2016-09-15 / Election News

Finn Cruises to Lopsided Victory

Mendonca Ready for November Contest
By Tom Walsh

Former state Rep. Linda D. Finn’s lopsided victory over James J. Cawley in Tuesday’s House District 72 Democratic primary calls into question the value of a state party endorsement in what is strictly a local contest.

Finn, endorsed by the local Democratic organization, was spurned by state party leaders in favor of Cawley, a political newcomer. But that did not stop her from defeating Cawley by a margin of 72.4 percent to Cawley’s 27.6 percent of the primary vote, according to preliminary figures.

“It was not so much about the state party endorsement as it was a rebuke to the local committee,” said Finn on the day after her victory. “But our local committee stood its ground. The point is that we should not have people outside our community deciding who we should vote for. Having the endorsement doesn’t mean that you’re going to win, that’s for sure.”

As for Cawley, he said, “It is what it is. I learned a lot. And I’m going to stay involved. I guess I’ve now been bitten by the political bug. I’m not done yet.” Cawley said he hopes to run again for the District 72 seat.

Meanwhile, in Senate District 12, the Republican primary saw Little Compton’s Amy E. Veri defeat Richard Rom of Tiverton with 56.4 percent of the vote to Rom’s 43.6 percent. Veri, a Providence-based attorney, now faces the formidable task of challenging Middletown’s four-term Democratic Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee who also serves as a member of numerous state and local organizations.

At the federal level, incumbent David Cicilline sailed to an easy victory in the First Congressional District’s Democratic primary, overwhelming challenger Christopher Young by a two-to-one margin. Cicilline faces Republican Russell Taub in November.

For Finn, who was elected to the District 72 seat in 2012 but lost her re-election bid two years ago, the taste of victory in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary was a short-lived pleasure. She must now turn her attention to Kenneth Mendonca, a Portsmouth Republican who seems ready to battle for the seat in November’s general election campaign.

“The high taxes that we pay here do not help the reputation of the state of Rhode Island,” Mendonca, 49, said. “We need to look at our tax base and find a way to do things more efficiently.”

He said he is making the race because “there is a lack of transparency” in state government. “And we are all frustrated by the condition of our bridges and roads.”

Mendonca said his second-place finish last December in a special GOP election that was needed to fill the District 11 Senate seat only fueled his desire to try again. “It definitely turned the heat up for me on running again,” he said. Rep. Daniel Reilly’s decision not to seek re-election this year in District 72, which encompasses both Middletown and Portsmouth, provided the opportunity.

While Mendonca ran as a Republican in his Senate race, he has only recently been formally associated with the GOP. “For the most part I’ve been unaffiliated, although I’ve tended to vote Republican,” he said.

The candidate describes himself in online campaign literature as a “lifelong resident of the East Bay.” He has a bachelor’s degree in information systems science and a master’s degree in business administration, both from Salve Regina University. He is also a graduate of Rogers High School.

Mendonca said he has been “employed in the local Aquidneck Island defense industry for 23 years” and currently works at Rite Solutions, where he is a program manager serving the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport.

“There are critical issues facing our state and Middletown and Portsmouth that call for hard work and innovative ideas to solve,” he said. His employment requires him “to do my homework, do the research,” which he feels will strengthen his ability to be an effective lawmaker and get people to buy in to his proposed solutions. “I can work with all parties,” he added.

Moreover, Mendonca believes that even as a GOP freshman he would be able to effectively interact with politically powerful House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello and his Democratic leadership team in the House. “I will be there on behalf of the people of my district from Middletown and Portsmouth.”

Finn and others have attributed the Democratic State Committee’s decision to endorse her opponent to the fact that she did not vote for Mattiello when he first sought the speaker’s position. She has said that if she prevails in November, she will call Mattiello to discuss the matter with him.

Mendonca said he believes the Rhode Island state budget is “way too high. We have a spending problem here.” He said the Assembly has helped to improve the state’s economy with such actions as lowering some taxes, including the state corporate tax. “But more can be done.”

One of his top priorities at the legislature would be to “protect” state funds allocated to Middletown and Portsmouth for education. He also favors establishing a separate state agency dedicated to investigating and curbing “waste, fraud and abuse” in government, pointing to a similar agency in Massachusetts that has succeeded in that mission.

Mendonca said that while he believes Rhode Island’s infrastructure problems must be addressed, he nevertheless opposes the truck toll program created to pay for the necessary work. “If Rhode Island’s bridges and roads are in such bad shape, which they are, then we need to allocate the money to fix them in the state budget,” he said.

Finally, Mendonca reported that he has about $2,700 on hand in his campaign war chest but will try to raise more. “We have some things in the works.”

Finn spent a considerable amount of her campaign funds on the primary. However, her online fundraising continues. “We’ll be in good shape going forward,” she said.

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