As is his wont, WPRI’s Ted Nesi captures the quick overview of the election results well:
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo won an easy re-election victory on Tuesday, taking a majority of the vote as her party showed strength up and down the ballot. Republican nominee Allan Fung came up short against Raimondo for a second time, but left the door open to a third try in 2022.
Rhode Island voters also sent a host of familiar faces back to the State House and Congress, setting up a busy election season four years from now. And the results nationally could reverberate locally, as well.
During a year that was once proclaimed to portend a “Blue Wave,” not much changed in Rhode Island. Yes, the state GOP slipped two seats in the General Assembly. Yes, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo finally managed to crack 50% (52.6%).
Still, state government in Rhode Island today is pretty much what it was yesterday, and to secure that outcome, the governor had to spend her first term traveling the country to collect out-of-state millions. Take a look, in particular, at mail ballots. Raimondo brought in 73.4% more mail ballots in 2018, compared with 2014. Mail ballots in the governor’s race were up almost 50% and increased to 6.6% of the total vote. That increase helped all statewide Democrats. Although it wasn’t decisive for any of them, it is a good indicator of the get-out-the-vote effort that increased the total vote by 15% from four years ago.
And then there was the Trillo factor. His 4.4% take of the electorate is one-fifth of Bob Healey’s 21.4%, so nobody can claim that the Trillo vote put Raimondo over the top. However, it still is fair to suggest that the Trillo candidacy may have done so. So much of the news coverage and public debate concerned his antics and the conflict with Republican candidate Allan Fung. With that dynamic, national Republican money pulled out of the state, and Fung had a hard time countering the message promoted with Gina’s millions.
As for the attempt to unseat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, the Cranston Democrat still had a relatively close call, but his margin improved over his race two years ago. He didn’t need mail ballots to save him this time. The outcome, here, isn’t really a surprise because, despite some scandals among his allies and staffers, Mattiello leveraged the advantages of incumbency and leadership (giving out legislative grants in his district, for example) and pushed policies he knew would be popular among his voters, like eliminating the car tax and standing strong against the PawSox deal.
As we survey this landscape of political non-change, however, let’s close flying over two bridges and zooming in the camera on a sprout of something different in Tiverton. Candidates supported by the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA), whose PAC I manage, gained control of the Town Council and the Budget Committee and defeated charter changes that the out-going council hoped to use to reduce residents’ control of the town budget and their ability to hold government accountable.
Races in Tiverton are non-partisan, but the Tiverton Republican Town Committee (TRTC) played an active role in the election for the first time in a long time. Not only did the committee endorse candidates, but it hosted the only candidate forums in town and sent out materials explaining its endorsements.
I don’t know how much of a lesson things in the East Bay provide for the rest of the state, except maybe this: TTA has been involved in local government for a number of years and concentrated on explaining its point of view to voters. The group articulated its principles and stood up for them, while resisting the temptation to be dragged into the viciousness of those who oppose it.
None of this is quick or easy. Principles take time for individuals to develop and for a group to polish into consensus. Moreover, skin takes time to thicken, and perspective on personal fights takes time to rise. Personalities take time to manage, especially under the heat of a community’s political disagreement.
Those running for state-level offices should do similar long-term work starting now — preferably starting at the local level for a few elections — because there aren’t nearly as many visible prospects as there ought to be.