EAST GREENWICH—This week marks the beginning of the 2020 political campaign season. Senators Bridget Valverde and Lou Raptakis are running again, as is Representative Justine Caldwell. Valverde and Caldwell, both Democrats, will face Republican contenders Charles Callanan and Anthony Giarrusso. There will also be contests for the school committee and town council.
Valverde will go head to head with Callanan for control of Senate District 35, which includes parts of East Greenwich, Narragansett, North Kingstown, and South Kingstown.
“It has been an honor to represent my constituents in the Senate these last two years, but our work is far from finished,” Valverde said. “In 2018, I ran on a platform of promoting environmental stewardship, supporting public education, and expanding access to health care. I am proud to have lived up to that promise and I am determined to continue pushing for progress in Rhode Island every day.”
Valverde is just finishing her first term in the Senate and will need to now face Callanan as an incumbent. Callanan is a retired naval officer whose platform focus is on fiscally sound practices and government transparency. Callanan previously ran for town council in 2018.
In terms of resonance with the constituency, Valverde has the advantage of party, but Callanan appears to have the advantage of policy. Over the course of her first term, Valverde focused heavily on issues such as reproductive rights, which resulted only in symbolic measures such as the Reproductive Privacy Act, which merely reaffirmed the law of the land that is Roe V. Wade.
The economic devastation wrought by COVID-19, however, may lead many Rhode Islanders to prefer a fiscally-oriented candidate whose focus is on the minutiae of what affects the day-to-day lives of Rhode Islanders rather than on sweeping social issues.
Either candidate is likely to face an uphill battle in dealing with the Coronavirus fallout, though each is likely to contend with the issue differently. Valverde has already used the epidemic to highlight issues of race and access to healthcare.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges and highlighted systemic inequities that affect thousands of Rhode Islanders all across our state,” Valverde said. “There is an urgent need to expand and strengthen affordable health care access for all Rhode Islanders, including telehealth and essential home health care services.”
In House District 30, Caldwell and Giarrusso will vie for control of the helm. Unlike the Valverde-Callanan race, Caldwell faces a politically seasoned opponent in Giarrusso, who served as District 30 Representative from 2012-2018. Here again, though, the vote will likely be split among Rhode Islanders who favor Caldwell’s catering to larger issues affecting the nation as a whole versus Giarrusso’s experience focusing on local issues such as the relationship between businesses, residents and the state.
“What started out as such a long shot has transformed into real meaningful work being done for the state and the people who have given me so much,” Caldwell said on Twitter. “From rules changes to more funding for education to women’s health to helping our community and local businesses through a pandemic we made progress; but, there is still so much more to do.”
“Rhode Island has suffered at the hands of a single, largely unopposed party on Smith Hill that has held an 85 percent majority in the General Assembly since the mid-1950’s,” Giarrusso contended. “For the past two years, the so-called “reformer” representative for our District joined the special interests in supporting legislation that hurt our community’s economic growth and fiscal stability.
“For instance, despite calls from the Town Council and pleas from concerned constituents, [Caldwell] voted against their wishes in support of the Evergreen Bill in 2019 – a bill that ‘handcuffs’ town administrators, and favors the unions, inevitably leading to property-tax increases,” Giarrusso added. “I am compelled to rejoin the growing opposition voice to change the status quo government that benefits the connected and as a result, strains the resources of our municipalities.”
Caldwell is a member of the House Committee on Corporations. Giarrusso was a member of the same committee, as well as those on Finance, Labor, and Small Business. Such a matter may prove relevant given the town’s current economic flux and attempt at recovery on Main Street.
“The state legislature is consistently requiring Rhode Island communities, like East Greenwich and West Greenwich, to do more with less support,” Giarrusso said. “This affects our public schools, our local economy and our sales and property taxes–which impacts the well-being of everyone.”
“For the past two years, the people of our district have not had effective, responsive representation,” Giarrusso added. “It’s a critical time in our state’s history and we must ensure our voices are heard at the State House.”
In other local election news, three seats will be up for grabs on the school committee as committee president Carolyn Mark and members Matt Plain and Jeff Dronzek have announced they will not be continuing their tenure with the body. Mark is a Democrat and Plain and Dronzek are independent.
At the time of this writing, all members of the town council except Michael Zarrella had announced their intention to run for reelection.