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Rhode Island could see its most diverse field ever in a congressional race

On Rhode Island Report podcast, Brown University Professor Wendy Schiller said a woman of color could make an argument that she’d be the strongest representative of the state’s growing diversity

Brown University political science Professor Wendy J. Schiller speaks during the Rhode Island Report podcast.Carlos Muñoz

PROVIDENCE — The First Congressional District special election could produce the most diverse field to ever run for federal office in Rhode Island, Brown University political science Professor Wendy J. Schiller said on the Rhode Island Report podcast.

Schiller joined Jim Hummel, host of “A Lively Experiment” on Rhode Island PBS, in analyzing the rapidly growing field of candidates seeking the seat that US Representative David N. Cicilline will vacate on June 1 to become president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Seven of the eight announced candidates are Black or Latino, and a long list of others are giving the race serious consideration.


Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, a former Providence City Council president who was born in the Dominican Republic, is the front-runner at this point in the race, Schiller said. Other potential candidates, such as former state Representative J. Aaron Regunberg, a Providence Democrat, and renewable energy investor Don Carlson, a Jamestown Democrat, might soon enter the race.

But, Schiller said, “I think there’s a sort of a hunger in Rhode Island, among women in particular, for a woman to represent the state, given the sort of national mobilization of women across the country in the last 18 months, particularly after the Dobbs decision on abortion. That is still a very prominent issue and women are still feeling under siege.”

She noted a woman has not represented Rhode Island in Congress since Republican Claudine Schneider served in the Second Congressional District from 1981 to 1991.

“I think there’s also a dynamic where a woman of color can make an argument that she will be the strongest representative for the diversity of the state of Rhode Island,” Schiller said, noting the growing diversity of the state population. “When you say, ‘I’m a woman of color, I can represent everybody and I am descriptively important for people who don’t feel like they’re represented right now in our all-white male delegation,’ that’s a very key thing.”


Also, the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives is “quite diverse” now, she noted.

Hummel talked about how Arlene Violet, the former nun who made history in 1985 when she became the first female attorney general in Rhode Island and the nation, announced on “A Lively Experiment” that she is considering a run for the First Congressional District seat.

Violet ran for attorney general in the 1980s as a Republican, Hummel noted. But, he said, “The Republican Party that she knows has left her” and she has said would run as an independent.

“I think if you hear her positions, she leans more to the Democrats,” Hummel said. “It’s an intriguing setup because if she does run as an independent, it automatically puts her on the ballot no matter who clears the primary.”

To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.