McKee, Kalus spar from afar over energy rate hikes

Updated at 3:01 p.m.

REPUBLICAN gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus, left, and Alana O'Hare, spokesperson for Gov. Daniel J. McKee, speak at a Northern R.I. Chamber of Commerce gubernatorial forum on Thursday morning. / PBN PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

LINCOLN – Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus on Thursday renewed her call for Gov. Daniel J. McKee to roll back this winter’s expected rate increases, insisting he could use emergency powers by invoking the Energy Crisis Management Act.

The topic was briefly raised during a televised debate between the two on Oct. 11, with McKee dismissing the suggestion.

Kalus again raised the issue during a Thursday Northern R.I. Chamber of Commerce gubernatorial forum that the Democratic incumbent was also scheduled to attend but did not because his campaign said he was not feeling well.

“The job of a government in a time of crisis is to provide relief so people can make it,” Kalus told the Chamber audience at Kirkbrae Country Club. She said McKee should “roll back the increases in electricity rates” and suspend the electricity tax. Kalus, who trailed McKee by 10 percentage points, 46% to 36%, in a Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll released Oct. 11, also held a separate press conference later in the day on the issue.

- Advertisement -

McKee’s stand-in at the Chamber forum, spokesperson Alana O’Hare, did not address the energy-rate issue.

The Chamber had the candidates take turns at the podium, with Kalus and O’Hare each allocated time to speak and take questions. O’Hare went first and did not have an opportunity to respond to Kalus’ comments.

But McKee’s campaign responded with statements on Thursday calling Kalus’ characterization of McKee’s powers under the Energy Crisis Management Act as inaccurate.

“Shame on Ashley Kalus for trying to mislead Rhode Islanders about the law to score political points,” McKee spokesperson Brexton Isaacs said. “Rising energy costs is a serious issue that deserves a serious solution — What Ms. Kalus has served up to voters is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to distract from her failing campaign.”

The Energy Crisis Management Act was passed to address 1970s fuel shortages “with the goal of giving the governor authority to address supply shortages, NOT roll back prices,” Isaacs said, adding that improperly invoking this law leaves taxpayers “on the hook for millions of dollars in lengthy litigation. Meanwhile, the problem doesn’t get solved.”

McKee’s campaign instead cited his efforts to help reduce the expected rate increases, including using $5.3 million in RGGI funds, which are reserved for low-income customers and $32.5 million from its settlement with PPL Corp. (Rhode Island Energy’s parent company) in electric bill credits. R.I. Energy also suspended its $6 monthly customer charge – separate from the bill for usage – for six months, while McKee previously pledged to introduce legislation next year to suspend the state’s 4% tax on electricity bills through April.

Kalus and O’Hare both discussed Rhode Island connections during the forum, with O’Hare touting McKee as “a small-businessperson” with a track record of prioritizing small business’ needs and working closely with their owners.

“I think a lot of you know Gov. McKee,” O’Hare said. “I would bet that at least half of you have his cellphone number. You’ve worked with him over the years as governor, as lieutenant governor.”

Kalus highlighted her own experiences running a business, which she and her husband started in Illinois, and addressed criticisms that she lacks understanding of the Ocean State.

Kalus, who moved to Rhode Island in 2021, raised more controversy following recent reports that in February, she designated her Newport residence as a “second home.”

On Thursday morning, McKee’s campaign released a new ad characterizing Kalus as having a “murky past and questionable relocation to Rhode Island that leave her out of touch with our values.”

In her speech, Kalus said she was “not born and raised here, but I live here, and this is the community I choose to live in,” Kalus said, “My business is here, my family is here. I was raised 30 miles across the border in Massachusetts.”

Kalus also highlighted her own experience running a business, which she said she and her husband started out of state due to affordability issues in Rhode Island.

McKee and Kalus were scheduled to face off again, in person, later on Thursday at a debate at Rhode Island College.

(RECASTS lede, updates throughout.)

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at

No posts to display