Much has been made about the what the outcome of Tuesday’s primary could mean for gay marriage in Rhode Island.
The state Senate is the last branch of the government to stand in the way of marriage equality and there’s a lot that could happen in the Democratic primary to shift the landscape of that chamber. Laura Pisaturo, who is gay, is running against Michael McCaffrey, the chairman of the committee that has killed the bill in recent years. And a number of other Senate candidates – such as Lew Pryeor in Woonsocket, Adam Satchel in West Warwick, Gene Dyszlewski in Cranston and David Gorman in Coventry, among others – could alter the vote among the rank and file.
There’s another future issue for the state Senate that could hang in the balance of Tuesday’s primary, namely who might be the next Senate president. Current Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed covets a judicial appointment as the next step in her career and if and when she gets one, she’d no doubt like a hand-picked successor to pass the baton on to. But both the two most likely heir apparents to the gavel are both embroiled in primary battles that could change all that.
One is McCaffrey. As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he and Paiva Weed have been close allies in their quest to keep gay couples from enjoying the same marital rights as others. Being popular with leadership doesn’t always translate to strength in the district and Warwick may well be ready for a change. Pisaturo enjoys the support of the progressive community and she’s been working hard to get out the vote. McCaffery, who sponsored the binding arbitration bill, has the support of the NEA. Some handicappers think Pisaturo could squeak out a victory; everyone seems to agree it will be close.
The other pits popular East Providence Representative Bob DaSilva against Dan DaPonte, chairman of the Finance Committee and himself a close ally of Paiva Weed. He could also succeed her as Senate president, but not if he doesn’t survive the primary. While both candidates are well-known in East Providence, insiders say redistricting may have benefited DaSilva. And like Pisaturo, he’ll benefit from beating the streets as well as the backing of organized labor and the rest of the progressive vote.
DaSilva supports marriage equality and DaPonte doesn’t, but another stark difference between these two candidates is their economic policies. DaSilva didn’t vote for pension cuts in 2011 and DaPonte sponsored the bill that guarantees bondholders get paid before retirees and other creditors in municipal bankruptcies.
If both McCaffrey and DaPonte lose on Tuesday, which is a distinct possibility, not only could we see marriage equality become a reality in Rhode Island, but we’d also have a vastly more progressive state Senate. Maybe even more progressive than the traditionally more liberal House.
Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated Laura Pisaturo was supported by organized labor.