The progressive revolution in Rhode Island politics continues beyond Bernie Sanders as no less than seven progressive Democrats won primaries against conservative, often incumbent, opponents in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
The biggest win for the progressive left was Marcia Ranglin Vassell toppling House Majority Leader John DeSimone in District 5, Providence. She won by just 17 votes, 677 to 660.
But across the state, progressive candidates bested more-conservative candidates. In Narragansett/South Kingstown, incumbent Teresa Tanzi fended off an opponent who had the backing of Mike Stenhouse, a conservative Koch-aligned activist, and the Republican she beat last election. In Portsmouth/Middletown, former legislator Linda Finn handily beat a candidate backed by House leadership. In Bristol/Warren, newcomer Jason Knight knocked out incumbent Jan Malik. And in Warwick, relatively unknown Jeanine Calkin, a Berniecrat, beat Senator William Walaska, a former ALEC member.
Also in Providence, first-time candidate Moira Walsh defeated incumbent Tom Palangio by 21 votes, 299 to 278. All told, five new progressives seem poised for seats in the state legislature. It seems guaranteed there will be more progressive legislators than Republican legislators next session.
But it wasn’t all good news.
In District 13, Providence, community activist Lisa Scorpio lost to house leadership-backed Ramon Perez by a wide margin. He won 512 votes, or 56 percent and she won 352 votes, or 38.5 percent. Anastasia Williams, an incumbent with a checkered past and close ties to leadership, beat Michael Gazdacko, who may have suffered after being pegged as a gentrifying developer. David Norton, whose campaign was often fueled by criticism of house leadership, lost to David Coughlin by 46 votes, 489 to 443. Bill DeWare, who became sick during the campaign, lost handily to William O’Brien.
On the Senate side, incumbent Juan Pichardo lost by about 100 votes to Ana Quezada. Doris de Los Santos, backed by many progressive Democrats, lost to Senator Frank Ciccone, a friend to labor but not so much the rest of the left. In a three-way race in Pawtucket, incumbent Jaime Doyle beat Matt Fecteau 40.3 percent to 37.4 percent.
Of the 12 legislative candidates the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats endorsed (as of mid-August), six won. The Working Families Party endorsed 10 candidates and eight of them won. Incumbent Eileen Naughton lost to Camile Vella-Wilkinson in Warwick/West Warwick and Dennis Lavallee lost to Jena Petrarca-Karampetsos.
“Voters are clearly hungry for bold progressive policy,” said Georgia Hollister Isman, Working Families Party Rhode Island state director. “These victories send a clear message to the legislature—it is time for some big changes.”