Talking Politics

How do women factor into races for Governor and Congress?

By Ian Donnis
Posted 2/11/22

STORY OF THE WEEK: When women run for office in Rhode Island, they usually win. Years of gains in the state Senate, for example, resulted in the chamber being equally divided between male and female …

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Talking Politics

How do women factor into races for Governor and Congress?


STORY OF THE WEEK: When women run for office in Rhode Island, they usually win. Years of gains in the state Senate, for example, resulted in the chamber being equally divided between male and female legislators after the 2020 election. Gina Raimondo broke a barrier when she became the state’s first female governor in 2014, removing some of the novelty for how voters consider such subsequent candidates as Helena Foulkes and Nellie Gorbea.

Still, Rhode Island voters have never elected a Democratic woman to Congress, and that makes gender a factor in the CD2 race for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin.

How much of a boost this gives to Joy Fox, the only woman candidate on the Democratic side so far, remains unclear for now. (Former state Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott this week ruled out a run.) Fox has a broad range of experience – she has worked for not just Langevin and Raimondo, but also the state Department of Corrections.

The Warwick resident has never before run for office, most recently serving as CEO of the Clarendon Group, a strategic consulting firm, and a senior advisor to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, but she clearly has a good Rolodex and experience with political messaging.

“I love my community,” Fox said in announcing her run via Twitter. “We need a representative in Congress who knows the district and is willing to fight for every family.” Elsewhere in CD2, the field of fellas now includes General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, refugee advocate Omar Bah, Cameron Michael Moquin, first-time candidate Michael Neary, and former state Rep. and Democratic Party Chairman Ed Pacheco.


MAGAZINER MONEY: Treasurer Magaziner closed out the fourth quarter of 2021 with $1.6 million in his campaign account – an amount that would have made him the pacesetter in the race for governor. Now that he’s switched over to CD2, Magaziner has raised $200,000 in the last week for his congressional run (some of which was previously committed for his gov run), said campaign spokeswoman Patricia Socarras, with pledges of more than $500,000 in contributions. (State campaign funds can not be transferred to federal accounts, although candidates can refund contributions and ask donors to make new ones).


GENDER EQUITY: Considering how the Senate reached gender parity in 2020, it’s worth remembering how women members of the RI House of Representatives did not get their own bathroom until 2007. As the ProJo reported at the time: “The path to the men's bathroom does not require members to exit the members-only area. The women of the House, on the other hand, had to venture outside and through a waiting ‘gauntlet’ - as Rep. Carol A. Mumford, R-Scituate, put it — of lobbyists, who are not allowed in the chamber during session. Some even follow the female representatives into the public bathroom to get a moment of their attention — although only female lobbyists tried this tactic, Mumford said. The women's bathroom contains but a single toilet, and it's much smaller than the men's bathroom, which contains three stalls and four urinals, as well as a window and, inexplicably, an empty shopping cart. But the trappings — marble floor and a heavy oak door — are equally grand. (State historic preservation standards require them to be.)”


MCKEEWORLD: WPRI-TV, Channel 12, reported this week on how the managing partner of the ILO Group worked with a close confidant of Gov. Dan McKee on the outline of a potential state contract shortly before the confidant encouraged state officials to consider hiring ILO. Asked on Political Roundtable about this appearance of preferential treatment, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos initially tried to avoid comment, noting she was not yet LG when the contract to help communities resume in-class schooling amid the pandemic was awarded.vPressed, Matos defended the administration: “I believe that the governor and his office followed all procurement laws and that the contract was justified given the severity of the pandemic …”

McKee’s Democratic rivals continue to use this controversy to criticize the incumbent. That’s unlikely to stop, even though as WPRI reported, the ILO Group is no longer working for the administration. With Attorney General Peter Neronha probing the contract, all eyes await the results of that investigation.


GOP GOV: For weeks, talk has persisted of a deep-pocketed woman in the med-tech field emerging as a possible Republican candidate for governor. The ProJo’s Kathy Gregg reported this week on the identity of that person, Ashley Kalus, as well as House GOP Leader Blake Filippi’s view of the task facing a candidate who is a very recent transplant: “It certainly isn't a positive, but you know, she's going to have to show how she's going to help the people of this state.”

OTOH, John Robitaille did not have a heap of previous political exposure to voters when he ran as the Republican candidate for governor in 2010. Nonetheless, Robitaille almost won the race, attracting 33.6% of the vote, compared with 36.1% for Lincoln Chafee. The thinking at the time was that Robitaille was closing the distance, and if the campaign had gone on a bit longer, he would have come out on top, maintaining a string of GOP victories for governor going back to 1994.


LG: Sabina Matos vaulted into the Statehouse, from the presidency of the Providence City Council, when Gov. McKee picked her last spring as his lieutenant governor. The two have been virtually attached at the hip ever since, attending countless news conferences and bill-signings around the state. But what about the age-old question of whether the LG actually serves a productive function beyond offering successor-in-waiting to the governor?

Asked about this on Political Roundtable, Matos said she has advocated on housing and other issues, and been a part of the state’s pandemic response. Asked for tangibles, she said, “There are so many other things that we can do with this role that I have been doing. There are so many more things that I’m going to be doing with this role.”


BELTWAY BULLETIN: With Republicans expected to make gains in the U.S. House this year, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline is on a Politico list of the Democrats who may try to move up in leadership.


THE RHODE ISLAND CONNECTION: Anita Earls, a justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, is among the Black women who have been mentioned as potential Supreme Court nominees by President Joe Biden. Earls is married to Charles D. Walton, who became the first Black member of the RI Senate in the early 1980s. In 2002, redistricting pitted Walton against Juan Pichardo, who won election as the state’s first Latino senator. After losing his seat, Walton joined with Harold Metts, the Providence branch of the NAACP, the Urban League of RI and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in a legal challenge to the redistricting plan. The litigation ultimately led to a settlement that created changes in 12 of 38 Senate districts.


SMITH HILL: Steven Hayes, a ’98 alum of Roger Williams University Law, has taken over the RI Senate chief legal counsel job formerly held by Nicole Verdi (RWU Law ’14), who left for a job with wind power giant Orsted.


NEWPORT: From my colleague Antonia Ayres-Brown’s report on the ongoing legal fight over Touro Synagogue: “The history of why these two congregations are intertwined goes back hundreds of years. Touro Synagogue was built in 1763. When the British occupied Newport during the Revolutionary War, many Jewish families left the city. By the early 19th century, the New York-based Congregation Shearith Israel was entrusted with the synagogue and its upkeep.

“Decades later, during the 1880s, the local Jewish community in Newport had grown and wanted to reopen the synagogue for regular services. In 1903, Congregation Jeshuat Israel, a Jewish Orthodox assembly, leased the synagogue for five years. That lease was extended for another five years in 1908. Technically, Congregation Jeshuat Israel hasn’t had a new lease since then.

“Nearly a century later, disagreement arose between the two communities when Congregation Jeshuat Israel tried to sell a historic pair of bell-shaped ornaments that adorn the torah, called rimonim, to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for over $7 million. Congregation Shearith Israel objected, arguing that the sacred finials weren’t the Newport congregation’s to sell.”


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

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