Republican candidate for District 43 Nicola “Nick” Grasso is somewhat new to the party.
Grasso, who like most of his family grew up as a Democrat, registered with the Republicans in 2014. He said that he made the switch because he felt the Democrats have “abandoned that old-school, President Kennedy” style of politics.
When asked to expound on his concerns with the Democratic Party, he pointed to the District 43 race. He said the two opponents in the primary – incumbent Deborah Fellela and challenger Melinda Lopez – are “on opposite ends of the spectrum.” He said past election results in town – such as victories for Mayor Allan Fung at the gubernatorial level and President Donald Trump in the general election – show residents are shifting from blue to red.
“You’re starting to see people that are trying to hold on to their more conservative views, that were once part of the Democratic Party that just aren’t any more,” Grasso said. “A lot of people who ask me about pro-life, about pro-Second Amendment, a lot of the things that just made them who they were, and they feel a lot of those ideals have been abandoned to them … A lot of people have been telling me, they’ve been lifelong Democrats and they feel like their party’s just completely abandoned them.”
He labels himself as a fiscal conservative, though he said he’s most interested in serving the needs of whatever Johnston residents demand.
“Overall I’m very happy with the job that Mayor [Joseph] Polisena has done in Johnston,” Grasso told the Sun Rise in an interview last week. “You take a look at infrastructure, with the new plazas that have gone up with Home Depot, BJ’s, to where Five Guys is now, and that whole plaza, and I’m generally pleased with the job that local politicians have done. Up at the State House, I’ve had a close eye on the representation in this district specifically, and I just see the typical toeing the party line. There’s never any disagreement.”
Grasso said the response to the COVID-19 crisis in District 43 was “completely lacking,” and he urged legislators to put more pressure on Gov. Gina Raimondo to allow the House and Senate “to have more of a say.”
He said that he has appeared at hearings for the judicial, environmental and finance committees in both chambers, speaking about conservation or Second Amendment matters. A victory in the fall would put him directly on the frontlines.
“Everything’s always voting whichever way the speaker wants bills to go through, and I’ve been encouraged for the past three election cycles to run by constituents here in Johnston,” Grasso said.
Grasso took issue with the state’s nearly $10 billion budget for FY2020, and he added that the revenue hit from the coronavirus pandemic has caused District 43 constituents to panic.
“The biggest thing that people are afraid of is [that] the tolls are going to be turned on for everybody, not just for the truckers. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m hearing from people,” Grasso said. “People are also scared that Speaker Mattiello’s car tax phase-out plan is going to go away and the car taxes are going to come back. Those are the two biggest things that I’m hearing from people. They’re very concerned about their taxes and their taxes going up.”
He referenced an earlier Sun Rise article featuring quotes from Mayor Polisena, who has repeatedly said the town would not have a tax increase if level funding is provided at the state level. Grasso doesn’t expect the state’s financial situation to help the town’s cause.
“Their taxes are going to go up, and I’m going to fight against that,” Grasso said. “I’m going to fight for cuts to be made in other areas, and not the burden be put back on the taxpayers to make up for this budget that has just grown to, for lack of a better term, inexcusable size. We cannot have a budget of $10 billion here in Rhode Island.”
Grasso did say, though, that he isn’t tied to all of the Republican Party’s views. He even said that he could “change my party affiliation and it wouldn’t make any difference.”
“My job is going to be doing what the constituents of Johnston want, not what the Republican party wants, not what the Democrats want,” Grasso said. “It’s just going to be based on what my constituents actually want me to do.”