Even in the “Calamari comeback” state, it’s rare to find a state lawmaker whose day job is in the squid business.
Or at least it was before Exeter Democrat Megan Cotter’s down-to-the wire win in last month’s General Assembly elections.
“I sell squid and scallops and train sales teams across the country on mostly squid … what kind of squid it is, the country of origin, flavor profiles, texture, color, the shape and what makes this squid different from that squid,” she said in a phone interview last week. “My husband told me not to say it, but I’m a squid girl living in a squid world.”
Cotter is one of 18 new state lawmakers taking the oath of office next year – 20 if you count one in each chamber who are returning to the State House after a few years away.
The true freshmen are 16 Democrats and two Republicans, 11 representatives and seven senators. They are 10 men and eight women, meaning the new General Assembly will have 60 men and 53 women total in January.
In addition to seafood sales manager, the new lawmakers include a software engineer, a nurse practitioner, an auto parts manager, insurance salesman, two teachers, two employees of the Providence Water Supply Board and four lawyers.
The General Assembly’s first ever Asian American members will be sworn into the Senate – Victoria Gu of Charlestown and Linda Ujifusa of Portsmouth – both of whom happen to be Harvard grads.
Ujifusa is an attorney and will be one of at least 17 lawyers in the Assembly in January.
Gu is a software engineer with LunaYou, a maternal health app that helps mothers through pregnancy and three months post partum.
New House members will be at the State House for freshman orientation on Tuesday. Senators will get the tour on Dec. 13.
It about more than just calamari
Cotter’s campaign for House District 39 was closely watched this fall for entirely non-seafood reasons.
A progressive, Cotter challenged four-term incumbent Republican Rep. Justin Price in a conservative district that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
Price described himself as a “staunch conservative voice within the Rhode Island General Assembly” and was the only Rhode Island lawmaker to have attended the Jan. 6, 2021, Trump rally that preceded a riot at the capitol.
In the end Cotter beat Price by 32 votes, the narrowest margin of any state legislative race this year. She had challenged him two years ago and come up 321 votes short.
While the media was intrigued by the insurrection angle of the race, Cotter said voters rarely mentioned Jan. 6 at their doors and she didn’t bring it up.
“We just thought about whether we wanted to use it, and ultimately I decided I did not want to go that route,” she said. “I was more focused on what I could do as opposed to what Price had or had not done.”
For the 2020 campaign, Cotter was a member of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, but opted to run with help from the Working Families Party this year.
“I just wanted to be myself and run my old campaign and I didn’t wanna be tied to a certain platform or certain things other people might say that may impact me,” she said.
A 38-year-old mother of three, Cotter studied English at the University of Rhode Island and didn’t have a background in seafood until applying for her first sales job after seeing an online listing. She now works for Lund’s Seafood.
Coincidentally, Price was a commercial fisherman before going into carpentry, making woodsy District 39 a kind of fish district.
“If you look at the makeup of the folks in the house and the Senate, how many of them come from a seafood background or know much about the fisheries in Rhode Island? Not many,” Cotter said. “So it’s exciting to be able to give a different unique perspective into that aspect.”
Rhode Island fishermen landed more squid than any other species last year and it is the most valuable species if you combine shortfin and longfin varieties.
The cephalopods can change color to match their surroundings and each has three hearts. Fortunately, they do not appear to be negatively affected by warming ocean temperatures like some commercial marine species.
The state legislature has a limited role in fisheries policy — most regulation comes on a federal or regional level — with the exception of the state’s support for the offshore wind industry, which many fishermen see as a threat.
Similar potential environmental policy tensions exist between rapidly expanding solar energy and the desire to preserve open space on land.
Cotter supports the Act on Climate and transition to renewable energy, but thinks Rhode Island should limit the amount of undeveloped forest that can be clear cut for solar panels, as other neighboring states have.
On offshore wind she said she needs more detail to know whether the current plans for ocean windfarms provide sufficient passage for fishing vessels.
Representing Hopkinton, Exeter and Richmond, District 39 is one of the more rural districts in Rhode Island and Cotter, like “dirt road Democrats” across the country, thinks the party can be competitive there.
“I’m really looking forward to … being a rural bridge for Democrats at the House,” she said. “I also wish that more state level Democrats would show some love to this area because I think that’s one of the common themes at the door was that people feel ignored.”
He was uncontested, but Alex Finkelman didn’t campaign that way
Whether they were running for the first time this year or have been at the State House for decades, almost all General Assembly members at one point have faced voters in a contested primary or general election.
Alex Finkelman of Jamestown is an exception.
When Rep. Deborah Ruggiero decided to run for lieutenant governor instead of reelection to the House this year, Finkelman was the only candidate to get his name on the Democratic primary ballot and the only candidate on the November general.
So before the summer door-knocking had even begun, Finkelman was all but guaranteed a House seat.
Who is he?
Finkelman, 36, is president of The Egis Group, an insurance firm offering home, auto, property and casualty and health insurance for businesses and individuals.
“Even though I was unopposed, I felt it was very important to act like I had an opponent. So yes, I not only knocked on doors but also sent mailings and attended community events throughout the summer and fall,” Finkelman wrote Political Scene in an email.
“There are many important issues that need additional work. An area of my expertise that probably doesn’t get enough attention would be consumer protection laws as they relate to the insurance industry.”
They know how water works
Three of the new lawmakers starting in January work for municipal water departments.
Republican Anthony DeLuca II, who won former Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey’s old seat, works for the Warwick Water Department.
Sen.-elect David Tikoian, D-Smithfield, is deputy general manager of the Providence Water Supply Board and Anthony DeSimone, D-Providence, is a utility worker at the Water Supply Board.
DeSimone won the seat vacated by Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, who had ousted his father and former House Majority Leader John DeSimone in 2016.
DeSimone filed the financial disclosure form — due in July — with the state Ethics Commission on Friday afternoon after a Journal inquiry.
The other new lawmakers, starting with the Senate are:
- Robert Britto, D-East Providence, the East Providence City Council president and a design and construction specialist for Rhode Island Housing.
- Matthew LaMountain, D-Warwick, an attorney and Warwick city solicitor who worked as legislative legal council in 2021.
- Pam Lauria, D-Barrington, a nurse practitioner at Coastal Medical and trustee on the Coastal board.
Starting with the House are:
- Enrique Sanchez, D-Providence, a Providence Public School substitute teacher and coordinator with the Olneyville Neighborhood Association.
- Tina Spears, D-Charlestown, the executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade group for organizations that serve people with developmental disabilities.
- Brian Rea, R-Smithfield, facilities director at Beacon Charter High School in Woonsocket.
- Brandon Voas, D-Cumberland, recently got a new job as parts manager of Nucar Volkswagen in Norwood, Massachusetts. He is the cousin of new Senate Majority Leader Ryan Pearson.
- Cherie Cruz, D-Pawtucket, runs an early-childhood development program and a support network for people with a criminal conviction.
- Jennifer Stewart, D-Pawtucket, a humanities teacher at Moses Brown School in Providence.
- Matthew Dawson, D-East Providence, an attorney at Lynch & Pine.
- Jennifer Boylan, D-Barrington, director of operations at PacketLogix, an information technology company.