The recent special election in Rhode Island House District 68, which pitted incumbent, longtime institutionalist-Democrat-turned-independent Kenneth Marshall against progressive Democrat June Speakman, Libertarien William Hunt and independent James McCanna III, produced a result that should offer keen insight into current Rhode Island voter impulses.
The results, which saw Dr. Speakman cruise to victory with 862 votes, trailed by an impressive showing by Libertarian Mr. Hunt (615 votes), revealed an affinity by voters towards non-traditional candidates, presenting themselves as outsiders seeking to reign in broken governmental procedures and attack many of the ills facing the state, and world at large.
Though HD-68 has a recent history of supporting independent candidates in statewide and GA races more so than most Rhode Island regions (see: Robert Healy 2014), Speakman’s victory, along with Hunt’s strong performance, offer indications that Rhode Island may be on the verge of further political change.
Rhode Islanders are vastly independent when it comes to political party affiliation. They generally lean somewhat left on social issues, and for decades have elected mainstream Democrats to nearly all key positions of influence. The state has been politically moderate for the most part.
However, in 2018, several major shifts began to shape up within the Rhode Island electorate. Most significantly experienced in General Assembly elections, several progressive Democrats were voted into Smith Hill. This included progressive mainstay Sam Bell, who was elected to the RI Senate.
Along with some mainstream Democrats, many progressive Representatives established The Reform Caucus within the House, which has already produced significant pressure upon Speaker Nick Mattiello and his fellow mainstream Democrats.
If last week’s House Judicial Committee and floor votes which took steps to codify Roe v. Wade in Rhode Island were a real-time indicator of the type of results that electing outside candidates can achieve.
For the right’s part, The Republican Party’s elevation of the somewhat libertarian, somewhat socially moderate Blake Filippi indicates an understanding that in order to be successful in Rhode Island, Republicans must position themselves as both an opposition faction and a unit that is willing to compromise with mainstream and progressive Democrats on some issues.
Rhode Islanders have largely soured on politics as usual, and the HD-68 special election proves that voters are getting sharper at understanding their choices, who represents an alternative voice, and how their decision on who to cast a ballot for can ripple into policy change in short time.
RHODE ISLAND: SHIFTING VOTING HABITS?
In the above 4 way ideological analysis axium, a red ‘X” has been drawn where the bulk of voters landed during the HD-68 special election this month, and leaves several key questions to examine going forward:
Does this represent a shift away from moderate, and into a commitment for progressive and libertarian-oriented candidates?
Was 2018 the beginning of a new era of political identity in Rhode Island?
What impact will The Reform Caucus make in the next year and half, and how will that affect future elections for progressive and libertarian-oriented candidates?
Bill Bartholomew is a musician and broadcaster based in Providence, RI. Hear him LIVE on 990wbob.com every Tuesday night at 6pm.
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