2016-09-01 / Election News

Two Seats Up for Grabs in Primary Races



Senate District 12 Heats Up

By Tom Walsh

With campaign coffers being filled and an entrenched four-term Democratic incumbent poised to pounce on the winner, two unheralded candidates are competing to win the Sept. 13 Republican Party primary in Senate District 12.

The Republican primary winner in District 12, which encompasses all of Middletown and Little Compton, as well as south Tiverton and the northeast corner of Newport, will meet Democratic Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, 55, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee who is also active with numerous state and local organizations.

“I’ve visited hundreds of houses already,” DiPalma said. “I was going door-to-door just last night. I focus on results. A lot has been accomplished in the past eight years. That includes reducing the income tax, the corporations tax, and taxes on Social Security. And we’ve had no broad-based tax increases.”

Not surprisingly, the two Republican Senate District 12 candidates see things differently.

“I’m very concerned about the future for my grandchild, our country, and the state,” said Richard Rom, 64, of Tiverton, the endorsed District 12 candidate who was born in Long Beach, Calif., and is retired from Raytheon in Portsmouth. Rom, who began his Senate campaign meeting voters by riding his bicycle around the district, described Rhode Island as a “welfare state” and maintained that budget monies must be shifted from welfare concerns to education.

“We need to get to the bottom of why government is so expensive,” Rom said, adding that this includes determining “why a college education is so costly.” Rom said that social services would be the first thing he would try to cut if elected.

“We need to find something to replace welfare,” he said. “Charity needs to pick up what welfare is doing right now.”

Amy E. Veri, 33, a lifelong Rhode Islander who has lived in Little Compton for the past 20 years and is a Providence-based attorney, said she’s running for the District 12 seat, in part, because “I’ve been interested in politics all my life.” She also said she was moved to run because “voters are starting to realize that we need some new blood at the Statehouse. We need to make things easier for people rather than more burdensome. And we need to reduce taxes.”

Referring to Rom’s anti-welfare beliefs, Veri said that Rom has “an antiquated position on social issues.”

Both Senate hopefuls were disdainful of the truck toll solution to generate needed revenue to repair Rhode Island’s bridges and roads.

“We’ve just punished the people with another tax,” she said. In online Republican campaign material, Veri added, “This was a terrible deal for Rhode Island. It comes at a cost to all small businesses struggling to survive.”

“I’m disgusted by that,” Rom said of truck tolls. “I understand that the bridges have to be fixed. Some of them are in such sad shape that they look like they could collapse at any moment.” He said the truck toll program “is going to cause severe economic damage to our state. My concern is that funds from the Newport Bridge will be used to supplement this project.”

Veri lambasted DiPalma for voting in favor of the now-infamous 38 Studios multi-million-dollar economic development fiasco. “That put Rhode Island voters on the hook for $115.9 million,” she said. “It was another bad deal for Rhode Island.”

Of that, Rom said simply, “What a disaster.”

Rom had this to say about the Democratic incumbent: “Lou just goes along with the Democratic Party. He’ll do whatever they tell him to do. He’s not working in the best interests of Rhode Islanders.”

DiPalma deflected comments by his GOP detractors by emphasizing the positive. Like Rom, Di- Palma works at Raytheon and said he knows the GOP candidate from there.

“He’s a good guy,” DiPalma said of his potential November adversary.

The Democrat added, “My focus is on being a strong voice for fiscally conservative budgets in Rhode Island,” he said. “That means growing the economy, improving education, and addressing the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. At the end of the day, we as a society are responsible for taking care of those who cannot help themselves.”

As for Rom’s welfare remarks, Di- Palma said, “Those words are easy to say.” He said the truth is that “a lot of things are moving ahead to make Rhode Island a better business state. I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished.”

At the moment, the incumbent Democrat stands far ahead in campaign fundraising than either of his potential Republican rivals in November’s general election.

DiPalma said his campaign war chest currently has $24,951.73. Veri said she has accumulated about $7,500 for her campaign.

Rom said that as of his interview with Newport This Week he had about $700 in campaign funds. “I plan to raise more,” Rom said, “but I think I have enough to get through the primary.”

'Fiasco' Marks House 72 Contest

By Tom Walsh

The two Democrats vying to win the House District 72 primary on Sept. 13 have knocked on doors and done everything else that serious political candidates must do if they hope to succeed at election time.

However, this contest may long be recalled not for the candidates’ hard work but for what some have described as its “endorsement fiasco.” After local Democrats in Portsmouth and Middletown endorsed former state representative Linda D. Finn of Middletown, Democratic State Committee leaders chose to bestow their endorsement on political newcomer James J. Cawley, a Portsmouth contractor who had also decided to run.

Although local Democrats howled in protest, the state committee endorsement of Cawley stood.

“I still don’t know exactly why they did what they did,” Finn said the other day during a break in campaigning. “I guess it was because I did not vote for the speaker [House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello]. But you know how it is. Leadership doesn’t like people who go against them. They like to run a tight ship.” Finn had backed Rep. Michael J. Marcello, D-Scituate, for speaker in that contest.

Finn, 57, is an advocate for tighter gun control. “That may have been a touchstone for the speaker,” she said. “He does not want to tighten gun regulations.” She said the issue is “something that I feel very strongly about.”

Given that the House speaker may not be thrilled with the prospect of Finn’s return to the chamber, she was asked whether she would be able to get along with Mattiello were she to win her primary contest and then the November general election.

“If that happens, I will call the speaker,” Finn said. “And I’ll go up there to talk with him. I’m not going to up there and butt heads with everyone.”

Finn served District 72, which encompasses much of Middletown and Portsmouth, for one two-year term upon her election in 2012. However, her time in public office was cut short in November 2014 when she lost her bid for a second term to current Rep. Daniel P. Reilly of Portsmouth. Reilly, a Republican, is not running for re-election.

Meanwhile, Cawley, who turned 50 in July, quietly filed to run for the District 72 seat.

“I’m a small business owner,” Cawley said. “I’m kind of a simple guy.” He said that he was provoked into running for the House seat because of the “wasteful spending of the state. I’ve watched as the rules and regulations on business increased over the years. If elected, I would go to the Statehouse and fight for all of the small businesses. There’s just too much red tape and bureaucracy.”

Cawley, the father of six, said he was happy to embrace the Democratic State Committee’s endorsement. “I’ve gotten little support from the local Democrats,” the political newcomer said. “They’re all helping her.”

A graduate of Rogers High School who also attended the Community College of Rhode Island and Bristol Community College, Cawley seemed to enjoy retelling the circumstances of his endorsement by the state party.

“Really, it came about with just a phone call. I called the state committee phone number and got [Director of Communications] Ann Gooding and [Democratic Chairman] Joe McNamara on the phone. And that’s how I got endorsed.”

Asked what the practical value of the endorsement was, Cawley chuckled and said, “Not a hell of a lot, really. Your name is put first on the ballot for the seat. That’s about it.” He paused, and seemed to think about what he’d just said. “But I guess there’s an advantage to that.”

Talking about his company, which is located on Connell Highway in Newport and provides excavation and concrete construction services, Cawley said his work makes him “the blue collar candidate.”

Finn said that right now she has about $25,000 in her campaign war chest. Cawley said he has between $1,100 and $1,200.

“I’ll buy some palm cards and yard signs and go door to door,” he said. “I’m blown away with how much people spend to get elected.” Referring to Finn’s account, Cawley declared, “That’s an exorbitant amount of money. As a business owner, I think that’s wasteful.”

The winner of the Finn-Cawley primary contest will face Republican Kenneth Mendonca of Portsmouth in the general election on Nov. 8.

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