PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Several Democratic incumbents in the Rhode Island General Assembly have lost their seats after being defeated Tuesday by more left-leaning challengers, who sought to upend the state’s political leadership.
Among them were Sen. Juan Pichardo, of Providence, Sen. William Walaska and Rep. Eileen Naughton, both of Warwick, and Rep. Jan Malik of Warren.
Providence House Majority Leader John DeSimone, one of the most powerful members of the House, and Providence Rep. Thomas Palangio were also in tight races to hold onto their seats.
Walaska was defeated by Jeanine Calkin, who had been a Bernie Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention. Malik was defeated by Jason Knight, of Barrington. Warwick City Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson defeated Naughton. Pichardo lost to Ana Quezada.
Rhode Island voters trickled into the polls Tuesday to select candidates for Congress, the General Assembly and for municipal offices around the state.
“We have very light turnout,” said Robert Rapoza, acting director of the state Board of Elections.
Only about 16 percent of incumbents in the General Assembly had contested primaries Tuesday, but some faced their most competitive election in years.
Most of the Democratic primary challengers had more liberal views than the incumbents they sought to unseat. Some have said they were motivated to run after campaigning for Sanders, who beat Hillary Clinton by nearly 12 percentage points in the state’s April primary.
They were also hoping to tap into anti-incumbent sentiment after a series of scandals this year tarnished the Legislature’s Democratic leadership. Among the open seats Tuesday were two vacated by high-ranking Democrats, who were forced out by scandals.
In the north end of Providence, Democratic House Majority Leader John DeSimone sought to hold onto the seat he’s represented since 1993 against a challenge by teacher Marcia Ranglin-Vassell. Ranglin-Vassell positioned herself as a reformer and to the left of DeSimone on gun control, raising the minimum wage and other causes.
One voter, Lisa Antunes, 50, said she cast her ballot for DeSimone at the DaVinci Center in the city’s Charles neighborhood because she was familiar with his platform and didn’t know much about his opponent.
Another voter who picked Ranglin-Vassell said she is sick of an insider political culture in Rhode Island that lets legislators “just squat in their seats” for years.
“DeSimone’s been in there for a very long time and I don’t think he’s doing his job,” said Barbara Pothier, 64, who runs a nonprofit charity. “He feels like he owns that seat. He needs to go.”
Republicans had few competitive primaries Tuesday. An exception was in suburban Cranston, where GOP National Committeeman Steve Frias defeated an opponent for the chance to compete against Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello in November’s general election.
Both of Rhode Island’s congressmen, U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, handily defeated Democratic challengers. Cicilline will face Republican H. Russell Taub in November, and Langevin will face Republican Rhue Ries.
In North Providence, incumbent Mayor Charles Lombardi defeated challenger Kristen Catanzaro. He’ll face independent Brian Quirk.
In Woonsocket, incumbent Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and Roger Jalette are the top two vote getters and will appear on the November ballot.
Rapoza said the election went smoothly and the new voting machines worked well. The most noticeable difference for voters was that they had to fill in an oval rather than connecting an arrow on their paper ballots.
More than 400 polling places were open, after some groups complained that having only 144 open during the April presidential primary caused confusion and long waits.