Four of the 12 Republican state reps in the House of Representatives are not seeking re-election, raising further questions about the GOP's ability to increase its Smith Hill representation.
Rep. Doreen Costa (R-North Kingstown) became the latest to join the exodus Tuesday, with the revelation that she will instead seek election to the North Kingstown Town Council. Republican Michael Marfeo hopes to keep the seat being yielded by Costa in GOP control. Costa said she's following through on a pledge to serve only three terms in the House.
Yet the exit of Costa, Minority Whip Joe Trillo (R-Warwick), Rep. Daniel Reilly (R-Portsmouth) and Rep. Karen MacBeth of Cumberland, a relatively recent GOP convert, won't help efforts to build the state's perennial minority party after a lot of tough rhetoric about the early-session RhodeWorks vote.
As it stands, Republicans hold just 12 of 75 House seats, six of 38 state Senate seats, and the party has struggled to increase its legislative representation, despite seemingly fertile opportunities in a series of election cycles.
Trillo, the longest serving member of the House GOP caucus, stunned observers on the final day of the legislative session by announcing he was walking away after more than 15 years as a lawmaker. He left in the face of a potentially tough challenge by Democrat Evan Shanley, although GOP state chairman Brandon Bell said Trillo felt as if it was time for him to leave the General Assembly. (Republican Stacia Huyler is running against Shanley.)
Reilly is a smart, articulate potential rising star who still has a future in Rhode Island politics, should he choose to pursue it. He cited a new legal job and his forthcoming marriage in deciding not to seek re-election, and Reilly also faced a presidential year challenge from former Democratic Rep. Linda Finn, with whom he has traded seats in recent election cycles.
MacBeth talked a big game about running for Congress, opposing David Cicilline, after sometimes challenging leadership while chairing the House Oversight Committee and keeping attention focused on the state's misadventure with 38 Studios. In the end, though, MacBeth, newly married, decided her time was better spent with her family.
The four departures will leave a minimum of eight Republicans (independent Rep. Blake Filippi of New Shoreham caucuses with the Republicans).
While the final tally of GOP candidates will become clear after the 4 pm Wednesday deadline, Republicans have staked part of their hopes on Steven Frias' challenge to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. (Frias and fellow Republican Shawna Lawton are set to square off in a primary contest, raising concern about intra-party wasting of resources.)
"The best thing that could happen on Smith Hill would be a change from Mattiello's brand of strongman authoritarianism to a representative democracy," state GOP Chairman Bell recently told RIPR. "In the Mattiello regime, power is concentrated in the hands of a dictatorial leader who routinely quashes all opposition, while legitimizing his rule by permitting reform only after scandalous activities by his hand-picked leadership team."
That's a reference to former House Finance chairman Ray Gallison, who stepped down earlier this year amid an ongoing probe, and Rep. John Carnevale, who faces questions about whether he lives in his legislative district.
Mattiello's campaign spokeswoman, Patti Doyle, said current reviews by State Police and the Providence Board of Canvassers are the appropriate venues for vetting the residency issue. The speaker has contended he acted quickly in removing Gallison from House Finance.