As Rhode Islanders go to the polls for a primary election next Tuesday, September 9 — mostly to settle the final match-ups for General Assembly elections in November — there are some key votes to be made for progressive legislators, both incumbents and newcomers.

These primaries take on added importance since they will decide, in most cases, the de facto winners of various House and Senate seats.

Yet with political attention focused on the presidential battle between Barack Obama and John McCain, the electoral action closer to home has not gotten a shred of the same attention.

In another sign of our desiccated political culture, too many General Assembly seats will go unchallenged. For some officeholders, this offers a not-so-subtle message that a complacent and disinterested public will do little — even when Rhode Island faces a serious budgetary crisis, underperforming schools, crumbling infrastructure, and other problems — to hold them accountable.

The perennially anemic Rhode Island Republican Party isn’t faring much better. In an election season when it should be avidly contesting a maximum number of seats on Smith Hill, the RI GOP has mustered a respectable percentage of candidates — but hardly enough. And while we don’t doubt the difficulty of convincing people to run for public office, Republican fumbling over ballot requirements illustrates how the local GOP can be its own worst enemy.

Under normal circumstances, legislative Democrats might see little reason to work cooperatively with Governor Donald L. Carcieri as he approaches the end of his two gubernatorial terms. Clearly, though, these aren’t normal times, and the elected leaders of state government must exhibit more leadership if the state is going to effectively move beyond the budget crises of recent years.

The heightened degree of executive-legislative cooperation in the last year is due mainly to the gravity of the problems facing Rhode Island. As the saying goes, there’s nothing like pain to focus one’s attention. Yet state officials need to do better in dealing with the tasks at hand while simultaneously looking to the future.

With this in mind, the Phoenix makes the following endorsements in selected legislative races.

In District 35, State Senator J. MICHAEL LENIHAN of North Kingstown has a justly deserved reputation as a civic-minded legislator who understands both the big picture and the small details of state government. His Democratic opponent, Steven Campo, a member of the North Kingstown Town Council, touts his business background. Yet considering the high ethical mark set by Lenihan — as evidenced by his plaudits from Operation Clean Government and Common Cause of Rhode Island — he remains both a useful model for other legislators and well-deserving of reelection.

Long before the foreclosure crisis exploded into public view, state Senator JUAN PICHARDO of District 2 had taken up the issue of predatory lending in Providence. Pichardo, who gained distinction as the first Dominican-American state senator in the US, exhibited poor judgment in trying to use his legislative status earlier this year to get into a closed Olneyville wiener joint. Yet he has generally done a good job in the General Assembly, and his experience makes him preferable to his Democratic challenger, Maryelyn Alba-Acevedo.

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  Topics: This Just In , Barack Obama, Juan Pichardo, RI GOP,  More more >
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