The first debate of the campaign to represent East Greenwich in the state House of Representatives happened via email. It was between Republican Anthony Giarrusso, the current occupant of the District 30 seat, and Democratic challenger Justine Caldwell. It largely concerned gun legislation at the State House, but also touched on the so-called War on Christmas.
The candidates exchanged five emails – two from the incumbent and three from the challenger, according to copies of the exchange provided by both parties. The exchanges were sometimes argumentative, sometimes condescending, and sometimes nonsensical. You can read the emails here.
Caldwell asked Giarrusso to cosponsor a bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Knight, that would ban assault weapons, while Giarrusso kept referring to a bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Craven, that would ban bump stocks.
“Perhaps you’re trying to avoid flatly saying you won’t co-sponsor the bill. (I hope you know which bill I’m talking about now.),” Caldwell wrote in an email to Giarrusso. “Your constituents, myself included, are no longer happy to have political non-answers.”
Giarrusso did not respond to that email, but told this reporter, “For the record, the bill sponsor issue is just semantics; Craven has a bill with a similar title and Knight is a co-sponsor on that bill. I would suggest that whenever someone is inquiring about any legislation, simply insert the bill number to avoid any confusion.”
Caldwell’s campaign said they made the email exchange, which happened in March, public because “after a month, and 13 days without a further response from Giarrusso, Caldwell decided that the best way to get Giarrusso to take positive action would be to publish the exchange and ask members of the public to join her in urging Giarrusso to co-sponsor the Knight bill,” according to a press release.
Upon being informed Caldwell made the exchange public, Giarrusso sent this reporter identical versions of the emails. “That way I cannot be mischaracterized by the lines that she picks and chooses to write,” he wrote in an email. Giarrusso declined an opportunity to point out any discrepancy between the two emails.
He did tell me he’s open minded to voting for, if not co-sponsoring, Knight’s bill to ban assault weapons. “No need to cosponsor but I condemn military weapons in the hands of civilians,” he wrote.
Though, in her press release on the matter, Caldwell cautioned against accepting “platitudes, or vague assurances” from Giarrusso.
“Giarrusso’s voting record — including his A- rating from the NRA, and his vote against the law that took guns away from domestic abusers — has been very supportive of the gun lobby,” she said. “I would urge supporters of common-sense gun laws to contact Rep. Giarrusso and ask him specifically to co-sponsor Rep. Knight’s bill. Don’t settle for platitudes, or vague assurances about the future. There’s a way Rep. Giarrusso can help today — and that’s co-sponsoring Rep. Knight’s bill.”