Talking Politics

Abortion will be a big topic in state races this year

By Ian Donnis
Posted 6/28/22

The sweeping ability of the U.S. Supreme Court to reshape American life – and the power of justices with lifetime appointments -- used to be a quiet topic for the inside baseball of political …

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Talking Politics

Abortion will be a big topic in state races this year


The sweeping ability of the U.S. Supreme Court to reshape American life – and the power of justices with lifetime appointments -- used to be a quiet topic for the inside baseball of political geeks. That’s clearly no longer the case, and it hasn’t been for a while. SCOTUS unveiled decisions last week in two big cases, involving guns and abortion. The latter was anticipated, although that didn’t dim condemnation from Rhode Island’s mostly Democratic political structure and other groups. “Let’s be clear: a radical faction of Supreme Court justices is taking away a right from every woman in America,” the typically restrained U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said in a statement. “This is an unprecedented decision that flies in the face of the claims of recent Supreme court nominees that they would defer to long-standing precedent.”

Almost half of U.S. states have laws that will immediately ban abortions or pave the way for doing so, a situation that pleases most opponents of abortion-rights. Rhode Island created its own law to protect abortion in 2019, after some top pols, including then-LG Dan McKee (who now speaks in support of abortion), downplayed the threat to Roe. But that’s little solace for those who perceive an unwinding of personal rights for women and remain concerned about what SCOTUS will decide in the future.


ABORTION IN RI: While the Ocean State has its own abortion law, the General Assembly didn’t act this year on a proposal to expand coverage to include Medicaid and those on the state employee health plan. House Speaker Joe Shekarchi released a statement saying the House will discuss next year expanding coverage to include Medicaid. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Majority Leader Michael McCaffey say the issue has a financial impact so it should be addressed through the budget, and neither Gov. Dan McKee nor the House included expanded coverage in their spending plans.

Finally, Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-North Kingstown) responded by saying that she and Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Barrington) had proposed legislation for expanded abortion coverage for the last three years. Via tweet, Valverde added: “Any of these men could have prioritized abortion access in that time.” Watch for the issue of expanded abortion coverage to emerge as a topic in the races for governor and CD2.


SMITH HILL: While the Rhode Island Senate’s approval of the state budget usually amounts to a rubber stamp, House-Senate relations have on occasion gotten tense on the last night of session. This time around, the Senate’s interest in having CCRI-Newport renamed for former president Teresa Paiva Weed, now head of the Hospital Association of R, led to a brief late-night stalemate. Senate spokesman Greg Pare said the chamber’s support for the proposal was clear all along: “M. Teresa Paiva Weed was the first woman to serve as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman, Senate Majority Leader, and Senate President. Her advocacy for Newport, and particularly for the CCRI campus, is admirable, which is why it is so important to the members of the Senate, and Newport and CCRI officials, to name the Newport campus in her honor. This was not a “late push,” but something the Senate felt strongly about throughout the session. Legislation was introduced in March and heard the next week, then passed by the Senate in April with overwhelming support. This initiative is important to the Senate, to CCRI, to Newport, and to all Rhode Islanders.”

But the House didn’t go along when the effort to rename CCRI-Newport was included in a bill getting voted close to midnight during the last session, leaving the issue to be taken up some other time.

GOV STUFF: Did perceived Democratic frontrunner for governor Nellie Gorbea raise her standing or make a blunder with her first TV ad? On the surface, Gorbea’s commercial is visually appealing, with the candidate speaking from the jagged RI coastline. The spot plays on her amiable political persona with Gorbea comparing herself to Rhode Island as small and sometimes underestimated. Yet the commercial also takes a political risk, by calling for an increase in corporate taxes, to help address such needs as housing and pre-kindergarten classes. That provided an opening taken by some of her Democratic rivals.

“Governor McKee has a plan that doesn’t slow our economy with higher taxes as we recover from the pandemic -- Rhode Island is a national leader in economic recovery,” said McKee’s campaign manager Brexton Isaacs. Helena Buonanno Foulkes chimed in with this: “The truth is that the Nellie Tax will affect thousands of businesses, including small businesses in our state—businesses like Big Blue Bug Solutions, Iggy’s, Chelo's, Gregg's and Del's.” Gorbea campaign manager Dana Walton pushed back against Foulkes: “Of course a corporate CEO thinks it’s more important to preserve corporate tax loopholes than invest in our state. Nellie believes that corporations should pay their fair share so that we can invest in affordable housing and expanded early childhood education.” The back and forth show how the September 13 primary is quickly approaching – and how Gorbea is hoping to solidify support from the more progressive pool of voters typical of a Democratic primary.


GETAWAY I: The last night of session for the General Assembly is always worth watching for a surprise announcement about someone not seeking re-election. This time it was House GOP Leader Blake Filippi of Block Island, first elected in 2014, and someone who merged his different interests in the law, yoga, organic cattle farming and libertarianism. While Filippi faces his first Democratic opponent since 2014 (Tina Spears), he suggested in a letter to constituents that he had decided it was time to go in a different direction: "Now having served in the General Assembly for eight years, nearly 20% of my life, I have struggled about whether to seek another term in office. The time is now to step aside and for new public servants step up and serve our communities in the House.” An outpouring of affection from fellow representatives underscored how well-liked Filippi was in the chamber (even with a lawsuit against the powers that be over JCLS, the hiring and spending arm of the legislature) – and that might be about the best tribute a departing lawmaker could get.


GETAWAY II: With the filing deadline for candidates coming up next week, chatter suggests another incumbent lawmaker or two may add their name to those not seeking re-election. Here’s who’s indicated they are leaving so far besides Filippi:

House: Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Barrington); Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Providence); Rep, Gregg Amore (D-East Providence), who is running for secretary of state; Rep. Steven Lima (D-Woonsocket); Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown), who is running for lieutenant governor.

Senate: Judiciary Chairwoman Cynthia Coyne (D-Barrington); Sen. James Seveney (D-Portsmouth); Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (R-Westerly); Sen. Kendra Anderson (D-Warwick); Sen. Cynthia Mendes (D-East Providence), who is running for lieutenant governor.


KICKER: Dan Kennedy laments the shallow bench in Massachusetts, normally fertile terrain for future politicos: “State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz’s withdrawal from the gubernatorial race on Thursday underscores the astonishing collapse of politics in Massachusetts. This is a state where politics has traditionally been a year-round sport. In the past, an open governor’s seat would have attracted multiple candidates. Instead, Attorney General Maura Healey will run uncontested for the Democratic nomination and will probably beat either of the two Republicans who are running.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter at @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit


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