The Pilgrim Political Involvement Club (Pil-PI) scored its highest ranking political guest speaker yet, as Lt. Governor Daniel McKee stopped by Pilgrim High School on Tuesday to talk to club members about the Lt. Governor’s role in government and his take on important issues of the present day.
“In this office, I think the best thing we can work on every day is just to try and make Rhode Island a better place – whether it’s better education, better economy, better opportunities for everybody who lives in the state including our young people,” said McKee, who called the club “a great thing” and encouraged more people to join and become engaged in current affairs in politics.
McKee started by going over his personal history, which began in Cumberland, and said he credits his work with the Cumberland youth community center his father started – which would eventually become the first Boys & Girls Club in the state – as a particularly important one. He talked about becoming a member of the town council, running for mayor and losing, running again and winning and then eventually about going on to his current position as Lt. Governor in 2014.
In that capacity, McKee said he has learned over the years to take the role as he originally understood it – to lay in wait should the governor vacate office or be otherwise unable to perform the duties – and expand his circle of influence by being actively engaged in each of Rhode Island’s 39 communities.
To that effect, McKee said he enjoys chairing the Small Business Advocacy Council and visiting small businesses in each town and city in the state. He said he finds it rewarding to chair the Long Term Care Coordinating Council, working with veterans on issues of veteran healthcare such as PTSD following deployment, and finishing up a five-year report on the effects of Alzheimer’s.
“At some point in time you’re going to look for a project to actually key in on in your community,” he said. “You may be given what you think is a very small area that you can actually impact, I would suggest you find ways that actually widen that scope.”
For example, McKee talked about reading studies outlining the opioid epidemic and taking the initiative to meet with each city and town’s municipal leadership about possibly joining in a suit against opioid drug manufacturers, which 16 Rhode Island municipalities have now done, including Warwick.
“They’ve known for longer than they should have known that the addiction rate is significantly higher on those prescribed pain relievers than what they were telling the public,” McKee said. “We believe that there is culpability there and there is a responsibility for those manufacturers who are making a sizable profit to pay to help communities remediate the problems that we’re dealing with.”
McKee said that in government, collaboration is always the key.
“That’s how you get things done. You find ways to bring people together,” he said. “In government, unless you’re able to build that consensus, you’re basically the tree that falls in the woods and there’s nobody around.”
McKee offered various tips for how the students could become involved in their local community, from participating in student government, to volunteering for the Boys & Girls Club, to writing opinion pieces for local newspapers and getting your opinion out as public record. He said that each person will have to determine their own cause, and matter of most importance.
“Only you know what’s important to be at. Only you know where you should be,” he said. “And the best litmus test for deciding that is not feeling good about not being there.”
McKee encouraged the students to come to the State House to get a firsthand look at government being done.
"Come down and say hello any time," he said.
McKee is the highest-ranking elected official to visit for a chat. They have previously attracted Superintendent Phil Thornton, Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix and Mayor Scott Avedisian. They will be welcoming in Representative Aaron Regunberg on Tuesday, who is running for Lt. Governor in 2018, challenging McKee.