Democratic candidates for governor debate immigration, gun control

NBC 10's "Voice of the Voter" Democratic gubernatorial debate centered around how to fix Rhode Island's economy by changing its reputation, and how each candidate considered himself or herself different from any other Rhode Island governor in the past.

The debate was held Thursday afternoon at Schneider Auditorium at Xavier Hall on the Johnson & Wales University campus in Providence.

The Democratic debate kicked off with a question about how to make Rhode Island's "fiercely independent" local governments work together.

Todd Giroux, a candidate who described himself as being "the Main Street candidate," said he would focus on creating a works program and make policies and investments to grow local economies. Clay Pell noted divisions among cities and towns and said he would provide municipal aid to streamline problem-solving within the state.

General Treasurer Gina Raimondo referenced Rhode Island's small size as a reason the state should strive for collaboration and transparency by streamlining permitting processes. She said that would save the state money and attract businesses and that the governor has to lead by rallying against special interest groups.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said he believes streamlining among local governments has to happen from the "bottom up, not the top down."

The candidates were asked how they would handle the current border crisis of undocumented immigrants and housing unattended minors. Each candidate agreed that comprehensive federal immigration reform was vital but had differing ideas on how they would handle the issue in Rhode Island.

"We do not leave helpless children alone," Taveras said.

Giroux acknowledged a "humanitarian component" and said the state should welcome an influx of new residents, saying the federal government should pay Rhode Island to take unattended minors. Pell suggested strengthening borders and preventing illegal immigration, and Raimondo said while she would love to take in minors, Rhode Island's economy would be a stumbling block.

On the topic of support for public schools and teachers, Taveras and Raimondo both said they support the Common Core curriculum but mentioned needing input from teachers and allowing autonomy in the classroom on how to achieve high standards. Giroux suggested creating pipelines for employment in high-tech fields and from the universities in Rhode Island, while Pell proposed giving every high school student an internship and giving HOPE scholarships to avoid mounting college debt.

The candidates gave their thoughts on gun violence in the state and discussed how they would make Rhode Island a safer place to live.

Taveras defended the city of Providence and noted that shooting numbers had gone down in the last few years but acknowledged a need for stronger background checks and a ban on assault weapons, a plan echoed by Raimondo and Pell. Giroux, though, said he would stand by people who wanted to defend themselves and their homes and support their Second Amendment rights. He said he would limit access for the mentally ill.

Asked why voters should believe each candidate would be different from others who held the office of governor, the candidates agreed that the upcoming election was important and that the person elected governor needs to make difficult decisions and fight back against special interest groups while getting Rhode Islanders back to work.

"If we want to change our destination, we need to change our course," Pell said.{}