It was exactly one year ago today that I resigned as United States Attorney for Rhode Island.
During the nearly eight years that I served as U.S. Attorney under President Obama, I believed that the work we were doing was critically important to the people of Rhode Island. So when President Trump told me last March that my work for the people of this state was finished, I decided that it wasn’t. I decided to run for Attorney General, to continue that important work.
Since last year, I’ve spoken with Rhode Islanders all over the state. The concerns are many, and well placed. Public corruption. Violent crime and gun safety. The opioid crisis. Consumer protection. Immigration. Health care. Environmental protection. Cybercrime.
I’ve been asked what I would do as Attorney General, about these and other issues. And part of my answer has been, “Look at my track record, because for the past twenty years, as a state and federal prosecutor, I’ve had one client – the people of the State of Rhode Island.”
As U.S. Attorney, I made public corruption our top priority, and we brought case after case against politicians who violated their oath, including a city mayor, three town councilmen, the Speaker of the House, and the House Finance Chair. That work needs to continue, not just because politicians ought to do what’s right, but because when they don’t, it has a real, negative impact on our economy. No one wants to do business in a state that’s for sale.
When I was U.S. Attorney, we fought the opioid crisis by prosecuting major heroin/fentanyl trafficking rings, and worked with our prevention partners to raise awareness, hosting town halls all over the state and speaking with over 10,000 high school students about how they can help.
As United States Attorney, we combated violent crime by focusing on those who truly drive it, while recognizing that prevention and re-entry are just as important. I’ll fight for that kind of criminal justice system as Attorney General, and for common sense ways to enhance gun safety.
As Attorney General, I’ll bring the kinds of cases we brought when I was U.S. Attorney to recover wasted taxpayer money, protect consumers, protect the environment, and enforce civil rights.
Equally important is the next Attorney General’s vision for the Office. Here’s mine.
The Office of Attorney General must exercise smart, independent judgment. It must be an advocate for all Rhode Islanders. It must be a great partner with others, public and private, to build a safer, more resilient Rhode Island. It must be accessible to, and engaged with, all of the communities and constituencies we serve.
Thank you again for your support of the campaign, in so many ways. I look forward to connecting again soon!
It’s great to be with all of you, my friends from Jamestown and across Rhode Island.
I want to thank my family, my mother and father, Manuel and Veronika Neronha, my brother Chris, my sons Zach and Josh, and of course my incredible wife Shelly, who, as you can see, is the one who holds things together in our family.
And I want to acknowledge where we are standing today, Memorial Square, and thank all veterans, including the many here today, who have served our country, like my father, a veteran of the Korean War.
Today is the first day, with many more to follow, that I am asking you, the people of Rhode Island, to send me back to where my career in public service began over twenty years ago – the Attorney General’s Office – as your Attorney General.
I’m running for Attorney General because I care deeply about this state and its future.
I have deep roots in Rhode Island.
My great grandfather came here as a fisherman from the Azores in the late 1800’s. My grandfather was raised here in Jamestown. My father was born and raised here too. They both worked on the ferries that connected Jamestown and Newport, my grandfather all his life. My mother arrived in this country at 19 with little formal education and no knowledge of English. But she worked hard, met my dad, and built a life. And even though they never went to college, my parents worked really hard to make sure that my sister, my brother and I had that chance – and that chance gave us everything.
My wife Shelly and I have raised our two sons here in Jamestown. Rhode Island is our home. I’m running for Attorney General because I know how important the Office is to the safety and welfare of the people of Rhode Island.
I’m running because there is much more work to do, work that builds on work I’ve already done as United States Attorney.
I’m running because when Donald Trump decided in March that my work for the people of Rhode Island was finished, I decided that it wasn’t.
Let’s face it: Rhode Island has a well-earned reputation for political corruption, and that reputation is holding this state back economically and in other ways. We need all of our public officials – every one of them – to do what most are already doing, serve the people, not themselves. Rhode Island needs an Attorney General with the independence and experience to take on those who don’t.
