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Déjà vu: District 72 showdown is a rematch of 2018

Incumbent Terri-Denise Cortvriend goes up against former state representative Kenneth J. Mendonça

Jim McGaw
Posted 10/23/20

One of the more intriguing contests for statewide office during the midterm elections in 2018 is getting a rerun this Nov. 3.

In the race for House of Representatives, District 72, Democrat …

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Déjà vu: District 72 showdown is a rematch of 2018

Incumbent Terri-Denise Cortvriend goes up against former state representative Kenneth J. Mendonça

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — One of the more intriguing contests for statewide office during the midterm elections in 2018 is getting a rerun this Nov. 3.

In the race for House of Representatives, District 72, Democrat Terri-Denise Cortvriend will once again face off against Republican Kenneth J. Mendonça.

Rep. Cortvriend, former chair of the Portsmouth School Committee, was the challenger two years ago when she defeated Mr. Mendonça, the incumbent. Now the roles are reversed. 

We recently chatted with both candidates by phone to get their views on the pandemic, the state budget, mail ballots, and what they both hope to accomplish in the future.

Terri-Denise Cortvriend

Rep. Cortvriend is the founder and CEO of Ocean Link, Inc., a marine trade business located in the Melville district in Portsmouth, and has been a small business owner and employer for more than 30 years. She served nine years on the Portsmouth School Committee, four years as chair, before running successfully for statewide office two years ago.

She’s a member of the House Committee on Small Business, the Rhode Island Democrat Party Women's Caucus, and was a co-founder of the Aquidneck Island Climate Caucus.

You can find more information about her at www.terricortvriend.com.

What can legislators do to address the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to helping struggling families and small businesses? Rep. Cortvriend said the first thing legislators need to do is get back to work. “The speaker said he’s calling us back after the election to approve the 2021 budget, which we have not seen yet,” she said. 

“Obviously, I don’t want to see cuts to programs that help our most vulnerable constituents and citizens. The governor has $500 million of the stimulus money and I think she’s waiting to see, through negotiations in Washington, if the restrictions on how she can spend that money are relaxed. I know there are some people saying that money should go to small businesses. I’m sure the governor isn’t going to give that money back. That money has to be spent by Dec. 31.” 

She said she recently spoke to Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, about the hospitality industry and the efforts being made to keep local restaurants and other businesses going, such as the state’s Take it Outside Campaign that allows them to “apply for grants for heaters and blankets — that sort of thing.”

“Do I have all the answers for hospitality? No. We should support the businesses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you or I are more comfortable going into a crowded location. It’s a balancing act.”

Other issues you will be focusing on if elected: Rep. Cortvriend wants to get the Parents with Disabilities Act passed, which she said would have already happened had it not been for the pandemic.

She and Sen. James Seveney also have companion bills, requested by the Town of Portsmouth, to clarify the frequency of tax assessments on buildings.

She’s also thrown her support behind a measure that would require schools to offer suicide prevention education, called the Nathan Bruno and Jason Flatt Act.

“We have fresh language on that, but we didn’t even get to a hearing because of Covid. That’s another one I would definitely keep working on.” 

This is your second run against this opponent. What’s different this time around? “Covid is different. Knocking on people’s doors is different, finding volunteers is different. I’m knocking and standing way back,” she said, addressing the most obvious difference. 

Mail ballots have also played a big role in the campaign. “Many people have already voted. The window has narrowed rapidly.”

Her priorities have also shifted somewhat, she said. One of her biggest focuses is getting contaminants or “forever chemicals” such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) out of food packaging and drinking and ground water.

She also has another bill, regarding shoreline access, that she hopes gets heard when the General Assembly reconvenes. Rep. Cortvriend said when that happens, she also wants to make sure legislation is introduced to accommodate some form of remote meetings by lawmakers, especially in light of Covid.

“I’ve been disappointed that the House leadership didn’t figure out a way or didn’t feel comfortable to let their committees continue doing their work remotely,” she said.

Now that so many people are voting by mail this year, do you feel the process is secure and fair? “I hope it’s fair at the national level. Every state runs their own system,” Rep. Cortvriend said, pointing to the California GOP’s recent unauthorized practice of setting up ballot drop-off boxes in conservative districts. 

She feels more comfortable about local mail ballots. “We have a new ballot box in Middletown Town Hall and Portsmouth Town Hall and that’s where people should put their ballots. I feel like Rhode Island is sound.”

Kenneth J. Mendonça

Mr. Mendonça has been employed by Rite-Solutions for 16 years as a systems engineer/program manager supporting the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. He’s worked in the Aquidneck Island defense industry for more than 27 years and before that was employed by a high technology firm in Middletown for nine years.

He was elected as District 72 representative in November 2016 and served one term. As representative, he was a member of the House Committee on Finance, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. 

You can find more information about him at www.electkenri.com.

What can legislators do to address the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to helping struggling families and small businesses? “First we need to get the General Assembly back in session,” Mr. Mendonça said, adding that lawmakers should come together “as a coalition and force the speaker to hold hearings and get the body back in. We’ve had over 790 Covid deaths related to nursing homes and we have a committee, the House Oversight Committee, that should be looking into these and making sure we don’t have another outbreak. That falls on the body.”  

As for specific legislation, he said the General Assembly needs to clarify the guidelines for businesses to follow during the pandemic, as there’s been confusion. About four weeks ago, he said a Portsmouth business was given a clean slate by an inspector, only to be told just a week later — and by a different inspector — there were some issues that needed to be addressed.

“As we lose businesses and people get unemployed, and we lose the revenue from those businesses and the tax income and various licensing fees we charge, it rolls back on you and I — the property tax holder.”

Other issues you will be focusing on if elected: “The economics of Covid really changes the answer. I could tell you some of things I’d like to do, but economically it’s just not going to happen,” Mr. Mendonça.

While he believes Portsmouth and Middletown should be getting more school funding, one must be realistic, he said. “But it would be helpful to have a partnership with Commerce R.I. to set up a trades training center here on the East Bay. We would benefit from having a trade schools right here. This is different than PTECH in Newport.” 

He also wants to tackle safety upgrades on East Main Road, the issue of solar farms being put in residential areas, National Grid’s temporary LNG site on Old Mill Lane, and more.

“Those are some fundamental things, but everything goes back to Covid and protecting the most vulnerable … and getting the legislature back in there and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

This is your second run against this opponent. What’s different this time around? “I don’t think I did a good job (campaigning) the last time. There were a couple reasons for that. I really need to focus and educate people on my record on what I did at the State House, serving on the House Finance Committee,” he said. “You have to ask questions in a non-partisan way and vet where our money is going. I delivered results to the district, and I exhibited the ability to work with people as the Republican in the minority party.”

He added the Democrats have controlled both bodies in the General Assembly for decades. “We talk about diversity, and yet (we don’t have it) at the State house.”

Now that so many people are voting by mail this year, do you feel the process is secure and fair? “My concern is the way we’ve done it and I’ve heard examples of how people are getting their mail ballot applications,” he said, noting there have been instances where homes of deceased residents have received applications.

The process can also be confusing, he said. “There are people getting those mail ballot application requests and sending them in and then they’re getting them back thinking they’re going to vote in person instead. I won’t say it’s done with malice in any way, but I just think there’s going to be problems. If you go and early vote and turn that in, it’s safe. If you go to your polling place and put your ballot in, it’s counted.”

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