- Associated Press - Thursday, September 4, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Democratic race to become Rhode Island’s next secretary of state pits a former deputy secretary of state against a Newport businessman making his second try for the office.

Guillaume De Ramel narrowly lost the 2006 Democratic primary to current Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, who is running for lieutenant governor. Nellie Gorbea was a deputy in the office from 2002 to 2006.

Gorbea says she has a track record of reform that will help her make elections fair and accurate, make it easy for businesses to navigate government and ensure transparency. De Ramel says his experience in large and small companies will help him use the office to improve the business climate in a state where the jobless rate has been among the highest in the nation for years.

Tuesday’s winner is the favorite to become the next secretary of state. Republican John Carlevale, host of a public access TV show, has several times run unsuccessfully for political office under different party banners.

Gorbea, who also has helped lead several nonprofit groups, ran day-to-day operations when she was in the secretary of state’s office. She says she helped create an online voter information center as well as a statewide voter registration system.

“It’s my pride and joy,” she said of the voter registration system. “I love things like that, that make it easy for people to engage in our democracy.”

Her top priority would be to make information collected in the office easy to get and use. For example, she said the office could change the way it collects information for its corporate database, tagging it so that it would be easy to look up certain kinds of businesses at once, such as technology or biotech.

She said she knows how hard it can be to get various state agencies to cooperate with changes in the way things are done.

“I come into the office knowing what the barriers are,” she said. On the first day, she said, she can meet with the governor and say, “these are the things that we can do differently if we want to have different results.”

De Ramel touts his experience starting and growing businesses, and says he knows first-hand how many hurdles they have to jump over, with 74 different regulatory bodies in the state. He started an air charter company with his identical twin brother, Regis, and has been the chief operating officer of a construction company based on Aquidneck Island.

As an example, he said he knows from his experience on the Coastal Resources Management Commission that people often need to hire a lawyer because the regulatory system is so complex. If elected he hopes to change that.

“The only way we can grow is to create a more hospitable business climate here, and that’s where the secretary of state’s office really can play a key role in helping people be able to start and grow, expand here in Rhode Island,” he said.

He wants to make the office a one-stop shop for all Rhode Islanders. One idea is to consolidate information that is now kept in different databases, such as information about registered lobbysists and campaign finance information, which are currently on different websites.

The candidates are on the same side on several issues. Both are critical of Mollis for his support of voter ID, now law in the state.

The office enforces lobbying laws, and both say they need to be stricter. Gorbea supports barring lobbyists from giving personal loans to the state’s elected officials and decision-makers, and De Ramel said he would be open to such a ban. Former House Speaker Gordon Fox earlier this year revealed he received a personal loan from a registered lobbyist several years ago. Neither had disclosed it, as required by law.

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