Talking Politics

More than a dozen candidates lining up for a run at Congress

By Ian Donnis
Posted 4/18/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Democratic field in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District is starting to gel, with a series of noteworthy developments this week. Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, …

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Talking Politics

More than a dozen candidates lining up for a run at Congress


STORY OF THE WEEK: The Democratic field in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District is starting to gel, with a series of noteworthy developments this week. Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who came close to beating Dan McKee in a 2018 primary for lieutenant governor, formally entered the race with a campaign video (from some of the same people that helped propel U.S. Sen. Ed Markey with a viral video in 2020) and he touted a fast fundraising start, with more than $150,000.

House Finance Chairman Marvin Abney of Newport made a less flashy entry to the race, sending out an email at 8:03 p.m. Tuesday. Pawtucket native Gabe Amo resigned from his White House job, suggesting that he’s poised to join the fray. Jamestown businessman Don Carlson, who has talked of hoping to raise close to $1 million, announced his run Sunday in Middletown. State Sen. Sandra Cano of Pawtucket won the endorsement of Senate Judiciary Chair Dawn Euer of Newport. And Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos unveiled an experienced team to pilot her run, including fundraiser Amy Gabarra, pollster Peter Brodnitz, and campaign manager Brexton Isaacs, who helmed Gov. McKee’s winning campaign last year.

With announced and expected candidates, the Democratic field now includes no less than 14 people, half of whom are incumbents savoring the low-risk experience of running in an off-year for elections. Also running: former Raimondo staffer Nick Autiello, newcomer Mickeda Barnes, state Rep. Nathan Biah of Providence, former Secretary of State candidate Stephanie Beaute, state Rep. Stephen Casey of Woonsocket, Ward 1 Providence City Councilor John Goncalves, state Sen. Ana Quezada of Providence, and former Republican Allen Waters. While the filing deadline is still more than a month away, the candidates are likely to start putting more energy into making their case to voters, staking out issues that may sway support ahead of the Sept. 5 primary.

GOP CANDIDATE: Will Stephen Skoly make a run in CD1? The dentist, whose office was shut by the state in a dispute over the COVID vaccine, tells me he’s considering it.

MCKEE’S MOMENT: Gov. McKee chose the 100th day of his term to make a signature announcement – a new initiative, in partnership with municipal leaders, to try to raise the academic performance of Rhode Island students to the level of their peers in Massachusetts by 2030. McKee’s concept is to add more out-of-school learning: “Think about it – if just 20,000 Rhode Island students add about an hour per week of out of school learning, that right there equals one million hours. Successfully meeting this threshold will drive increases in achievement so that by the end of the decade we will deliver best in class statewide academic achievement results. And we know it can happen because in many cases, we have the puzzle pieces already – we just need to be strategic about how we put them together.”

To some, McKee’s plan makes eminent sense (see former NEARI Executive Director Robert A. Walsh’s Take of the Week later in this week’s column). Yet Globe RI columnist Dan McGowan, who has closely covered education for years, had a withering take: “McKee stayed true to the brand he’s built over the past two-plus years, overpromising on a goal and then rolling out a not-ready-for-primetime plan that’s so thin that it’s sure to under-deliver in the long run. And then all we’ll need is a lame excuse for why it failed or a person to blame, and The Full McKee will be on display.” 

DEVELOPMENT: Higher interest rates have chilled the development atmosphere in Providence and elsewhere. Despite that, Boston-based CV Properties this week announced plans for a 149-unit residential building as the anchor for lots 14/15 in the 195 District, with potential multi-use build-out of 500,000 square feet controlled by Brown University.

SMITH HILL: With lawmakers returning to the Statehouse after spring break, the gun issue will be front and center during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Both sides are mobilizing. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action offered this warning: “Unsatiated gun grabbers are back at it in Providence next week. In their minds, there is always another gun bill to pass until they have completely banned firearms. This hasn’t been about public policy for a long time.” The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence countered with this message: “Get ready to testify at the House Judiciary Committee hearing to support passage of 2 priority bills: regulating assault weapons and safe firearm storage!”

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: The move by a federal judge in Texas to attempt to ban the abortion medication Mifepristone, which has been used for decades, is particularly noteworthy since he’s seeking to overrule a regulatory decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000. As my colleague Lynn Arditi notes, Rhode Island is among more than a dozen states where attorneys general have joined a federal lawsuit seeking expanded access to Mifepristone.

