Next fall, Rhode Island voters will again choose who will represent them in the General Assembly for the next term, and in many cases they will have to chose between their current representative and new and old challengers. Such is the case in Districts 38, 39 and 36.
In District 38, Incumbent Democrat Brian Patrick Kennedy will be opposed by Independent Peter J. Bonk, who is running for the second time. In District 39, Incumbent Democrat Larry Valencia will face two republican challengers in Clay P. Johnson and Michael J. Picillo. District 36 Democrat Donna Walsh will face Republican Tina B. Jackson and Independent Kevin W. Prescott.
District 38 compromises the significant majority of the town of Hopkinton, and the northernmost section of Westerly. District 39 is made up of the entire town of Richmond, the strip of Hopkinton left over from District 38, and most of the town of Exeter. District 36 stretches along the shore from South Kingstown to Westerly, and includes Block Island.
D-38 Incumbent Kennedy was first elected to the General Assembly in 1988, and has held office since. He is a 1979 graduate of Chariho High School, a 1983 graduate of Providence College, and he received his MBA from Anna Maria College in 1987. He is also currently the Chair of the House Committee on Corporations.
“I have enjoyed working on behalf of the citizens of Hopkinton and Westerly during my 24 years in the General Assembly,” Kennedy said in his campaign announcement. “We have had many major issues before the legislature during the past two years that involved dealing with state budget deficits, pension shortfalls, as well as the hospital conversion act to assist the Westerly Hospital with an orderly transfer of ownership.”
Kennedy also mentioned in the announcement that he was a strong and major opponent to the Dept. of Transportation’s plan to place toll booths on Route 95 in Hopkinton. In the wake of DOT applying to the federal government for permission to build the tolls, Kennedy sent a letter to DOT Director Michael Lewis expressing his dissatisfaction with local leaders not being involved in prior discussions before the application was submitted.
For the second consecutive election, Kennedy will face a challenge from Independent Peter Bonk. Bonk moved to Rhode Island from Michigan just under 10 years ago. He said he fell in love with the state’s natural beauty, but also recognized that the state has its fair share of problems.
Bonk harped on creating a better business environment in the state as one of his main focuses if elected.
“You only have to look at Rhode Island and where we are at,” Bonk said. “The unemployment rate is unacceptable, we are in need of more job creation.”
Bonk also spoke about changing the culture of the General Assembly.
“One party has been running the state house for basically the last 70 years,” he said. “They set the tone, they set the agenda.”
Bonk studied at both the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin. He is now a chemist working at a company in West Warwick, and is married with two grown children who live out-of-state.
The race for District 39 is set up in a similar fashion, with the incumbent facing a challenge from a man who also ran during the last election. Incumbent Larry Valencia has lived in Richmond since 1998 with his wife and children. Before his election to the state house, he served in Richmond in several capacities, including the zoning board and the economic development commission. He also served as the unpaid president of Operation Clean Government, a statewide, nonpartisan, good government group from June 2009 to June 2010.
Valencia beat out republican challenger Michael J. Picillo by a small margin of approximately 200 votes last election. Picillo was unable to be reached for comment by press time.
“I’ve championed legislation creating an office of Inspector General to fight waste, fraud, and corruption, and I’ve cosponsored much of Rep. Donna Walsh’s pro-farming legislation,” said Valencia in an email to The Times.
Valencia, who also serves on all five subcommittees of the House Committee on Finance, went on, “I’d be honored to continue my work on this important committee, which creates the annual state budget. Re-election will allow me to keep fighting for things I care about - workforce development, the environment, good schools, and help for middle-class families, farms, and other small businesses.”
Also challenging for the District 39 seat is Clay P. Johnson, a longtime resident of southern Rhode Island and a 1991 graduate of URI. Johnson said he currently has two children in the Chariho School District, and “would like Rhode Island to be a place where they can stay if they want to, but right now it is very difficult.”
“An 11 percent unemployment rate is unacceptable,” he added.
Johnson said that he believes he can bring a growth focus to the General Assembly. He wants to focus on the development and creation of jobs and businesses to help the state, and he believes that the current, and past, General Assembly has neglected that to a degree.
“They are seriously distracted with marginal issues,” Johnson said. “They have taken their eyes off the ball.”
Johnson is co-owner, along with his wife, of the Goddard School in South Kingstown, a nationally-recognized early childhood learning center.
Donna Walsh will be seeking re-election to her District 36 seat, and she will be challenged by President of the American Alliance of Fishermen and their Communities Tina Jackson. Also vying for the post will be Kevin W. Prescott.
Walsh has held office as a democrat, while her challengers are of different affiliations. Jackson is running as a republican and Prescott an independent.
Walsh announced her bid for re-election one month ago. In the last year, she helped secure state funding for the dredging maintenance of Charlestown Breachway to protect the natural resources of Ninigret Pond, and pushed the Dept. of Transportation to repave Charlestown’s “Main Street,” Route 1A.
“I pledge to continue to fight for economic growth, small business development and thriving family farms,” Walsh said in her re-election statement. “I will continue to lead the battle to make our roadways safer. I will continue to fight to protect our environment.”
Most recently, Walsh has worked on a bill to create new regulations regarding septic system installment to both help the local construction industry as well as protect South County’s salt ponds. She has also issued statements expressing disappointment in the state government regarding the bankruptcy of 38 Studios, the failed state-aided video game company in Providence.
Jackson, a Charlestown resident who moved to Rhode Island in 1991, proudly says that she is not a typical politician, and considers business creation and aid to the state’s fishing industry among her major campaign aspects.
“First of all we need a balance of power in the State House,” Jackson said. “People keep voting in the same incumbents and expecting different results.
“I have been advocating for the fishing industry for the last three years,” continued Jackson, “and despite the belief that the General Assembly has been advocating for the fishing industry, that is the furthest thing from the truth.”
Jackson added that she is struggling financial just like many others on both a local and national level, and that she hopes to help create an environment in Rhode Island where business can grow.