2016-11-17 / Opinion

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same


Every two years, Rhode Islanders get a chance to rewrite the

General Assembly script that has not really changed for many decades. But things never seem to change much. That is, Democrats rule.

We sometimes daydream about what Rhode Island politics would be like if the Republican and Democratic Assembly delegations were ever equal, or even close to it. But that’s all it is, a daydream. The 2017 legislative session will see 63 House Democrats, 11 Republicans and one independent member. The Senate will convene with 33 Democrats and five Republicans.

At the statewide level, the September primary brought the demise of House Majority Leader John J. DeSimone, D-Providence. And on Nov. 8, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, D-Cranston, came within a whisker of losing until the mail ballot tally bailed him out.

Locally, Assembly heavyweights easily retained their seats. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, captured nearly 70 percent of the vote in her race against Sav Rebecchi, a Jamestown independent. Similarly, Senate District 12 incumbent Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, D-Middletown, garnered nearly 61 percent of the vote against Republican Amy E. Veri. And House District 73 Rep. Marvin L. Abney, who now chairs the pivotal House Finance Committee, had no Election Day foe.

Two other local House Democrats also won on Nov. 8. In House District 75, Lauren Carson, D-Newport, won a second term by defeating Mike Smith, an independent candidate, with 56 percent of the vote. And, in House District 74, incumbent Democrat Deborah Ruggiero defeated Republican Rebecca Schiff. Ruggiero’s Election Day margin was just 43 votes. With mail ballots, however, her victory margin “swelled” to 227.

We do not lament these results. At the practical political level, we all benefit here on Aquidneck Island by having powerful Assembly leaders in both houses of the legislature who can–and should–work to ensure that our best interests are protected at the Statehouse. That’s just the way these things work.

And, of course, “close” does not mean “change.”

House Republicans did add one local member to their slim Statehouse delegation. Kenneth J. Mendonca of Portsmouth defeated former Democratic legislator Linda D. Finn of Middletown by 182 votes to capture the House District 72 seat for the GOP. Mendonca will soon experience for himself the world of a minority lawmaker on Smith Hill.

Amid all of the politicking that culminated on Election Day, we were struck by Schiff’s concession statement. “The election is over,” she wrote. “But the challenge to help our state is not. I believe in Rhode Island. I believe in the people of Rhode Island. Now that Nov. 8 has come and gone, let’s come together and face the challenges ahead by demanding the accountability and open, clean and honest government that we deserve.”

It must have been a difficult task for Schiff, a political newcomer, to pen such eloquent words in the immediate aftermath of a competitive election campaign that saw her trailing Ruggiero for their district's seat by just 43 votes before mail ballots decided things.

We applaud Schiff’s sentiments. We could not have said it better ourselves.

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