There are plenty of reasons to assume Ernie Almonte is the conservative in the campaign for general treasurer that features three Democrat and no Republicans. One is that I saw him meeting with Colleen Conley, a tea party activist, in Wickford recently.
They hugged, Almonte gave her a campaign bumper sticker and she put it on her Ford Mustang, which already had a “Don’t Tread On Me” tea party bumper sticker on it.
In Almonte’s defense, he meets with everyone. He also attended the governor’s forum sponsored by the left-leaning Economic Progress Institute and was endorsed last week by the North Kingstown Democratic Party.
But there’s more…
In 2006, he was even briefly a member of the Republican party. He told me he registered to vote in the primary, specifically to vote against then-Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, who was challenging Linc Chafee’s senate seat.
“I saw firsthand that he wasn’t for the citizens, he was for himself,” Almonte said of Laffey, who has since relocated to Colorado to pursue a political career there.
Fair enough. But then there are the things he says – they sometimes sound like the words of a conservative, too. Take this video of him speaking to a group of accountants and actuaries in 2012. Eerily similar to Mitt Romney’s 47-percent comment, Almonte sounds shocked when he says 50 percent of America doesn’t pay taxes (I think he meant income taxes). He also says some people “want something for nothing” and that he doesn’t think making $250,000 a year means your rich.
When I asked Almonte about the video, he said his comments were taken out of context and that the video was spliced together to make him appear more conservative than he is. He said he was giving a speech prepared by the auditor general, for whom he was filling in.
He said he does not believe every American should be taxed on their income, and suggested those who earn less than $30,000 should be exempt. And he said he does not think poor people necessarily want something for nothing. “It’s not a broad brush but there are some elements,” he said, recalling a story of an accountant who wanted to collect unemployment benefits before returning to work.
He also stepped back slightly from saying people aren’t rich who earn $250,000 a year, but not too much.
“I think they are well off,” he told me. “I can’t say I think they are rich because I don’t know what they spend.”
The whole package – hugging Conley, voting Republican, saying poor people want something for nothing, essentially welfare-queening an out-of-work accountant in defense of such comments, it makes me wonder how committed to core Democratic values Almonte is, or if he’s like so many conservative Rhode Islanders who run as a Democrat because it’s the easiest path to victory.
“I don’t put myself in a hole of being a conservative,” he told me. “I’m fiscally responsible.”
So I asked him if he would consider running as a Republican or an independent.
“I won’t run as a Republican, and I’m running as a Democrat,” he said.
Sounds like he’s leaving himself some wiggle room to run as an independent, I told him.
“The chances of me running as an independent are about as close to me running as a Republican,” he said. “I never like to say never, but there is probably no chance.”
Then he added, “Wait, can I say that another way? I’m running as a Democrat and I won’t run as a Republican or independent.”