STORY OF THE WEEK: If the election to succeed David Cicilline in the 1st Congressional District was held last Friday, the favorites were Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and state Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Pawtucket). Both have a record of winning elections; Cano got the most votes as a Biden delegate in CD1 in 2020, while Matos was the top Biden delegate choice in CD2. Matos won statewide in November, while Cano has traditionally been a top choice for voters in her community, as a city councilor and state lawmaker. The presence of (at least) two Latinas in the CD1 race reflects the maturation of Latino politics in Rhode Island. Neither candidate was swimming in campaign cash as of the last state filing: Cano had about $28,000 and Matos less than $500. But that was then and this is now. Cano and Matos can expect to have labor support, with education unions favoring Cano, and trade unions preferring Matos – an especially significant factor in what is shaping up as a large field of candidates. Since this column posted online last Friday, state Rep. Stephen Casey of Woonsocket and Ward 1 Providence City Councilor John Goncalves have joined the CD1 race, making for at least seven
Democrats (including Rep. Nathan Biah of Providence, former Raimondo staffer Nick Autiello, and former Republican Allen Waters), with House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and former gov candidate Helena Foulkes ruling out a run. A number of potential candidates remain on the sidelines, including Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, White House staffer Gabe Amo, a Pawtucket native (unlike current officeholders, he would have to leave his job to pursue a run), and renewable energy investor Don Carlson of Jamestown. The array of other possible candidates extends from House Finance Chairman Marvin Abney of Newport to Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera and other aspirants. The primary election in either August or September is likely to be decisive, given the Democratic lean of CD1. For those on the sidelines time is passing fast, since candidates are moving quickly to build up behind-the-scenes support. As former NEARI executive director Robert A. Walsh Jr. puts it, “The train is leaving the station.”
SLOWDOWN: The May revenue estimating conference will reveal whether a state budget surplus once estimated in the neighborhood of $600 million has taken a big hit. As it stands, the effect of higher interest rates is already evident in Rhode Island, with a delay in issuing bonds for the Pawtucket soccer stadium project and questions about how the Superman revitalization may be affected. As this column noted last week, it remains unclear if the Fed’s management of the economy, with super-low interest rates for a very long stretch, may usher in an extended downturn.
FOULKES’ FUTURE: Former CVS exec Helena Buonanno Foulkes this week ruled out a run in CD1, saying in part that she thinks she can make a bigger impact by working on local issues in Rhode Island. Foulkes finished strong in her campaign for governor last year, losing to Dan McKee by three points. She sketched out her local efforts during an interview on Political Roundtable. Asked if she expects to run for governor in 2026 – a huge distance away in political time – Foulkes said, “I really don't know. I mean, I'm not running for anything right now. I'm trying to help locally and give back. And I just don't know what the world will look like in three years’ time – what will I, what my personal life will be like, or what the state of the state will be.”
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: State lawmakers in Rhode Island typically treat one another, during sharp debates and routine matters alike, with courtesy and respect. But the usual course of dialogue blew up when Rep. Robert Quattrocchi (R-Scituate), during a recent committee hearing, asked Rep. Rebecca Kislak (D-Providence) – a lesbian woman – if she is a pedophile. This came during discussion of a Kislak proposal to view the impact of proposed legislation through an equity lens. Quattrocchi asked if the impact would be assessed on Satanists and pedophiles. As a result of the remarks, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi this week removed Quattrocchi (R-Scituate) from the Committee on State Government and Elections. Republicans cried foul, saying Democrats made too much of the matter and they see inconsistency in how discipline gets meted out. In his own remarks on the House floor, Quattrocchi described receiving threatening and offensive messages. Democrats, meanwhile, said some response was needed to restore decorum.
PAYDAY: Advocates are once again trying to change Rhode Island’s dubious distinction as a place that allows payday lenders to charge the equivalent of triple-digit interest on loans. Legislative leaders have for years been unwilling of tackling this issue, as I reported in 2021. Attorney General Peter Neronha this week called the status quo “indefensible,” and his Democratic colleagues have called out the payday lending industry. It remains to be seen whether advocates will muster the kind of effort needed to make a change.