During my nearly eight years as United States Attorney, I made public corruption our top priority, and we brought case after case against politicians who violated their oath, including three North Providence City councilmen, the mayor of Central Falls, the House Finance Chair, and the Speaker of the House, putting every one of them in a federal prison. I wish it were otherwise. But It’s inevitable that there will be more public integrity work to do. I’m ready to do it.
As Attorney General, I’ll continue to fight the opioid crisis that is killing so many Rhode Islanders. It’s just unacceptable that 300 or more people die of overdose every year, and scores more only narrowly escape death. As U.S. Attorney, we prosecuted major heroin and fentanyl trafficking rings, and worked with our prevention partners to raise awareness, hosting town halls around the state. With those same partners, we made 28 high school visits during the past year, from Westerly to Woonsocket, from Providence to Portsmouth, speaking to over 10,000 students about making smart choices and how they can help with this public health crisis. I’ll keep doing that work, and more, as Attorney General.
I’ll continue the work we did when I was U.S. Attorney, with our partners, to take on the scourge of child sex trafficking, and build an effective support network for child victims. We’ll fight to make sure that all kids have the same chance that I had – to grow up safe.
We need a strategy — a real strategy — to address violent crime in our neighborhoods. We can’t go back thirty years in time and say we’re going to lock everybody up for as long as possible. It’s too expensive, it won’t work, and it’s not right. We’ll bring a “smart” approach to reducing violent crime, by focusing on those who are truly driving it. Young people that we can get turned around, we need to get turned around. Alternative sentencing programs like diversion work, and we need to use them.
Prevention and re-entry are as critical to reducing crime as prosecution and incarceration. Nearly everybody is coming home from state and federal prison. That’s a fact. If we don’t get them back into the workforce, and fast, they are going back to prison, and that’s not good for anybody.
I’ll use the power of the Office’s civil division to protect the people of Rhode Island, like we did when I was U.S. Attorney and we took on Google, forcing it to stop assisting off-shore pharmacies unlawfully selling unsafe opioids to internet buyers in the United States. We made Google forfeit 500 million dollars, one of the five largest forfeitures in U.S. history, and made sure that 230 million dollars were returned to Rhode Island to benefit taxpayers here.
We’ll bring the kinds of cases we brought when I was U.S. Attorney to recover wasted taxpayer money, protect consumers, protect the environment, and enforce civil rights. We don’t have to rely on a Justice Department with shifting priorities to do those things. We can do that ourselves, together, right here in Rhode Island, using our own laws.
It’s also pretty clear that there are going to be times when Attorneys General across the country are going to have to stand up to the Trump administration on national issues. Whether those issues involve the environment, patently unconstitutional immigration policies, civil rights, or things we can’t yet foresee, there are going to be challenges ahead.
Rhode Island, and the country, needs Attorneys General who have the ability and experience to take on those challenges, and who understand that we don’t take an oath to support a President, we swear to support the Constitution of this state and of the United States.
My vision for the office of Attorney General is one of service — to all Rhode Islanders. We’ll exercise smart, independent judgment. We’ll be great partners with others, public and private, as we build a safer, more resilient Rhode Island. We’ll be accessible to, and engaged with, all of the communities and constituencies we serve. We’ll take up the mantel President Obama gave us as United States Attorneys 8 plus years ago – to be more than just prosecutors. We’ll be community problem solvers.
For the past twenty years, I’ve had one client – the people of the state of Rhode Island. I am so grateful for having had that opportunity. There has been no greater privilege.
I know the work that’s ahead, because I’ve spent twenty years doing it. I’m ready to do more. And there is so much more that we can do, together.
And so I thank you, and ask you to join our campaign and our common cause – to protect and advance the interests of all Rhode Islanders, from every community and every corner of this great state, and to make Rhode Island’s government as honest and hard working as its people.