By Jennifer McDermott
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Democrats have extended their dominance over the state House of Representatives, gaining two more seats for the start of the legislative session in January.
The number of Republicans in the 75-member House is expected to drop from 11 to nine, provided mail ballot results don’t change any of Tuesday’s election results.
Republican Rep. Blake Filippi, R-Block Island, who was unopposed, said the “national temperature was against Republicans.”
“We are a Democratic state and I think affected us,” he said Wednesday. “Many times, people connect state Republicans to the national party. But when you look at the demeanor and policies Republicans promote here, we’re disconnected. We’re more like the John Chafee Republicans than the Donald Trump Republicans, but we were up against those headwinds.”
Chafee was a popular Rhode Island governor and U.S. senator who took a moderate stance on many issues. Filippi said House Republicans will continue advocating for their positions on how to fix the state, “clearly and loudly.”
Rep. Cale Keable of Burrillville was the only Democratic incumbent in the General Assembly who lost Tuesday. Keable was recently removed from his post as chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, after a months-old email surfaced in which another lawmaker accused him of sexual harassment. Keable’s lawyer has denied that he ever harassed the other lawmaker, Rep. Katherine Kazarian, D-Providence.
Brandon Bell, chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party, ran for a House seat but lost to Democrat Alex Marszalkowski of Cumberland.
Bell told WPRO-AM he feels beaten and sad and likely won’t run for chairman again in March. He said the state party’s message about good government and economic opportunity often gets drowned out by national issues, particularly since the 2016 election. He said he was told by voters that they just couldn’t vote Republican this year.
Democrats beat Republican incumbents Antonio Giarrusso, of East Greenwich, who was elected to the House in 2012; Robert Lancia, of Cranston, who was elected in 2014; and Kenneth Mendonça, of Portsmouth, who was elected in 2016. A Democrat, James B. Jackson, also won the seat that was held by retiring House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan.
A Republican, David J. Place, gained the seat that was held by Keable. Another Republican, John W. Lyle, won the seat held by Democrat Rep. Jeremiah “Jay” O’Grady; O’Grady, who suffered a stroke in 2017, did not seek re-election in a district that includes parts of Lincoln and Pawtucket.
Keable was first elected to represent a district in Burrillville and Glocester in 2010.
In the state Senate, Democrats were expected to hold 33 of 38 seats in January. That’s the same as the start of this year’s legislative session. Republicans currently hold four Senate seats. Former Republican Sen. Nicholas Kettle, of Coventry, was charged with extorting sex from a page in February and resigned. Kettle has denied all charges. A Republican, Gordon E. Rogers, won that seat Tuesday.
Democrats also won all statewide and congressional offices. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and Reps. James Langevin and David Cicilline were re-elected. Democratic Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Treasurer Seth Magaziner also earned a second term. Democrat Peter Neronha, a former U.S. attorney, was elected Rhode Island attorney general, succeeding the term-limited Democratic incumbent.
Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was re-elected by 310 votes in a rematch with Republican Steven Frias in Cranston.
Emily Samsel, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Democratic Party, said the Democratic sweep “sends a message to Washington that Donald Trump does not speak for us.”
Republican Allan Fung, who lost to Raimondo, said in his concession speech that it’s not easy “to take on a machine.”