The Kids Are All Right

Next week is the biggest political day in Rhody politics; the primary election. In a state long dominated by the Democratic party, primary elections become more significant than the ones in November. This year has seen established, incumbent Democrats face strong challenges from the progressive wing within their own party. Governor Gina Raimondo has unleashed a barrage of negative campaign ads and materials against challenger Matt Brown, suggesting that her re-elect might not be as safe as traditional wisdom assumes. Even lieutenant governor has a competitive primary, whereas in previous elections the biggest debate was about the usefulness of the office. LG Dan McKee has faced stiff competition from Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who has amassed an aggressive career of liberal legislation from his short time in the RI House of Representatives. All politics is local, and local politics is seeing this insurgent trend as well.

At 21, most college students are legally drinking for the first time, getting ready to graduate from college, or plotting out internships for their future careers. Kat Kerwin has a job, is finishing her degree online and running for city council in PVD Ward 12. Originally a progressive challenger to Councilman Terrence Hassett, in a shocking twist over the summer, Hassett failed to acquire enough signatures to qualify for the ballot on September 12. Kerwin has become council person in all but name.

“I’ve always been really politically active,” said Kerwin. She got her start as one of the youngest staffers for then-mayor Angel Tavares, and went away to college in 2015 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She describes her soon-to-be alma mater as “a really great place to learn how to be a progressive activist.” Kerwin campaigned against campus carry, and got a job at the Rhode Island Coalition against Gun Violence. “I saw the Community Safety Act get passed, and the domestic violence bill get passed at the state level,” says Kerwin. “I wanted to be somewhere where real change was happening.”

Fighting for her community is something Kerwin is passionate about. “For a long time, my ward is a place that hasn’t gotten a lot of support,” she said. She wants to provide her community with a strong voice that is receptive to community concerns. Even though she has no opponent in either election, she’s still engaging her voters and just starting to begin the work of city council.

Go a little further south to Rhode Island’s second city: Cranston. Historically their city council had a Democratic majority, but just a few years back, local Republicans flipped control of the council. John Donegan is running in Ward Three as a Democrat. Mayor Allan Fung has been mayor for almost a decade, and once again he’s the favored pick for the Republican nomination for the governor’s office. John has criticisms of how the party has run Cranston lately.

“My first thought about running was: If not now, then when?” says Donegan. He lives in the Stadium area of Cranston, in Ward Three. Cranston born and raised, he went out of state for college before returning home to Cranston and pursuing a master’s at Providence College. Now he works in insurance, and lives in a house he just bought with his fiancee.

Donegan wants to see more transparency and accountability in Cranston. “The sausage, so they say, is made in committees,” he says. “Working families often work one or two jobs in Cranston. It’s difficult to know what your representatives are doing if you’re not keeping them accountable.” Committee meetings are not filmed in Cranston, and by the time legislation comes out on the city council floor it’s essentially for a vote. Donegan has also opposed the Republican’s recent attempts to rent out Doric Park to an out-of-state soccer league for most of the year. He’s opposed the Cumberland Farms the city tried to zone in Edgewood near residential homes with children. Donegan is looking for responsible zoning, more support to local businesses and is even interested in starting a Cranston Restaurant Week.

Go back further north into PVD and you’ll find one of the most hotly contested local races in some years. A three-way race between incumbent Paul Jabour in Senate District 5 and challengers Nick Autiello and Sam Bell. Bell has long been a star in Rhody’s progressive politics. His family is from Providence, he went to Sarah Lawrence for college and got his Ph.D. at Brown. He works as a geologist, contributes to RI Future on occasion and even got a NRA PAC shut down after Newtown for potential violations of state campaign law.

“I’m not running on my age,” says Bell. “I’m running on issues.” He’s tired of what the legislature has done to our car and property taxes. Bell wants to repeal tax cuts that were bestowed upon the richest, so Rhody stops lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis. “It’s about where to invest our money,” he says. “Not where to cut.” Bell wants to invest back in our city and state roads, and fund more after school community programs and basic city services generally. He wants to eliminate lead in the water supply, and even talks about basic things like catching rats.

“We have to save a woman’s right to choose,” Bell said, long a critic of establishment democrats like Speaker Nick Mattiello who has blocked progressive agenda items such as codifying Roe v. Wade, a political move that grows more important as President Trump inches closer to appointing some humor-adjacent fart to the Supreme Court.

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