An array of incumbents and challengers are vying for the opportunity to represent Westerly and some of the surrounding towns in Providence.
Unlike many other places in the state, where incumbents will run unopposed, the race for House District 38 (Westerly and Hopkinton) is set for a primary between incumbent Democrat candidate Brian Patrick Kennedy and political newcomer Miguel J. Torres to determine who will run against Republican candidate Donald Kohlman II.
In House District 37 (Westerly), incumbent Democrat Sam Azzinaro will face Tim McLaughlin Jr., an independent candidate; and in Senate District 37 (Westerly, Charlestown and South Kingstown) incumbent Republican Dennis Algiere is being challenged by Julius B. Dunn, an independent.
The campaigns, like nearly everything else, are likely to look quite a bit different because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It will be an unusual election campaign season, as we all work through the COVID-19 issues," Kennedy said in response to emailed questions.
Kennedy served consecutively from January 1989 until January 2003 in the District 16 seat and following redistricting has represented District 38 since 2003. If reelected, he said, he would continue working on some of the issues that were sidelined due to the COVID-19 shutdown such as the skyrocketing cost of insulin for diabetes patients.
"One proposal that I'm promoting is to address the cost of insulin by setting a monthly cap on the cost that patients must pay," he said. "This is the second year I've introduced the proposal, and this year the American Diabetes Association has been working with me to fashion a plan that would work for our state."
Kennedy is being challenged by Democrat Miguel J. Torres, who is running as part of the RI Political Cooperative. The cooperative is comprised of 25 candidates who are running in communities throughout the state on a platform of a $15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, quality public education, immigrant rights and getting money out of politics. The primary is scheduled for Sept. 8.
Torres, on the RI Political Cooperative website and on Twitter, is described as the son of a Mexican immigrant. Torres is a student of communication studies at the University of Rhode Island. He is, according to the website, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement, a group of young people fighting to stop climate change.
"I’m running for office because I want to make real change for Rhode Island. I grew up learning to love the natural beauty of our state's coasts, of its wildlife, and the loving communities of people that live here. I believe that as a young person, it is my moral obligation to preserve the natural beauty of our state and secure a livable future for generations to come after me," Torres said on the RI Political Cooperative website.
Republican Donald J. Kohlman II is looking to take on the winner of the House District 38 Democrat primary. A newcomer to elective politics, Kohlman is a marine mechanic and instructor at MotoRing Technical Training Institute.
A resident of Hopkinton, Kohlman said he would work for improved regulations on solar power, if elected. The use of wooded and former agricultural land for solar power arrays has been front and center in the town for months.
"I'm not an opponent of solar but they're not going about it well," he said. "We're supposed to be a rural community but now people buy property and all of a sudden you have to drive by huge solar fields."
A self-described "honest, stand-up, no-nonsense guy," Kohlman said he planned to campaign by knocking on as many doors as possible, seeking support and talking to people about their needs and views. "I won't be voting in my own interest" in Providence, Kohlman said.
Azzinaro has represented House District 37 since 2009. A veteran who served in the U.S. National Guard and Army Reserves, Azzinaro is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and a member of both the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare and the House Committee on Rules. A former member of the Westerly Town Council, Azzinaro worked in construction and for the former Bradford Dyeing Association.
McLaughlin, who graduated from Westerly High School in 2017, is a student at Bryant University majoring in politics and law. On his campaign website he said he would, if elected, pursue the expansion of education centers and trade schools to include more technical training. He also calls for a focus on the environment, particularly through regulating single-use plastic items.
Algiere served consecutively from January 1993 until January 2003 in District 26 and following redistricting has represented District 38 in the state Senate since January 2003. A graduate of Providence College, he also has a law degree and works as executive vice president, chief compliance officer and director of community affairs at Washington Trust.
"I enjoy representing the people of my district — Westerly, Charlestown and South Kingstown. There's great satisfaction in helping people," Algiere said.
In recent months, Algiere said, he has helped constituents with healthcare and unemployment issues. "I will help in any way I can," he said.
Westerly Town Manager J, Mark Rooney, who has worked in state and municipal government for decades, recently remarked that Algiere is the most responsive state politician he has ever encountered.
Dunn, who is running against Algiere, is new to elective politics. He said an online comment made by a member of the Westerly Town Council prompted him make his first foray into politics. The comment referred to several local Black Lives Matter protests conducted recently in the downtown area and challenged the protesters to get involved in politics as a means to effect change.
"I read that comment that said if you feel that strongly then put your money where your mouth is," Dunn said.
Dunn, who has participated in the protests, praised Algiere saying the long-time senator has helped the region he serves and shown a willingness to consider socially liberal positions. "He has done a lot for our town and community but I think as a member of the younger generation I'm more in touch with many of these issues," Dunn said.
As a person of color and mixed race, Dunn said he would work, if elected, to provide more opportunity to minorities and look for ways to racially diversify the staff of local schools. He pointed to affordable housing and a more liveable minimum wage as other priorities.
Above else, Dunn encouraged residents of the region to exercise their rights.
"Even if it is not a vote for me, use the privilege of voting. A vote not used is wasted," Dunn said.