The two candidates met Monday night at a forum in East Greenwich. And the tension between establishment Democrats and progressive upstarts was on display.
The ribbon of the district encompasses much of East Greenwich, along with parts of North Kingstown and Narragansett.
Bridget Valverde, the newcomer progressive, is facing Greg Acciardo, who served as a state Senator in Johnston in the 1980s. The candidates squared off in a primary forum hosted by East Greenwich News, and moderated by Rhode Island Public Radio’s Chuck Hinman.
The candidates agreed on most issues. Both support wage equity and truck tolls. But Acciardo, a former State Senator in Johnston, said he’s the one who can win a general election in November.
"You have someone with experience, versus someone with no experience. You have someone who stands for a progressive agenda, I do not," Acciardo of East Greenwich said. "I embrace some of the theories put forth but not all of the theories."
Their race was thrust into the spotlight after Acciardo received the State Democratic Party endorsement, despite a criminal record. The endorsement was later rescinded.
East Greenwich residents are not new to political controversy. Residents packed town council meetings for weeks in angry demonstration after the appointment of a controversial new town manager last year.
Valverde of North Kingstown said she is hoping to win on a platform of wage equity and wants to codify abortion rights in state law.
"Women’s reproductive rights are under attack across the country," Valverde. "And in Rhode Island we do not have in our state law those protections. And so, I’ve spent a lot of time up at the Statehouse rallying and testifying to have the reproductive health care act passed."
Acciardo did not weigh in on abortion rights. He painted himself as a pragmatist with the experience to get things done at the Statehouse.
They also clashed on the future of the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship, which provides two years of free tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island. Valverde said the program should expand to the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College.
"So far the program is working and I would support expanding it so more people can graduate and get a good education," she said.
Acciardo disagreed, saying the money should go elsewhere. "At CCRI the program is in trouble. I think that money should be taken and we should invest that money in our K-12," Acciardo said.
The two also disagreed on affordable housing. Valverde suggested a state wide trust fund to help develop affordable units. Acciardo said better paying jobs would get more people into the housing market.
The Primary winner will face Dana Gee, a Republican running in place of her husband, incumbent state senator Mark Gee who is not seeking reelection.