GINAWORLD: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo placed on Time’s list of 100 influential people, in a piece written by her long-ago babysitter, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Excerpt: “As Secretary, she is reviving U.S. manufacturing and rebuilding our technological infrastructure. To return the U.S. to being the global leader in microchip production, she deftly shepherded the CHIPS and Science Act through Congress and is building the diverse coalitions needed to supercharge U.S. semiconductor production, fortify supply chains, and strengthen national security. As always, Secretary Raimondo will get the job done, credit others, and embrace the next challenge.”

TAKES OF THE WEEK: various views from a mix of Rhode Islanders.

Former National Education Association Rhode Island Executive Director ROBERT A. WALSH JR.: “I am taken aback by those directing sarcasm and even vitriol towards Gov. McKee‘s Learn365RI initiative, announced earlier this week in Newport. Ironically, I had strong disagreements with then-Mayor McKee’s original initiative to involve municipal government directly in public education (Mayoral Academies), but I believe Learn365RI is a sound proposal.

“Before I spent a 30-year career working with educators throughout Rhode Island, I was a board member of Lippitt Hill Tutorial and a founding board member of Volunteers in Providence Schools (now called Inspiring Minds). In all those experiences, I witnessed firsthand how out-of-school time activities had direct positive impacts on student learning, engagement, and attendance. (Please let the naysayers who squawk ‘extended school day’ as the solution to all education issues without explaining how extending the school day addresses chronic absenteeism take note that in-school attendance can be improved when attendance is the gateway to outside activities.)

“As a student, I took advantage of outside programs ranging from Model Legislature to a six-week summer environmental science program. Other students are assisted by homework clubs or extra tutoring, or motivated by sports, art, music, computer coding, library time, etc. or even the chance to be with their peers. The governor’s vision — engaging municipal leadership and involving our higher education institutions and state agencies, such as the R.I. State Council for the Arts, to enhance and expand out-of-school time activities; letting educators focus on and make decisions about in-school learning; encouraging communication and cooperation between the two; and providing robust support to all -- is a good one, and it deserves a chance to develop and succeed.”

Former RI House GOP Leader BLAKE FILIPPI: “Over three years ago, as the House Republican leader, I initiated legal action against the former speaker of the House to finally fix the broken Joint Committee on Legislative Services -- the most powerful committee in state government. It hadn’t met in 10 years, but managed to spend $50 million per year.

“Our Republican caucus resolved to fix this great government shame – no matter the costs. And the costs were high: establishment attack dogs were unleashed against us, our legislative initiatives were effectively killed, and threats were made against my personal livelihood and family (not by current House or Senate leaders, who have been upright gentlemen throughout this entire saga).

“Nevertheless, House Republicans soldiered on. After our significant court victory in 2022, it was clear that litigation would ultimately force the JCLS to meet. Current GOP Leader Chippendale and Speaker Shekarchi were then able to negotiate quarterly JCLS meetings, and a dismissal of my lawsuit. Current legislative leadership did not break JCLS, but it was their responsibility to fix it -- and they have done so.

“So, this week, I watched Capitol TV’s coverage of the first JCLS meeting in over a decade, and resolved to enjoy political retirement.”

State Rep. DAVID MORALES (D-Providence), RWA HYPE Champion: “At face value, you would think that professional wrestling and politics could not be any more different from one another. However, upon a closer look, they’re a lot more alike and intersectional than you would imagine. For one, candidates and politicians thrive on charisma and the ability to effectively communicate their message whether on the campaign trail or debating on the House floor. This act is mirrored in pro-wrestling as ‘cutting a promo,” which references a performer staging an over-the-top promotional interview to promote an upcoming match, insult their opponent, or engage the crowd.

“Similarly, both politicians and wrestlers lean on rhetoric and even hyperbole when delivering their message with the hopes of drawing positive engagement. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are a multitude of parallels between wrestling and politics, such as the act of having ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, the formation of factions or cliques, and even the choreography of debates. As someone who wears both hats, as a pro-wrestling personality and a state representative, it’s interesting to experience the overlap based on what I hear and see in the locker room and the chambers of the Statehouse.”

Johnston Mayor JOSEPH POLISENA JR.: “We can all take a lesson from the Rays – money is not a ubiquitous fix to problems.  What matters more is timing, utilization and allocation. We need to rely on management to mold talent rather than expect the talent to just appear.  Whether in sports or business, getting a group of individuals to buy into a common goal and have fun while reaching it is always a recipe for success.”

