Pandemic, economy in spotlight of state senate races

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 10/29/20

By LAURA WEICK Two State Senate races in Warwick raise debates on the General Assembly's role during the pandemic, both in healthcare and the economy. In Senate District 29, Republican Jean Trafford is challenging Senate Majority Leader Michael

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Pandemic, economy in spotlight of state senate races

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Two State Senate races in Warwick raise debates on the General Assembly’s role during the pandemic, both in healthcare and the economy.

In Senate District 29, Republican Jean Trafford is challenging Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, a Democrat who has been in the Senate since 1995. 

McCaffrey defeated progressive challenger Jennifer Rourke 58.2 percent to 41.8 percent in the Democratic primary. When asked how he plans to appeal to those who supported Rourke, McCaffrey argued that his legislative record speaks for itself.

“I hope that they would support me and look at my record,” McCaffrey said. “I am a Democrat, they are Democrats. The Democratic Party is a big tent and hopefully we can all come together. I look forward to reaching out to them in the legislative process.”

In an interview prior to the Democratic primary, McCaffrey said the state needs stable leadership during a time of crisis. He said that economic relief would be a major focus going forward, and he supports reducing the car tax and eliminating the sales tax on certain small business purchases. This year, McCaffrey cosponsored several bills including legislation that would require certain health insurers to provide coverage for 10 essential health benefits and a bill that would increase penalties for animal cruelty.

Trafford did not respond to a request for comment by publication deadline. However, according to Trafford’s Facebook page, she is a retired Providence police officer, a hospice registered nurse and has lived in Warwick for 20 years. Trafford described herself as a strong gun rights supporter on her Facebook page, as well as a supporter of school choice and the Home Rule Charter for Warwick. She also appears to oppose abortion, according to her Facebook page.

“We ought not endanger the life of women who choose not to give birth; there are safe options to controlling pregnancy without abortion methods,” Trafford wrote. “Ensuring the free choice and safety of women while protecting the right to life for the unborn child.”

Rhode Island received $1.25 billion from the CARES Act in March, but according to McCaffrey, there have been restrictions on how this money could be spent, which is partially why the state has been slow to use it. Gov. Gina Raimondo previously told the Associated Press that she was hesitant to spend all of the money at once because she was not sure if a second stimulus package would be passed. 

According to Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Transparency Portal, the state has spent nearly $299,635,327.95 on COVID-19 related expenditures as of Sept. 30. 

“We never thought we’d still be in the pandemic, so there are ramifications that stem from that,” McCaffrey said. “The $1.2 billion restrictions are still on, and we’re still waiting on another stimulus package. If it doesn’t come in we’re obviously going to have to make some tough adjustments to the budget.”

McCaffrey said the pandemic and its aftermath are something that he will always keep in mind if he is reelected.

“You learn that with this pandemic we have to change the way we do things so we can communicate and be in contact with constituents,” McCaffrey said. “In addition, you learn how every business, how this pandemic has affected them whether the small businesses or big companies that are having employees work from home.” Senate District 31

Trafford listed term limits for political offices and judges on her platform on Facebook. McCaffrey instead argued that elections every two years keep a check on power instead of term limits.

Kendra Anderson, who pulled off a four-way Democratic primary for the Senate District Democratic nomination, defeating City Council President Steve Merolla, Brian Dunkley and Mike Mita, faces Scott Zambarano, who ran against John Silvaggio in the Republican primary.

Anderson, an English as a second language teacher and environmental educator, has made environmental issues key in her campaign, including a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and creating green jobs to boost the economy. She also supports a health insurance system not tied to employment, a path to a $15 an hour minimum wage and restructuring the school funding formula.

Although Anderson’s platform has been described by commentators as progressive, Anderson believes she can extend her base beyond that.

“What I’m all about is more a Democrat who believes in working people and having legislation that benefits not just the wealthy and the well connected, but all people,” Anderson said. “That’s where it doesn’t matter whether you are Republican, independent or Democrat. If you believe in a fair shot for all people, then my candidacy is the right candidacy. We’re not focusing on labels as much as focusing on people and bringing their issues to the state house.”

Zambarano, a former Providence police officer and co-owner of A.E. Mazika Insurance Services, has centered his campaign around cutting wasteful government spending. He also supports removing “red tape” measures that he says harm small businesses, school choice and a transparent budgeting process.

“I believe [Anderson’s] biggest running point is climate change, which is important, but not the biggest focus right now especially when the state is failing economically,” Zambarano said. “We have a billion dollar deficit and I think we need support for our people, especially small businesses, which make up 44 percent of our businesses. The focus right now should be a more conservative look on spending, getting people back to work and so we can take care of ourselves.”

Both candidates support term limits for elected officials, although neither were sure what specifically that limit would be.

Both candidates were also unhappy that the General Assembly has not taken action regarding COVID-19 and economic relief. Zambarano explained that he felt by not meeting or using CARES Act funds, the General Assembly was failing at their civic duty. 

“I feel right now the leaders are failing us because they should be back working,” Zambarano said. “We’ve been four, five months now without them back. There’s no oversight whatsoever and our governor is running what’s basically a one-party system. The reason we have branches of government is to overlook certain decisions.”

Anderson said that the General Assembly needs to be more transparent with their budget process and should do more to address healthcare and workers during the pandemic. Although she has been critical of current General Assembly leadership, Anderson said that she’s been more focused on campaigning than endorsing possible future leaders.

“We are open to new leadership,” Anderson said. “But at this point in the campaign, we are so focused on the voters and the communities and their issues that I’m not thinking about that. But what I do see as positive is democracy. With Gayle Goldin challenging leadership is democracy, everyone should have a chance at that without fear of reprisal.” Senate District 30

Jeanine Calkin beat incumbent Mark McKenney in the Senate District 30 primary to regain the seat she lost to McKenney two years ago. She is unopposed in the General Election.

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