- Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Voters in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for lieutenant governor will choose from among Rhode Island’s secretary of state, Cumberland’s mayor and an outgoing state legislator from Warwick.

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, who has the broadest name recognition after eight years in statewide office, says he has helped make Rhode Island more business-friendly and would continue the work if elected. He said he has the experience to “move the needle” on the state’s struggling economy. He wants to create a special lieutenant governor’s task force on workforce development.

Mollis has been endorsed by the state Democratic Party.

Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee has stressed his municipal experience, including improving the town’s finances and working with other municipalities to consolidate services. He says he represents a new way of thinking.

“I’m not looking to get back on track, I’m looking to get on a new set of tracks,” he said.

The six-term mayor is probably best known for his education initiatives, including his support for mayoral academy charter schools, which has earned him the ire of unions. He, too, wants to use the lieutenant governor’s office to better the business climate.

The third candidate is Rep. Frank Ferri, who last year helped shepherd through the state’s same-sex marriage legislation. Ferri, who has served in the House since 2007, says his legislative experience would help him serve as a bridge between the General Assembly and governor.

Ferri, who owns a bowling alley in Johnston, said he would focus on health care, small business and restoring trust to government.

“I can lead Rhode Island and help Rhode Island come out of the malaise that it’s in right now,” said Ferri.

The incumbent lieutenant governor, Elizabeth Roberts, has endorsed him.

McKee has gone on the offensive about 38 Studios. He has criticized as a “charade” hearings called by Mollis into possible lobbying violations in the run-up to the deal that gave ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company a $75 million state-guaranteed loan. He says Mollis should have investigated earlier and has called for a third-party investigation of the deal.

Ferri has also said Mollis dropped the ball and accused him of using the issue in a “political game.”

A Superior Court judge said this week he is examining allegations that Mollis abused the judiciary by filing a petition seeking the authority to take depositions, which stalled the lobbying hearings, keeping the issue alive during the campaign. The petition was then withdrawn.

Mollis said Thursday it was filed in good faith in an attempt to get more information and evidence. He said the petition was then pulled because he didn’t want to waste any more taxpayer money by letting the case drag on longer.

Some have questioned whether the office of lieutenant governor should even exist. GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Block says he wants to get rid of it, calling it a waste of money. Libertarian Tony Jones is running for the job on a platform of abolishing it.

Mollis is among those pushing to have the governor and lieutenant governor run on a single ticket. McKee supports the idea as well, but notes that the change, if approved, would be years off. Ferri doesn’t favor the joint-ticket model, saying the strength of the office is its independence.

The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to face Republican Catherine Taylor, though Kara Young is also running for the GOP nod. Taylor narrowly lost to Mollis in the 2010 secretary of state’s race.

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