Rhode Island House Dist. 30 candidate Mark Schwager is not your typical General Assembly candidate. He's not a lawyer or a retiree or a businessman. Schwager is a medical doctor who specializes in geriatrics. There's only one other MD in the state legislature now. Schwager hopes to double that number in November.
But he chafes at the idea that doctors aren't businessmen. As it happens, both of his opponents – Republican Anthony Giarrusso and independent Kevin McDonough – have made their careers in business.
"There’s this idea that doctors don't know about business," Schwager said in an interview Saturday. "Physicians are business people. The idea that physicians are somehow disconnected is just not true. I know it from personal experience.
I was the chairman and president of University Medical Group for 10 years."
He noted at its peak, UMG had more than 200 employees, 60 physicians, and revenues of $24 million.
"I’m comfortable with strategic planning, with budgeting, the issues that face small business and we were large for the medical field," he said. "What does a doctor know about creating jobs? My answer is, a lot."
Schwager left UMG in 2008 to take a job at PACE Organization of Rhode Island, where he serves as vice president of medical affairs. "I divide my time between direct patient care and administrative duties," he said.
Schwager said the time is particularly right for someone with his skills to be in the General Assembly.
"Whatever you think of Obamacare, there are tremendous changes taking place in health care in the state," he said. "There’s going to be a lot of reform."
He added, "We don't have a state health policy. You need someone who understands medical policy and delivery. You need someone like that in the legislature."
Unlike his two opponents, this is not Schwager's first run for elected office. He served two terms on the East Greenwich Town Council before stepping down two years ago to run for state Senate Dist. 33. He lost that election to North Kingstown's Dawson Hodgson. In June, he was elected to the EG Fire District board of commissioners.
Schwager said he started thinking about running for House Dist. 30 seat before Bob Watson – who'd held the seat of 20 years – announced in June he wouldn't seek re-election.
"For me it was also a good fit because it’s majority East Greenwich," he said, unlike the Senate Dist. 33 seat, which now straddles four communities. "I have a record of serving in East Greenwich, including serving on the Town Council as the only Democrat."
Of course, being a Democrat in the General Assembly would be the opposite situation, with overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses. Still, Schwager said he would represent District 30, not the state Democratic Party.
"You’re not voting for a party. You’re voting for an individual to represent the district," he said. "I’m good at working in a group setting and building consensus.... Your success in the legislature is contingent on your ability to form partnerships with other legislators to move issues forward."
Schwager received the endorsement in September of the New Leaders Project, a Rhode Island group that espouses what it calls a "pro-growth" agenda. That provoked the ire of both the state GOP and the EG GOP Town Chair Chuck Newton, who called the endorsement "a farce" in a comment on an EG Patch story about it.
About the endorsement, Schwager said Saturday that New Leaders' model is to endorse legislators with common policy goals.
"It’s a bipartisan group: five Democrats, four Republicans and an independent.
That’s the kind of model I want," he said.
He calls himself a "fiscal conservative."
Asked what makes him a Democrat, Schwager said, "I think the government can have a very important role in economic development. I think it’s important to bring government and labor together as partners. I don't demonize one group."
He continued, "I think that the reason I’m a Democrat is I believe that used correctly government can achieve economic and social goals that really improve the quality of life for citizens."
Schwager thinks that time is now. "There’s a tremendous hunger now for change and economic revitalization. There’s real energy to try to get some movement."
He mentioned the recent Rhode Island Foundation "Make It Happen" conference that had to be moved to a larger venue because of the response, and the RIPEC report on the Economic Development Corporation.
"We have to really capitalize on that," he said.
Schwager, who is 55, lives on Diplomat Drive with his wife, Patricia Flanagan, a pediatrician. They have three grown children, a son and two daughters.
To see Mark Schwager's Patch candidate survey, click here.
To read a profile on independent candidate Kevin McDonough, click here. His candidate survey is here.
To read a profile on Republican candidate Anthony Giarrusso, click here. His candidate survey is here.
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