REPUBLICAN THUNDER: Joe Powers, who lost a race for state Senate in Cranston last year, won election last weekend as the new RI GOP chair. Here is a brief Q&A.
What is your vision for the RI GOP?
Powers: A more unified, structured and well-funded party. Our goal is to fundraise to allow for us to build an infrastructure to support the right candidates for the General Assembly and support all 39 city and town committees across the state.
What should Republicans do differently to win more General Assembly seats?
Powers: Communication is key to the party's success, and not just within the party but with the constituents of RI. We need to be the party that lets the constituents know who we are and what we actually stand [for] and not allow others to do so. We also need to devise a plan to leverage the election tools available to us, in order to win the seats, in order to effect change for RI.
Who is your preferred choice for president next year?
Powers: Right now, my focus is on the RI GOP Chair and then the special election for CD1. With that being said, it's going to be an interesting race for sure and I am looking forward to seeing who all of the candidates will be for us to choose from. Regardless of who it is, I'm certain the Republican Party will have a candidate that will get the country heading in a better direction than it has seen with the current administration.
Powers: Ronald Reagan – The Great Communicator.
Powers: Marchetti's Restaurant in Knightsville. Amazing food, atmosphere and family owned business for over 40 years.
Takes of the Week – various views from a mix of Rhode Islanders.
CORTNEY NICOLATO, president/CEO of the United Way of Rhode Island: Rhode Island’s nonprofits are the anchors of our cities and towns. This isn’t hyperbole; it is fact and one of my core beliefs. Nearly one in five Rhode Islanders go to work each day at a nonprofit (not including the tens of thousands of volunteers who gift of their time and talents), and cumulatively, these organizations are an economic engine generating more than $13 billion in annual revenue. All 365 days a year, RI’s nonprofits provide essential social services, educate our children, and help to build thriving, healthy, and prosperous communities. All of us have been affected by the impact of nonprofits in our community. One week from now will be our fourth 401Gives, a weekend to celebrate the sector and to donate to the organizations that have given so much to us. Rhode Islanders are incredible at helping Rhode Islanders and 401Gives has shown that. Here’s hoping this year is our biggest yet – let’s show big love to our nonprofits, they deserve it.
Historian and RI GOP National Committeeman STEVE FRIAS: Passing more laws to override local control over land use will likely not reduce the cost of housing in Rhode Island. In fact, it may prove to be counter-productive. As explained by land use scholar William Fischel, state housing policies which override local control can “encourage a backlash against all development, ultimately making the whole region’s housing less affordable.” State mandates, which impose a one-size fits all approach, are generally unworkable, and will likely meet with local resistance. Every potential housing development can be unique with differing impacts on a local neighborhood, schools, municipal infrastructure, parking or traffic. If state officials really want to [get] more housing built, they should recognize the reality that building more housing usually has a negative fiscal impact on municipalities. Rather than passing laws which try to take away local control, the state should financially incentivize municipalities to approve the building of more housing. It would certainly be a better use of taxpayer money than spending it on a silly minor league soccer stadium.
MICHAEL ROLES, policy director for Climate Jobs Rhode Island: While this week’s UN climate panel report renewed greater urgency for climate action, here in Rhode Island, we continue to feel the impacts of decades of disinvestment in our kids. Getting every Rhode Island public school to net zero energy by 2035 will help safeguard our future, while enabling healthy learning environments for those who will inherit that future. With mold, poor ventilation, and leaky roofs, the average age of Rhode Island’s school buildings is 50 years, compounding already-high asthma rates, affecting learning outcomes, and costing school districts a total estimated $35.2 million. We have a once-in-a generation opportunity to turn things around today by leveraging money approved by voters last year, along with federal programs that can cover 30% to 40% of the cost of projects. Research by Climate Jobs Rhode Island shows that the return on investment in energy savings for school districts could be seven years, on average.