The 2018 gubernatorial race is entering the home stretch and Joe Trillo, former state chairman for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign who is running as an independent this year, recently gained the assistance of some high-profile state Republicans to take on opponents Allan Fung and Gina Raimondo.
At a press conference held at his campaign headquarters in Warwick on Thursday, Trillo welcomed (at the time) House Minority Leader and runner-up Republican primary candidate Patricia Morgan to the podium, where she threw her full support behind Trillo.
“I know his character, I know what he stands for and I know he’s a fighter. And that’s the kind of person we need to be our next governor,” said Morgan, who hours after the announcement was removed from her position as minority leader by her fellow House Republicans.
Morgan said that over the course of a 20-year relationship with Trillo throughout their time in the state legislature, she has come to know Trillo as someone who is able to strongly articulate his positions and isn’t afraid to voice those thoughts.
“When I was the state chairman, Joe was known as one of the lions of the House, because he roared. And he roared loudly,” she said. “He was a fighter and he has a backbone and he does not back down. You’re not going to get a ‘go along to get along’ style from him ever.”
Along with Morgan’s full endorsement, the Trillo campaign announced that former state Attorney General Arlene Violet had agreed to join his ranks as well, where if elected she would undertake a new role of Inspector General, responsible for maximizing the efficiency of state government.
“Under Arlene’s guidance and strong leadership, we will be able to begin the investigations that will discover wasteful and abusive spending and eliminated [sic] it,” Trillo said in the release. “In my administration, every dollar must be used for its highest value or returned to taxpayers. If Arlene could take on organized crime, I assure you she can take on the Statehouse.”
To bolster the small business angle, Trillo announced that John Robitaille, businessman and former Republican nominee for governor in 2010 who eventually lost to Lincoln Chafee, also joined the Trillo campaign through the release issued Thursday.
“John Robitaille has a long and diverse history with small business. He has been a business founder and owner himself and spent seven years at the Larry Friedman International Entrepreneurship Center at Johnson and Wales University where he coached and helped small businesses get started,” the release reads. “His experience makes him an expert on the struggles and impediments that our companies encounter, what needs to change and how to change them.”
Morgan likewise praised Trillo as being best suited to become “the small business governor.”
“He is a small businessman. He has grown companies and he has helped companies to grow. That’s what Rhode Island needs,” she said, later adding that, “He’s not going to be about taking care of insiders. He’s going to be about taking care of hard-working Rhode Islanders who especially need somebody who will be their champion. And he will be their champion.”
With Morgan by his side, Trillo didn’t mince words when it came to questions about whether or not his continued candidacy will only serve to split the Republican vote and aid incumbent Raimondo in November’s election.
“A vote for Fung is a losing vote. He’s not going to win this election if I was in it, and he’s not going to win it with me out of it. You people are kidding yourselves,” Trillo said. “He’s a flawed candidate. I’m going to say it, he’s a corrupt mayor. And if people want to elect a corrupt mayor to be a corrupt governor, go ahead.”
Morgan agreed, clearly, as she endorsed Independent Trillo over her Republican opponent Fung.
“Honestly, I have looked at all of the candidates that are on the ballot and I believe that Joe is the best one to lead Rhode Island and I also believe he is the only candidate who can beat Gina Raimondo,” she said, adding that, “I believe Rhode Island needs change. It needs real change. It needs strong change, and it needs somebody with a backbone and a hard work ethic to get it done – and that is Joe Trillo.”
Morgan was asked if Fung had reached out to her seeking an endorsement, and Morgan said that he had indeed called her at some point between the press conference and the primary, and that “It didn’t go well…He was seeking it [an endorsement], but we didn’t get to the question.”
However, during a visit to the Pilgrim Senior Center in Warwick on Friday, Fung denied that any such call had ever been made, calling the statement “an absolute fabrication.”
“The only conversation I had with her was on primary night where she called to concede, and that was a brief conversation,” Fung said. “I congratulated her for running a spirited campaign, and that was it. I followed up with a text two days later because I know it’s tough, asking her if we could meet and followed up with a phone call and left a message to see if we can get together because she didn’t respond to my text. Never did I hear back from Patricia, so her fairy tale just isn’t holding true.”
Asked for a response to Trillo’s comment that Fung was a “corrupt mayor” and would make a corrupt governor, Fung said that he wasn’t surprised to learn of Morgan’s endorsement or to hear Trillo’s comments.
“We’ve known for 16 years Joe is full of hot air and loves to run his mouth with nothing to substantiate and back it up,” Fung said. “We saw his support for 38 studios, and saw him and Patricia Morgan supporting the governor’s corporate welfare budget, gave millions away and expanded the sales tax...All three of them are nothing more than the same Smith Hill insiders that we’ve got to get rid of.”
While Morgan said at the press conference that “Republican principles, the things that we believe in, absolutely are the things that will turn Rhode Island around, and I think Joe and I embody them.”
Fung presented a different take.
“Joe was the one who cut and run [from the party],” Fung said. “He’s a so-called independent, so for Patricia to say what she’s saying, it makes no sense. She wants to keep telling her fairy tale, so be it, but she defies credibility when she promised not to support an Independent and not to support anyone but another Republican.”