While he carried the banner in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last year, former Warwick Republican state Representative Joe Trillo won’t be focusing his campaign for governor on the actions of the president.
Trillo has been talking about a bid for governor for months and as recently as Monday held an event promoting his candidacy. On Tuesday Trillo surprised members of both political parties by announcing on WPRO radio that he is running as a “populist” independent, a move that many see as improving the reelection of Governor Gina Raimondo and injuring the chances of whoever is the Republican nominee.
In an interview Wednesday, Trillo said he remains a supporter of the president but he doesn’t see himself winning as a Republican. He said, “the party left me and I didn’t leave the party.” He said the GOP has let him down and that basically his efforts to reach city and town parties have been rejected and he’s been told not “to waste my time.”
So far he’s pleased with the reaction. He said he’s gotten positive feedback and 50 volunteers have signed up on his website since the announcement.
In a statement released Tuesday he said, “My message is a populist one. I want to appeal to the average hard-working person who has been forgotten and sold out by insider politics, party machines and the establishment. I know and identify with 'the forgotten man' - and this has been my focus since getting into politics. Rhode Island needs a fighter to change the status quo.”
He goes on to say, “I strongly believe that the best way to fix our great state for all Rhode Islanders is to run as someone with no ties to any political party - and to be on the ballot as a choice for every voter - not just primary voters. I can only accomplish this by running as an Independent and appearing on the ballot in November.”
That didn’t sit well with some Republicans.
“I consider Joe Trillo a friend and colleague and am therefore disappointed with his decision to leave the Republican Party. I have always believed in staying in the party and working on change from within,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said in a statement.
Andrew Vargas Vila, campaign manager for Cranston Mayor and Republican candidate Allan Fung, said in an email there would be no comment on Trillo’s announcement.
What are Trillo’s odds of winning?
He thinks they’re good in a 3-way contest. He believes, however, the ballot could include four candidates and depending who is in the race, his odds could change.
“There could be a guy like Ken Block and it would be very difficult to win,” he said.
What about Lincoln Chafee? The former governor, who won the election as an independent and then became a Democrat announcing a brief run for the presidential nomination, has been critical of Raimondo and seems to be flirting with another run for governor, presumably in a Democratic primary.
“I would love to run against Linc Chafee or Gina Raimondo. It’s a toss-up,” said Trillo.
As much as Trillo enjoys talking politics, it’s his platform that he is passionate about. He has a history of crusading for small business and trimming government even though as a Republican legislator in a Democratic controlled House it was an uphill climb. He did have some success in ameliorating the overbearing fire code restrictions that followed in the wake of the 2003 Station nightclub fire that killed 100 people.
Trillo made the analogy of state government to a basement, saying you’ll find things in a basement that have been there for 20 years and have completely forgotten. He said the same is true of departments within state agencies that carry on even though they no longer serve a useful purpose.
Along those lines, Trillo proposes to eliminate motor vehicle inspections.
“Cars don’t break down,” he said noting that only 19 states require motor vehicle inspections. Furthermore, he claims inspections have become a mechanism for some service stations to make unnecessary repairs, padding the bills of people who can’t afford them.
“I know this is going to be controversial,” he said imagining claims that the highways will be unsafe. From his study, Trillo said states without inspections don’t appear to have higher levels of automobile accidents and accident related injuries.
“They are,” he said of inspections in a statement, “a relic of days when cars were far less technologically advanced and safe. They need to go the way of the VCR, fax machine, and typewriter. This is the type of innovative thinking I will bring to the State House.”
Trillo would also cut the sales tax to 5.5 percent and reduce the estate tax. His aim in cutting the estate tax is to stop the exodus of Rhode Islanders to states with lower or no estate tax.
For the moment, Trillo will be operating his campaign from his offices on East Avenue in Warwick. He didn’t give a projection of what he hopes to raise and spend on a campaign.
“What I’ve learned to do is to take a dollar and turn it into 10,” he said, adding that in order to beat him his opponents will have to raise ten times what he spends.
In his release Trillo spelled out the following platform:
1. Root out waste and fraud in our health and service budget.
2. Shed the image of a sanctuary state.
3. Make Rhode Island a more business-friendly state by reducing unnecessary regulations which hurts small and large business and keeps jobs out of our state.
4. Shrink state government through attrition. This can only be done by going through each state agency and getting rid of redundant departments, obsolete departments and ineffective areas. To do this, appoint a team of investigators to be run through the governor’s office. Also, bring to the team the best leaders from the private and public sectors.
5. Work to reduce taxes that would help keep people from leaving our state such as the estate tax, state income taxes, as well as stop taxing pensions.
6. Lower the state sales tax rate to 5.5 % to attract commerce back to Rhode Island.
7. Have a sales tax holiday on the same day that Massachusetts holds one.
8. Work to reform our schools by putting discipline back in the classroom and protecting teachers from legal abuse for instilling discipline. Also, support separate, bilingual classes to allow non-English speaking students to be taught English. Our schools are failing under current policies.
9. Stop tying the hands of our police. Under current policies we have removed common sense, logic, and good judgment. Let police be police.
10. As a key initiative, work to eliminate state-mandated car inspections. Only 19 states have it and studies show they impose undue costs on our citizens without significant impact on safety. Having these inspections hurts low-income people the hardest, not to mention the burden of additional costs on our middle class.
11. Infrastructure - Rebuild city and town roads.
12. Impose stricter penalties for animal abuse.
13. Perhaps most importantly, work with the Trump Administration to bring more federal dollars to Rhode Island.