District 65 Candidates Square Off
Moderate Party member and realtor Joseph Botelho is battling Democrat and history teacher Gregg Amore for East Providence's District 65 seat in the State House.
A realtor who is a former East Providence city councilor and an East Providence high school history teacher and coach want to be the next RI state representative from District 65.
The candidates, Joseph Botelho and Gregg Amore, faced off Wednesday night, Oct. 24, in a Rumford neighborhood church. They exchanged ideas and suggestions, and a few barbs, in a debate in front of about 150 voters who showed up for a “Candidates’ Night” at Newman Congregational Church.
The East Providence Coalition sponsored the event. It followed, for the most part, the debate format used by the League of Women Voters RI.
Botelho, a Moderate Party member, and Amore, a Democrat, answered questions from the floor written on index cards and one question from each other. Former state legislator Anthony Pires served as the moderator. A timer controlled the length of their responses – usually two minutes or less.
Based on the flip of a coin, Botelho got to go first with an opening statement.
Botelho referred to the state’s business climate – particularly the 38 Studios debacle that has put taxpayers on the hook for $100 million, the need for more jobs, and the quality of education as areas he would focus on as a legislator.
He also claimed that half of Amore’s campaign contributions come from certain special-interest groups.
Amore referred to his East Providence roots, his 24 years as a teacher, and his background in public policy. He debunked Botelho’s claim that he would be beholden to special interests.
“My family is my only special interest,” Amore said. “I will work hard every day for everybody.”
The first question they were asked touched on the need for additional educational reforms. Do they favor “pay for performance?” in the classroom.
Botelho said he favors pay for performance, teacher evaluations and more funding for schools.
“Teachers good or bad are paid the same,” he said. “We need to change that. We need something to motivate teachers.”
""Poverty is the root cause of educational problems," he said. He would support increased early-education opportunities, such as pre-school and all-day kindergarten, especially for lower income and at-risk students.
“Merit pay is not tried and true,” he said. “It’s been debunked in study after study. We need to talk about education innovation now, not in the past. We need to intervene early.”
Do they favor the voter ID law?
There are more important issues, said Amore. “We need to clean up voter lists first. Voter ID is a solution to a problem that did not exist. We’re trying to stop impersonations that don’t exist. We need to expand opportunities to vote.”
“Voter ID never comes up as a concern when I walk neighborhoods,” said Botelho.
How would they represent all voters and not special-interest groups?
“I have no connections,” said Botelho. “I joined the Moderate Party for that reason. I’m not aligned with anyone.”
“I will listen to any and all concerns,” said Amore. “My goal is to research every issue and how it effects the overall population.”
At the same time, he said: “We all have special interests. That is a natural inclination. And they can be very enlightening if you listen to them.”
What would they do to keep all-day kindergarten in East Providence?
“The state funding formula needs to be accelerated,” said Amore. “Distribute money where it is needed. We’re way behind in funding needs. Early education is essential and East Providence needs it.”
Botelho said he has no faith in the legislature to make that happen.
“Legislation never gets done,” he said. “There are lots of plans, but nothing gets done" with the current makeup of the legislature.
Botelho asked Amore about the late-term legislation last spring that would create one board of regents for both schools and colleges, not two as they exist right now.
“We need to delay it,” said Amore. “Just don’t consolidate for the sake of consolidation. We need more information and transparency. It did come up too late in the term."
Amore asked Botelho about the first piece of legislation he would introduce if elected?
“Job retraining,” he said. “We don’t spend one cent on this – despite a disconnect of skills and jobs sought by Rhode Island employers.”
Amore closed first.
“I’m a big believer in public service,” he said. “As a teacher, I serve the public. This would be an extension of my public service.”
Botelho said serving as the District 65 representative “would allow me to get back into politics.”