PORTSMOUTH — When Linda Ujifusa, Terri Cortvriend, and Michelle McGaw raised their right hands to take the oath of office at the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday, besides swearing to …
PORTSMOUTH — When Linda Ujifusa, Terri Cortvriend, and Michelle McGaw raised their right hands to take the oath of office at the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday, besides swearing to support the Rhode Island and U.S. constitutions, they were also quietly making town history.
For the first time, Portsmouth’s General Assembly delegation consists entirely of women.
Sen. Ujifusa was sworn in to serve her first term in the Rhode Island Senate, representing District 11. Rep. Cortvriend (District 72) took the oath for her third term, while Rep. McGaw (District 71) is starting her second term. (Note: McGaw is the wife of Jim McGaw, editor of The Portsmouth Times.)
Part of the reason why Portsmouth is now represented in the General Assembly by an all-female crew came down to a personal choice and a change in the legislative maps.
Sen. Jim Seveney of Portsmouth decided to retire from his District 11 seat, leaving the door open for Ujifusa to make a run. In addition, Rep. John G. Edwards of Tiverton (D-Dist. 70) was moved out of Portsmouth via redistricting last year, with McGaw now representing his former constituents in the north end of town.
But it can’t be debated that Rhode Island women have made formidable political strides in recent years.
“I think if you went up and down the East Bay, it’s almost all women — not 100 percent, but there are a lot. I hope it’s a sign of the progression of our forward-thinking,” said Cortvriend after she took the oath in the House Chamber.
She’s right. Besides Cortvriend, Ujifusa and McGaw, other female state legislators in our vicinity include Rep. June Speakman (Warren and Bristol), Rep. Susan Donovan (Bristol), Rep. Lauren Carson (Newport), Rep. Jennifer Boylan (Riverside and Barrington), Rep. Brianna E. Henries and Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (East Providence), Sen. Dawn Euer (Newport and Jamestown), and Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (East Providence).
“I think that women have traditionally shown that they work together to do community projects, and that we will work together similarly to represent our constituents and get more done that way as opposed to us all trying to work individually,” said Ujifusa.
McGaw said she works well with both men and women.
“But, I do think it sends a strong message to the young women in our community, that we’re able to hopefully provide them with some type of role model to help them understand what a difference they can make,” she said. “When I started getting involved in politics, what got me most involved was working with the (Rhode Island Democratic) Women’s Caucus to get more women elected across the state. So, having the representation in our community by an all-women delegation kind of brings full circle what motivated me to get involved.”
Cortvriend said she’s excited to begin a new legislative session.
“I’m the shoreline access queen, so obviously that’s one of the things I’m excited to move forward on this (House of Representatives) side. I have other things, too,” she said.
“I’ve been really focusing on doing a lot of research and writing and I think I can bring those skills to this new job and also introduce my own bills to help people, and to clarify and strengthen (other Senators’) bills,” said Ujifusa. “My focus is primarily going to be healthcare and the environment, and I’m already drafting some bills and trying to push them by staff so they can review it and then have it go to (legislative) counsel. I was doing that in December because we don’t have so much time.
McGaw said she’s looking forward to continue working with Ujifusa and Cortvriend. “We have a history of working collaboratively together on various issues to help the community. I think we’re going to be a great team,” she said.
As for her legislative priorities, McGaw said she’ll continue with the House’s work “to implement the Act on Climate — to make sure the state meets those goals. Also, I want to be addressing the growing plastic problem.”
The House convened on Thursday, Jan. 5, while the Senate session begins Tuesday, Jan. 10.