Santucci looking to shake up State House with Dist. 22 run

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Paul Santucci is a self-declared political newcomer, but he said he likes what he sees in the Republican Party’s minority leadership at the State House.

He’s looking to join that crew this fall. In November’s general election, he will face one of two Democrats – incumbent Dist. 22 Sen. Stephen Archambault and Melanie DuPont – as well as Stephen G. Tocco, an independent, for the seat that represents Smithfield, North Providence and a sliver of Johnston.

He said couldn’t speak to what steps Republicans have taken to attract candidates in the past, but he said he hopes more Rhode Islanders are urged to run with the party because “I do believe in what it stands for.”

“When I look at what has or has not occurred, I think we can sort of boil it down to three fundamental things, and it’s faith, fear and patience,” Santucci said. “I think that we need to have faith that we can take advantage of certain opportunities.”

A former Town Council president in Smithfield, Santucci said he absorbed a substantial amount of information about infrastructure over his years serving on the board. The council also sat as the Smithfield Water Authority, experience he said has allowed him to get a “really good feel for what we need for District 22.”

“I think Johnston, Smithfield, North Providence are close enough that they can all benefit from economic development, and we have a mountain of opportunity on about 500 acres of land that, if it was developed, could bring jobs to the entire district, and it would mean just not tax revenue for Smithfield, but hopefully higher-paying jobs to everyone in the district,” Santucci said regarding his appeal to Johnston’s few-hundred voters in the district.

Those hundreds of acres sit behind the corner of Route 116 and Route 7, an area that Santucci said is a “substantial tract of land” that could be valuable for future economic development.

“I think anything that produces a high-paying job, clean manufacturing or financial services or anything else that is a high-paying job is something that could be very attractive in that area,” Santucci said. “It’s right off of two major highways. It’s in a great spot that doesn’t have much in the way of residential development at all, and I think it would be a great corporate-style park that could go in there.”

Santucci was critical of the General Assembly’s track record, and he said “there’s a lot” that could be done to improve accountability and the state’s economy. His most significant issue is what he called massive liability in the state’s other post-employment benefits, or OPEB, obligations.

“Rhode Island does not have a general law that mandates that cities and towns make a certain actuarially determined contribution on an annual basis into their OPEB’s liability trust, and that is an item that is one of the fiscally ticking time bombs in the state,” Santucci said. “So if I was elected, I would ensure that I bring that to the Senate floor to make sure that we are able to keep the promises that we’ve made to teachers and municipal employees to pay for their health benefits.”

Santucci touched on the coronavirus pandemic, which has unfortunately struck him close to home. He said his father, who had multiple health issues, passed away from the disease in April, and Santucci expressed frustration with the General Assembly that he said “abdicated its duties.”

“The COVID-19 epidemic has spawned a second epidemic, which is an epidemic of fear. I think that that is, in some respects, worse than the epidemic himself,” Santucci said. “No Rhode Islanders have been represented by anyone except the governor, I think [that] is a problem. I think that we need to be very, very patient, because we need to take time to foster a sustainable economy and fix the pension and post-employment benefits situation that we backed ourselves into.”

He mostly focused on fiscal issues during his interview, but he said he enjoys giving back to the community. In his spare time, he’s operated a quarter-acre organic garden for 16 years with the aim of feeding needy Rhode Islanders.

“I’m a big believer in charity. I’ve, in the past, volunteered at the Rhode Island Intake Center Ministry Program, so I’m a big believer in charity and giving back to the community,” he said.

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