridor. He referred to Boston as “the Silicon Valley of the East Coast,” and said that Rhode Island needs to make it appealing for companies to do business in the state.

“We’ve done a dismal job of that,” Filippi said.

A small state cannot thrive with competition from giant neighbors like Massachusetts and Connecticut, Filippi said. Providing incentives, like tax reductions, in order to entice businesses to migrate to Rhode Island will not cause any net loss for the state, Filippi said, but will most certainly create jobs and cash flow.

If elected, Filippi would also push for legislation that equalizes Deepwater Wind’s pricing with other alternative energy sources. The contract between the Public Utilities Commission and Deepwater Wind is going to cost Rhode Island taxpayers $500 million in above market energy rates, Filippi said.

“Our economy simply can’t handle the excess of that capital,” Filippi said.

He said that while he fully supports alternative energy initiatives, the state “cannot fall prey to picking winners and losers and insider deals.”

According to Filippi, the Department of Transportation (DOT) needs better oversight as well. The Rhode Island DOT budgets $27,000 per mile to maintain state roads, while states like Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont spend only $11,000 per mile. Filippi said that Rhode Island has the worst infrastructure in the country.

“Where does the money go?” Filippi asked.

The whole nine yards

Filippi is nothing if not ambitious and also plans to tackle issues outside of finances.

If elected, he said, he would strive to introduce constitutional amendments to have a line item veto for the governor and to create a voter initiative process.

“I strongly believe in runoff elections when no candidate receives the majority of the votes,” Filippi said. “I feel sometimes the will of the people is not reflected when you can have an official in there with a third of the vote.”

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, for example, won four years ago with just 36 percent of the vote. If there had been more competition, the winner would have had a “stronger mandate,” according to Filippi.

Filippi also wants to exempt Social Security benefits from taxation, and exempt the first $15,000 of other pension benefits from state taxes as well. Dozens of other states have taken these measures, Filippi said, and Rhode Island needs to get on board.

In other areas, such as labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Rhode Island has the potential to become a leader. Other countries around the world have restricted or banned GMOs, but the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not even require that they be labeled. Vermont is considering legislature to change this, and Rhode Island should as well, Filippi said.

Lastly, Filippi wants to see more restrictions on police drone use, except in emergency situations. According to a Federal Aviation Administration estimate, Filippi said, there will be approximately 30,000 drones in U.S. air space by 2020.

Block Island Benefits

In terms of island-specific improvements, Filippi said he would like to see improved internet connection to attract tourists and business people alike. A more consistent winter boat schedule would also benefit the island, he said, as would more marketing of the shoulder seasons. As he pointed out, he’s not just campaigning here; he’s also a resident and, as such, feels that his views represent those of his constituents.’

“It’s a really issue-based campaign,” Filippi said. “It has to be. I think we need to focus on all of these very weighty issues that affect our lives and families and not get caught up in the politics of personality.”

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