PROVIDENCE — Former GOP lawmaker Joe Trillo said Tuesday he is running for governor as an independent, citing President Donald Trump as his inspiration — even as he said he will be leaving the party Trump leads.
“I want to bring prosperity that President Trump is bringing to our country here to our great state. To do this I need to be on the ballot in November,” Trillo said in a statement he read live on WPRO-AM. “I strongly believe that the best way to fix our great state for all Rhode Islanders is to run as someone with no ties to any political party and to be on the ballot as a choice for every voter, not just primary voters.”
Trillo was chairman of Trump’s campaign in Rhode Island and echoed the Republican president’s language as he made the case for his candidacy.
“Rhode Island will have a choice between the same old politics and politicians or a vote to drain the Rhode Island swamp,” Trillo said.
The decision sets up what could be a three-person race in the campaign for governor, something that has become par for the course in Rhode Island. The last two governors won in races that featured multiple major candidates.
Trillo on Tuesday called himself a populist who would run on “Trumpian policies” and dismissed questions about whether that was a winning strategy in a state where Trump won only 39 percent of the vote.
Current Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo won with 41 percent in 2014 against Republican Allan Fung, who got 36 percent, and Moderate party candidate Bob Healey, who got 21 percent. In 2010, then-independent Lincoln Chafee won with 36 percent, over Republican John Robitaille, Democrat Frank Caprio and Moderate Ken Block.
Fung and House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan have both announced they are seeking the Republican nomination. Raimondo is expected to seek a second term.
Chafee, who became a Democrat in office, also is considering a run. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Trillo’s entry into the race would not change anything for him.
“If I run, it will be in a Democratic primary,” Chafee said.
Asked if he was firm on that decision, he replied: “Yes, I am.”
Chafee said his motivation for a possible run is the same as it was when he ran in the Democratic primary for president against Hillary Clinton, with whom he disagreed on foreign policy.
“That’s my motivation, is to give people choices, and I have a record of doing that on policy,” Chafee said.
He cited among his concerns with the Raimondo administration the awarding of subsidies to private corporations and problems with the state’s computer benefits system that have hurt people who receive food stamps.
Chafee said he doesn’t have a timetable for when he will decide on his run. He said although he knows that earlier is better, he said he thinks he deserves to be able to take his time.
Trillo’s decision caused some consternation among Republicans who see Raimondo as vulnerable, and a three-way race as a tougher road for a Republican candidate. Sen. Elaine Morgan expressed her disappointment.
“If that’s the case just hand the governorship right back to Raimondo!” she tweeted.