By JACOB MARROCCO
:It’s a tale of two Senate races this year in Johnston.
Dist. 25’s Frank Lombardo III will run unopposed as he seeks a sixth term in office, while Dist. 22’s Stephen Archambault is in one of the more crowded races in the Senate.
Archambault will face a Democratic primary challenge from Melanie DuPont, cofounder of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, who he defeated in 2018. At the general election level, Archambault has both Republican and independent challengers in Paul Santucci and Stephen Tocco, respectively.
Despite the competition, Archambault – who is seeking his fifth term – remained confident during an interview with the Sun Rise earlier this month, pointing to his connection to constituents and touting his record on a number of issues, including mental health, opioids and the environment.
“I’m inundated with emails. I get back to every person. Say I get an email and someone is having trouble getting the support that they need financially … and they just can’t get through to the state agency,” Archambault said. “People are very happy, they get connected and they get help they wouldn’t get otherwise. My dad was a dairy farmer – that’s the work my dad would call the unseen work. I don’t broadcast that, I don’t put it out there, but that’s the stuff that I do every single day.”
Archambault highlighted his legislative history when asked about the main issues in the race, saying he sticks to crafting and passing bills because “that’s what a senator does.” He pointed to his work to set pill limits for opioids and his continued close attention to that epidemic, especially as a pandemic continues to rage across the country.
“Look around, you see how much this is affecting everybody,” Archambault said. “I had a client in court this morning who’s addicted to opioids and trying to get help. I’ve been dealing with addictions through my practice and through helping constituents for a long time, and I’m sensitive to it. The opioid addiction is one of those [issues].”
Archambault also spoke proudly of legislation he developed with House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi to institute mental health first aid, an initiative they jointly tackled in 2016. The law requires all police officers entering municipal or state police academies to receive mental health first aid training.
He said the bill “set a model” and resulted in Rhode Island receiving some national attention. Both legislators received the Excellence in Advocacy by an Elected Official award during a 2017 National Council on Behavioral Health ceremony in Seattle.
“Mental health first aid means if you roll up to a scene and somebody’s acting strange or odd or not in a typical fashion, that you have this training to deal with them to de-escalate the situation, get them the help they need, all the while maintaining officer safety,” Archambault said. “We’re the first state in the nation to require police officers to be trained in mental health first aid … It’s a critical piece. I was proud of that, I put a lot of work into it.”
As the state continues its efforts to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, Archambault lauded Gov. Gina Raimondo’s handling of the crisis. He said that while the economic impacts of the disease have ravaged small businesses, he gave Raimondo a “high mark” for keeping Rhode Islanders informed and safe.
“It’s been very difficult on small businesses and nobody’s happy,” Archambault said. “People are in an entirely different mindset about how to deal with this thing. You’ve got to wear masks everywhere you go and you should wear masks when you’re out in public out of respect to others out there who may be at high risk and to keep yourself safe.”
Archambault noted that, while Rhode Island continues to deal with the fallout, post-pandemic recovery will rely on “how much revenue we have to appropriate to the individual agencies that need the most help.”
“I think that everybody I’ve talked to is on the same page – we need to be mindful that it’s going to be a longer-term recovery,” Archambault said. “We need to care as leaders about helping people to recover, particularly small businesses and our elderly population. It’s going to be an ongoing effort.”
Archambault touched on his environmental work and police reform as well toward the end of the interview. He said that while he has served on the Environmental Committee in the Senate, he’s supported “every clean energy and green energy bill you can shake a stick at.”
“[I’ve] either co-sponsored or advocated for or been at the front of it, or solar usage, or reducing our carbon emissions for global warming planning 10 years out,” Archambault said. “I’ve been involved in every aspect of that. I’m sensitive to that as well, and there’s a host of other legislation I’ve put on that covers a diverse range.”
While the senator backed some form of ongoing police reform, he said law enforcement is an integral facet of society. He said every profession and group around the state should consider reform, which he called a “good thing for any agency.”
“The majority of police forces are really good, hard-working people, like any aspect of life you’re always going to get some people who really shouldn’t be in that profession,” Archambault said. “To have a reform in policing is a wonderful thing. [The] legislature should always look at itself for reform, journalism should look at itself for reform … I support the reform, I’m not for defunding the police. I think that’s misplaced. I think what we need to do is study the issue of systemic racism and try to address it collaboratively, particularly with the Police Chiefs Association and with law enforcement as a whole.”