Ramon Perez has a few initiatives he wanted to see through from his first term, and he’s looking to win his House District 13 seat back to do so.
Perez easily won the Democratic primary in 2016 and ran unopposed in the general election, but Mario Mendez defeated him by just more than 60 votes two years later as he proceeded to cruise to a seat at the State House. This year, Mendez faces primary challenges from Perez and Janice Falconer as he seeks reelection.
Perez didn’t pull any punches when asked to critique the job Mendez has done in office during an interview with the Sun Rise on Monday.
“What job?” he shot back. “What has he done? He hasn’t done anything. When people ask him what he’s been doing, he just tells the people that, because of [the] COVID-19 [pandemic], he hasn’t been able to do anything.”
If elected back to his post, Perez said he wants to help finish off the six-year plan to eliminate the car tax. He said he wants to be there “to be sure it will really happen.” He also said he has plans to help reduce the rising costs of car insurance, pointing to an example in Puerto Rico that he said could work well in the Ocean State.
“In Puerto Rico there’s a type of insurance where when people go to register, low-income people go to register the car, the state provides the insurance at a lower price, and I would like to get something like that here,” Perez said. “We have to work on it. It’s not like everybody agrees with everything, but you see the concern of people in the district every time I go around they say how expensive that stuff is and if I can do something about it, including the property taxes.”
Perez noted some other community concerns he’s gathered from going door to door, including anxiety about break-ins, speeding, noise complaints and – most notably – teachers telling him they think it’s too soon to return to the classroom.
Providence, which makes up most of District 13, is one of two school districts that is not expected to return for full, in-person learning by Oct. 13. Johnston was on Gov. Gina Raimondo’s list of districts cleared to bring all of their students back.
“I’ve been knocking on doors, and most of the teachers that I talk to, they don’t agree with the opening because they say it’s too soon,” Perez said. “The school is not ready, the danger of getting COVID-19 and spreading it to the students, and they’re really afraid of that. I think it’s too soon.”
Dave Talan, Perez’s campaign manager, interjected toward the end of the interview to point out that his candidate had a strong working relationship with Mayor Joseph Polisena during his tenure. He said Perez “worked very closely” with Polisena on bills the mayor either wanted to see passed or defeated, and referenced a matter from last year in which Mendez and Johnston’s three other representatives broke with the mayor.
Polisena assailed the “evergreen” contracts bill – allowing for the continuation of terms from previous contracts while teachers or municipal workers negotiate a new one – and said that, if taxes were forced to rise, Johnston legislators who voted in favor of it would have their name on the tax bill.
Mendez – along with Dist. 43 Rep. Deborah Fellela, Dist. 42 Rep. Stephen Ucci and Dist. 44 Rep. Gregory Constantino – voted in favor of the legislation.
“[Sen.] Frank Lombardo, whose district overlaps with Ramon’s, listened to the mayor and voted against that. Mario Mendez, on the other hand, defied the mayor and went ahead and voted in favor of that bill anyway,” Talan said. “The things that Ramon will do if he gets in, if Mayor Polisena asked him to vote against bills that are going to cause Johnston taxpayers [trouble], Ramon will go along with the mayor against bills like that, and clearly Mario Mendez has made it clear that he’ll get with the special interests rather than with the mayor.”
Talan also noted that, if Perez is elected back to the District 13 seat, he would embark once again on his regular visits to local schools. He said education is a “big issue” for Perez.
“[He] worked with the principals, worked with the parents, groups, and one of those schools of course is Winsor Hill Elementary School in Johnston, and Ramon would go to all of their events and tour the school and work with the principal … If he got back in office again, it’s something that will be a priority of his,” Talan said.