Primary Day, Sept. 13, 2016, will forever go down in Rhode Island history as “Progressive Tuesday,” due to the overwhelming and unexpected crushing of the General Assembly incumbents by upstart progressive candidates. Of the eighteen incumbents looking to return to the state house, six were knocked off, including the House Majority Leader John Desimone. Four of the incumbents lost to opponents endorsed by Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, indicating that the progressive wing of the Rhode Island Democratic Party may be gaining steam after the victory of Bernie Sanders in the RI Presidential Primary earlier this year.
The resumes of those who were defeated on Tuesday show that they were the entrenched of the entrenched. John DeSimone and Eileen Naughton had been in office since 1992, Jan Malik had been in since 1996, and Juan Pichardo had held his office for 22 years. This could possibly indicate that the voters were fed up with anyone who was a long-time officeholder. Yet when Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal asked on twitter “Why are so many incumbents in trouble at the ballot box?” The first response from John Loughlin of WPRO was simply “tolls.” Further responses to the question also included low turnout, which by the Rhode Island Board of Elections estimate was around eight or nine percent. Others said that the voters were fed up with status quo leadership in Rhode Island as they were at the national level in an election that has seen Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders vaulted to prominence.
Whatever the reason, this shakeup of the political scene in Rhode Island has left one of the state’s most important political offices open. The majority leader of the House of Representatives is arguably the second most powerful government official in Rhode Island after the Speaker. The former majority leader lost his reelection, meaning that the posturing has begun to see who will fill the important post. DeSimone, who lost by 17 votes, in one of five candidates who requested a recount, but his loss was confirmed soon afterward.
According to an article written by Ian Donnis of Rhode Island NPR, the prospective candidates to replace Desimone could include Representatives Chris Blazejewski, Cale Keable, Joseph Shekarchi, Stephen Ucci, and Ken Marshall. However, the next in line to fill the seat of the majority leader is the majority whip, Representative John Edwards. How that battle will play out is unknown at this point, but the pundits believe that the strongest candidate is Joseph Shekarchi. Overall, it is clear that the primary indicates that this will be a very important general election in Rhode Island.