SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The three candidates for District 34, which covers Wakefield, Peace Dale and parts of Narragansett are all Democrats – meaning the winner of the Sept. 13 primary will presumably be elected state representative.
Incumbent Teresa Tanzi, South Kingstown Town Councilor Rachel Clough and political newcomer Ewa Dzwierzynski will all vie for the seat in the upcoming primary, each having a distinctly separate platform.
When each candidate was asked about her achievements in the public and while in elected office, Tanzi said 2016 was a “banner year” for her.
“I am proudest of the four awards I received that represent the broad array of issues I work on and the $10 million bike path bond money that will appear on the November ballot,” said Tanzi.
Tanzi was named the Environmental Champion of the year by Clean Water Action for her work phasing out cesspools in the state. The state’s National Organization for Women chapter honored her for her legislative voice regarding women and families. For her legislation aiming to keep guns from those convicted of domestic violence, she was honored by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence. This year, she was also honored by the Southern Rhode Island Fireman’s League for defending volunteer fire districts against General Assembly bills that she believed would place burden on them.
Clough, a one-term town council member, business owner, military mother and non-profit founder, said her proudest achievements occurred on and off the town council bench.
“I have volunteered throughout our community in numerous ways, volunteering in our schools, bringing a dance program to Head Start classrooms and hosting events for our veterans,” she said. “Busy Buddies Foundation, a non-profit I established three years ago, sponsors children for activities, keeping them engaged in the community and giving them means to pursue their talents.”
On the town council, Clough is most proud of being constantly accessible and approachable as well as working for veterans even within her short tenure.
“I identified that our veteran tax exemption was below the state average and implemented a schedule for increased exemptions to bring it up to state average or better,” recalled Clough. “I am proud that I have listened and worked to resolve the issues brought to me. I have worked hard to represent the best interest of our community at all times.”
Despite her lack of formal political service, Dzwierzynski, a pharmacist herself, has already successfully championed legislation that expanded collaboration between physicians and pharmacists. Dzwierzynski says the bill, signed into law this year, has the potential to improve the health of patients and reduce healthcare costs throughout the state.
“I’m also very proud to serve my church community,” said Dzwierzynski. “I’m very active at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Narragansett, where I serve as a lector, Eucharistic minister and choir member. I used to have a great fear of speaking in public. My husband encouraged me to volunteer to read at church a few years ago, and this has helped me overcome my fears. Now I enjoy speaking in front of large groups.”
When each candidate was asked about her aspirations in the town, each highlighted public health.
“Among my top issues, I care deeply about championing the triple aim of healthcare: improving healthcare quality, making it more accessible to more Rhode Islanders and controlling rising healthcare costs,” said Dzwierzynski. “This is so tremendously important as health and human services will likely account for nearly 42 percent of the state’s nearly $9 billion budget next year.”
Dzwierzynski also accentuated the importance of infrastructure improvements and improving the “unfavorable” business climate and reputation.
Clough, while mentioning the need for better mental healthcare services and outreach across the board – including, but not limited to, veterans – said she would use her position as state representative to preserve the “integrity and uniqueness” of the district.
“Having served on the town council, I understand the intricacies of town government and what it takes to respond to the community’s needs,” she said. “As a lifelong resident, I appreciate the history, the beauty, the traditions and the opportunities that the area affords its residents. I believe that my first responsibility as a local representative is to address the needs of the people living and working in my community.”
Tanzi said that if re-elected, she will continue her work taking on “big tobacco” and the “powerful gun lobby” by championing bills that aim to prevent youth from smoking and keeping firearms out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers, among other things.
“I am committed to finishing the final mile to the beach for our bike path,” she said. “The $10 million bond to complete and connect bike paths is on the November ballot this year as a direct result of my work, and it is critical to seeing this project through to completion. I promised the town when they approved a path that I would not rest until this project is funded, and I will keep up the fight.”
Tanzi is also in the late stages of a program that will turn URI student IDs into bus passes as part of the fees students already pay for transportation as well as 12 new inbound and outbound RIPTA trips daily during the school year.
“This generation of students is more interested in using transit, and by working with URI, I have found ample opportunity to fund this program with minimal investment from the university,” said Tanzi.
On crucial state issues such as ethics, the economy, public health and infrastructure, each candidate had different priorities.
“I’d like to see that we create a study commission to engage small businesses on how to improve and enhance the small business environment in our state,” said Clough. “I’d like to make it easier for businesses by consolidating forms and limiting fees.”
Clough also said she would like to see before-school fitness programs offered throughout the state and much better care for the state’s veterans.
“In some studies, Rhode Island is ranked dead last for benefits for military retirees and among the lowest five veteran supportive states,” said Clough. “Rhode Island has been one of only five states that still fully tax the retirement benefits of veterans. I would like to create more patriotic awareness opportunities within our communities and schools. Let’s get back to teaching civic responsibility and overall respect for our great country. I personally have and will continue to honor those who have died for this country though Memorial Day breakfasts, runs with Wear Blue Run to Remember as well as engaging our youth in volunteer opportunities for our fallen heroes.”
Dzwierzynski mentioned the lack of ethics oversight and accountability as a serious issue facing the state.
“Elected officials should not be able to hide behind immunity,” she said. “The legislative grant program should be overhauled so there is accountability. The grant program should align with strategic state goals and should be transparent.”
The primaries take place Sept. 13. The winner of the District 34 primary will go on unopposed in the general election.