[Low] The southwestern region of Rhode Island has four state representatives and two senators, but there will be election contests in only half of the area’s General Assembly districts this fall. One of the senators, Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere, of Westerly, will again be unopposed in District 38. And in a repeat of 2016, two of the House members, Republican Rep. Blake A. Filippi, of Block Island, in District 36, and Democrat Samuel Azzinaro, of Westerly, in District 37, will also have no opponent. That leaves a Senate race between Republican incumbent Elaine Morgan, of Hopkinton, and Democrat Jennifer C. Douglas, of Charlestown, in District 34, and two House countests: a rematch between Democratic Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, of Westerly, and independent Michael James Geary, of Hopkinton, in District 38; and a challenge to Rep. Justin K. Price, R-Richmond, from Democrat William Degnan, also of Richmond, in District 39 (another candidate, Democrat Colin E. Lescroart, collected only 46 signatures). With the exception of Geary, all of the candidates were party-endorsed.
We’re looking forward to the campaigns, but it’s a sad state of affairs that challengers did not emerge in the districts represented by Algiere, Azzinaro, and Filippi. Yes, there were only 217 votes against Algiere in Westerly and Charlestown in the last general election, but it is a disservice on the part of the Democrats not to put somebody on the ballot. Healthy democracy depends on competition, and voters need to question and hear the candidates’ ideas in the context of an actual campaign. Important issues arise in every election cycle. Ask yourself what sort of countries stage elections in which the representative of the ruling party gets 97.5 percent of the vote, as Azzinaro did two years ago. All three are fine legislators, but it’s been a while since they’ve been tested.
[Low] The fate of the financially struggling Ashaway Ambulance Association could rest with the Hopkinton Town Council tonight, when it is due to consider releasing $60,000 of town grants that were budgeted to the association but withheld pending the resolution of management problems. The association has moved to comply with the council’s demands, and the final two items — a business plan and a nepotism policy — are on the agenda. The release of the money could assure continued operations, but broader goals of improved public safety were dealt a setback last week when members of the Ashaway Fire District, voting 13-12, defeated a resolution that would have given the ambulance service $50,000 to hire personnel for evening and nighttime duty.
The vote was a shock to the fire commissioners, especially since firefighters and ambulance personnel, had they shown up, could easily have outvoted the taxpayers. Hopkinton Fire Chief Ronnie Sposato declared that the opponents of the proposal were jeopardizing their own safety. But the fire district has a yearly operating budget of less than $500,000, and voters said they were worried that the $50,000 contribution would become a yearly occurrence. The need for additional coverage, however, appears to be a genuine concern: Ashaway, with its proximity to I-95, receives frequent dispatch calls, and its ambulances are often in the best position to respond to emergencies in the area. Its base is about 8 miles away from the Hope Valley Ambulance Squad, and in an emergency every minute counts. In the first six months of the year, the service recorded 262 responses; June, with 56 responses, was one of the busier months. Those numbers would certainly increase if the association could expand its roster.
[High] There’s big money in electronic tolling. How much became apparent last week with the release of data from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation on the first month of the state’s tractor-trailer tolling program.The results beat the department’s estimates: 188,815 tolled vehicles, 11,000 more than expected, and billings amounting to $626,000: This from only the first two gantries, in Hopkinton and Exeter on I-95. The DOT said it released the figures “to maintain transparency about the program and to demonstrate the stability of the system.” Perhaps most surprising was the lack of cheating. Local towns were apprehensive, fearing that many of the heavy trucks would divert to Route 3, but the DOT estimated the number at only four per day. So far so good. Why should the long haul trucking industry, which pays tolls in other Northeastern and New England states, feel entitled to an exemption in Rhode Island?