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Providence - The two Republicans seeking the party's nomination for Rhode Island governor jostled Tuesday in a campaign round table in which they agreed broadly on some issues but got testy with each other at times.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and businessman and Moderate Party founder Ken Block met in a special hourlong edition of Rhode Island Public Radio's "Political Roundtable."
As he did in last month's televised debate, the mayor portrayed himself as the candidate with experience who has promoted "real results" in his city and would focus as governor on jobs.
Block highlighted his plan to identify waste and fraud in state government and said he would use the bully pulpit to bring reform.
"We need to be a better shepherd of taxpayer dollars," Block said. "What the people of Rhode Island need is for government to spend their tax dollars as carefully as each of you spends your own money."
Block defended creating the Moderate Party ahead of the 2010 gubernatorial race, and dismissed the suggestion that voters might look at him as a political chameleon since he's now running under the GOP banner.
He said he thought at the time a new party was the way to change the status quo.
"What I learned after we created the party was it is not the way to make political change," Block said. "Third parties can't make political change."
Fung said he didn't need to "take a poll" and create a party.
"I believe in what I'm doing in Cranston and I believe I can turn this state around," said Fung, who has been endorsed by the state GOP in the Sept. 9 primary.
Both candidates said they were disappointed with the direction of education reform, and a General Assembly-passed moratorium on the use of standardized tests as a graduation requirement. They spoke in favor of consolidated services among the state's municipalities as a way to save money.
But Fung said he wouldn't have signed a minimum wage increase to $9 an hour, as Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently did, saying that creating an overall healthier business climate is a better approach to boost the economy. Block said he wouldn't "have a problem" raising the wage if it's line with the state's neighbors.
Both questioned the cost of running the insurance marketplace known as HealthSource RI. Block said he would consider merging the marketplace with that of a neighboring state or selling it to states without functioning exchanges. Fung said he would consider handing HealthSource back to the federal government.
Block again jabbed at Fung's handling of a police ticketing scandal in Cranston related to allegations that citations were issued as political payback. Fung responded that he took the appropriate action and held people accountable.
Fung criticized Block for declining to release his tax returns. Block said there's no requirement to do so and called it a "ridiculous request." He said all of his sources of income have been disclosed in ethics filings.
Asked which current elected official in Rhode Island he admires, and why, Block responded, "I can't think of one." Fung identified GOP state Rep. Anthony Giarrusso of East Greenwich, citing his efforts supporting small business.
The three leading Democrats in the race are state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and political newcomer Clay Pell. Chafee is not seeking re-election.