Editorial: District 68 provides plenty of entertainment, but the drama is real

Posted 1/3/19

The race for the District 68 seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives has featured more plot twists and dramatic turns than a bad daytime soap. Surprising and entertaining as it’s …

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Editorial: District 68 provides plenty of entertainment, but the drama is real

Posted

The race for the District 68 seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives has featured more plot twists and dramatic turns than a bad daytime soap. Surprising and entertaining as it’s been, the race has been much better for journalists and political junkies than for the most important constituency — people living in this district.

The shenanigans began last spring. First came a candidate no one had ever heard of — Laufton Ascencao, a progressive Democrat who had just moved into town and changed his name. Then came the June filing deadline, when incumbent Ken Marshall literally waited until the last minute to tell everyone he would not run, but he was throwing his support to fellow Democrat Andy Tyska, who was leaving the Bristol Town Council.

The surprises continued in September, when Mr. Ascencao trounced Mr. Tyska in a Democratic primary. Turns out the progressive had built a formidable following of both volunteers and paid staffers, and his machine had been knocking on doors and winning votes for months.

Libertarian Bill Hunt met Mr. Ascencao in two public debates, when he forcefully questioned the Democrat’s character and “the story” he packaged for voters about his background and his profession.

Mr. Ascencao easily won the election, but the candidate unraveled within days — lies, deception and false campaign finance reports loosening the strings on his careful packaging. Within a month of his victory, he stepped away and gave up the seat. Candidates immediately rushed into the breach.

Bristol Town Councilor Timothy Sweeney announced he was running — and days later, announced he wasn’t. Mr. Tyska announced he would make a second run at it — then never filed his candidates papers. But his wife did. And then three days later, she dropped out.

Warren Town Council president Joseph Depasquale hinted he might run with a cryptic comment on this paper’s website — a hint he later confirmed was true. Then when the filing deadline came and went, “Joey D” was nowhere to be seen. Apparently a friend had failed to drop off his papers in time.

Last Friday, up popped two men who had not been seen in political circles in about a decade — Richard Ruggiero in Bristol and Jimmy McCanna in Warren. Former town councilors, they saw an opportunity to get back in the game.

Then there’s the original incumbent in this race. First Mr. Marshall made it clear he will hold onto his seat until there’s a Special Election in March — a position confirmed by the secretary of state’s office. Then on Friday, Mr. Marshall suddenly split with the Democratic party and announced he’s going to run for the permanent seat after all — as an Independent.

Since the campaign announcements began and current office-holders began to declare, many residents have been critical of the prospect (and cost) of more Primaries and more elections. Yet instead of working things out behind the scenes, the Democrats have three candidates on the ballot (creating a Primary next month) and one sitting councilor, John Hanley in Warren.

Libertarian Bill Hunt has been steadfast throughout. He ran for this office two years ago. He ran again this year. He’s running again in March.

And then there’s June Speakman, another progressive Democrat, who is poised to pick up the progressive torch and carry it to the Statehouse.

The voters of District 68 can be excused if they are either confused or disgusted by the whole affair. Yet they do everyone a disservice if they walk away and ignore what’s happening. On a gray, winter day in the near future, a few hundred people are likely to choose the newest member of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

Aggravated (or entertained) as they may be, this is still an important decision, and the character of the candidate really matters. Voters need to pay attention and choose wisely. In this daytime soap, every vote will mean something.

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.