LISA PELOSI, former comms director for Gov. Lincoln Almond: “Last year certainly appeared to be the year for a Republican to be elected from Rhode Island for an open congressional seat. But it didn’t happen. There are many reasons why Allan Fung was not elected, with one of the most prominent being his association with the presumed incoming speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy. The social media post of the two of them in Rhode Island was a picture worth a thousand words, turning away potential moderates and independent voters.

“Now, in CD1, no Republican has yet put their name in, and one publicly withdrew consideration based on personal and professional circumstances. Democratic candidates employed by state or municipal government are running for this open seat, but there are not Republicans – few as they may be in Rhode Island – willing to do the same. The new chair of the RIGOP has said that he is talking to a few people who may be interested in running.

“It was 1995, nearly 30 years ago, when a Republican last held the seat in CD1. Will whoever runs as the GOP candidate end up being a sacrificial lamb? Or will the Republican Party be able to bring forward a more moderate candidate along the lines of former US Sen. John Chafee or former Gov. Lincoln Almond, focusing more on fiscal, pocketbook issues than social ones, appealing to the more liberal voters of the First Congressional District? I think we all know the answers to these questions.”

RI icon ARLENE VIOLET, who this week announced she will not run as an independent in CD1: “It is difficult to turn down an opportunity to serve people in a job that I believe I could do very well. I understand the complexities of global and national issues and how they impact the daily lives of Rhode Islanders as well as know local problems that affect the quality of life here. This country is a fractured America, with citizens pitted against other citizens, with debate having disintegrated into invective, and far too many in Congress have been the cheerleaders of dissent.

“Nonetheless, the sudden departure of U.S. Rep. David Cicilline has occurred during a time of personal and professional commitments I have made to family, friends and clients, and I cannot fulfill those obligations adequately by launching a campaign in CD1. A truncated run would also deprive voters in the districts, so I have decided not to take on an incompatible commitment which would vitiate my present responsibilities.”

CITY HAUL: Providence Mayor Brett Smiley has made another hire that’s winning plaudits, signing up Sheila Dormody as the city’s director of policy and resiliency. In a statement, Smiley said, “Sheila is a well-known and respected leader in Rhode Island. I am thrilled to welcome her back to the City of Providence where she will play an integral role in the development of policies that address the city’s top priorities including building a resilient city, increasing education opportunities, and improving the overall quality of life in our neighborhoods. Her years of policy leadership will be an invaluable asset to our administration as we make Providence the best-run city in the country.”

LABOR: Concerns about the cost of living are driving the protests by workers at RISD, as my colleague Olivia Ebertz reports: “[Gusjanto Limiadi is among a group of 62 RISD workers who voted to unionize with Teamsters Local 251 in June 2022. He started at the school shortly after he moved to the U.S. from Indonesia in 2002. Back then, he made about $10 an hour. Now, he makes $17.73 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to a raise of less than a dollar over two decades. Limiadi’s wife Christina is a custodian for RISD, as well. Adjusted for inflation, she makes about a dollar less than when she started 13 years ago, her salary going from about $12 an hour to $15.97 an hour.”

LOCAL MOTION: Local Return, which aims to build wealth in Rhode Island, particularly in neighborhoods that have faced the brunt of disinvestment, staged an event this week to call on Rhode Islanders to shift their assets from Wall Street to Main Street. “Choosing a local bank is one of the easiest ways to support our local economy,” Jessica David, president and co-founder of Local Return, said in a statement. “When you deposit your money with a community bank or credit union, you’re supporting loans to small businesses, mortgages for your neighbors, and grants to local nonprofits. In contrast, the big banks aren’t connected to places where they operate, and they often use Rhode Island deposits to make investments elsewhere.” The Bank Local, Invest Local campaign, spearheaded nationally by the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), encourages people to support community banks and credit unions as part of their efforts to move more of their money from Wall Street to Main Street. 

COLLEGE HILL: Via Mike Stanton: “Didn’t realize until I started reading @vermontgmg’s Watergate book that Howard Hunt & Chuck Colson went to @BrownUniversity & met via D.C. Brown alumni club. Hunt agreed to join Colson’s Plumbers unit in outrage at Brown students who protested honorary degree for Henry Kissinger.”

KICKER: Elon Musk tells the BBC that owning Twitter has been “quite painful.” NPR “will no longer post fresh content to its 52 official Twitter feeds, becoming the first major news organization to go silent on the social media platform,” reports NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. ‘In explaining its decision, NPR cited Twitter's decision to first label the network ‘state-affiliated media,’ the same term it uses for propaganda outlets in Russia, China and other autocratic countries.” Yours truly, though, is sticking around – 20,000 followers or bust!

Ian Donnis can be reached at


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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.