Politics & Elections

Megan Cotter came within a snowball’s throw of taking Justin Price’s House seat…

“…a lot of people in the party didn’t think I had a winnable race. I think a lot of people have written off my district as a red district, [thinking] a Democrat can’t win here, but obviously that’s not true, right? I mean, I came within a snowball’s throw of winning the election. What it really comes down to is talking to people and listening to them.”
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Published on January 16, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

“Right after the [2020] election there was the budget vote [and] Representative Price refused to put on a mask,” said Megan Cotter, who lost her bid to replace Price in his seat in that election. “District 39 didn’t have a vote… He did not vote. He decided that he would rather leave than put on a mask and do his job.”

Rhode Island Representative Justin Price (Republican, District 39, Richmond, Exeter and Hopkinton) was in the news recently after he made a series of inaccurate and unfortunate claims about the events in Washington DC on January 6. On that day and in the days following, people around the world were shocked to see thousands of pro-Trump insurrectionists invade the Capitol building during a joint-session of Congress, with the intent of overturning the results of the 2020 Presidential election.

Admitting he was part of the pro-Trump march down Pennsylvania Avenue, Representative Price denied that he entered the Capitol Building or broke any laws. But in a series of tweets, now removed but shown at the end of this piece, Price claimed that Antifa and Black Lives Matter members infiltrated the Trump protest and that these groups were responsible for the violence.

To be clear, this is not true. If anything, the arrests made and the evidence collected since the attempted insurrection indicates that many who invaded the Capitol that day had deadly designs on members of Congress and Vice President Pence. There is no evidence to suggest Representative Price’s assertions. His statements are not only untrue, they are preposterous and dangerous.

In the wake of Representative Price’s admission to being at the protest (in an interview with The Public Radio‘s Ian Donnis) and his subsequent tweets, newly elected Representative Brandon Potter (Democrat, District 16, Cranston) and Rhode Island’s General Treasurer Seth Magaziner called for Representative Price’s removal from office. Since then, dozens of elected officials have called for Representative Price to step down o be removed from office.

Megan Cotter, who ran as a Democrat against Representative Price in the 2020 District 39 election, maintains that much of this could have been avoided had the Rhode Island Democratic Party supported her campaign. We spoke via Zoom.

UpriseRI asked Cotter what she learned about the issues voters in her district were concerned about as she went door-to-door during her campaign.

“A lot of people in this area of the state feel forgotten, left out,” said Cotter. “A lot of people just don’t care about politics at this point in the game. Exeter, West Greenwich and Chariho are all combining school districts with different towns and we continue to lose funding year after year after year for our schools. We don’t get a lot with our taxes. We don’t have garbage removal. We don’t have a lot of things that folks in the city have…

“That was something that we talked a lot about at the doors, fighting for more funding for our schools,” said Cotter.

The other thing Cotter heard a lot about from voters was about the issue of clear cutting trees for solar farms.

“I have three kids. I want them to have a world when they grow up. And if we don’t start taking care of our environment, there’s not going to be much left,” said Cotter. “We need to transition to renewable energy, but we need to do it in a way that is smart. And here, we’re doing a lot of clear cutting. We have a lot of land here, and there’s been massive amounts of clear cutting. We’re talking 40 acres at a time for solar fields. We really need to start talking about conserving our forestry. That was an issue that we talked about a lot at the doors that really resonated with people. We all have well water, there’s flooding issues, there’s so many different issues that go along with clearcutting.

“Is the water quality maintained there?” asked UpriseRI. “Is the water still good in the wells there?”

“When you talk to someone whose property abuts a huge solar farm, there’s a lot of problems,” said Cotter. “The forest, as it rains, filters the water. I know people who’ve had to replace pumps two and three times after the solar farms have been built because there’s no filtration anymore and a lot of sediments going into the pumps. We’re talking $900 for a new pump and it’s an unnecessary cost that a lot of families – If you can afford it, that’s great, but who wants to throw $900 out the window just because there’s a solar farm there now?”

“These are interesting issues, but I’ve never heard Representative Price bring these things up while he’s been there,” said UpriseRI.

“And you won’t because he doesn’t,” said Cotter. “I don’t feel like he’s listening and we’re at this pivotal moment in time right now where we need to come together in unity.If you look at this election and you look at our district, it was really split. I think Biden won Richmond by three votes.” (Note: It was actually 3 votes.)

“During your campaign, you were doing a lot of work – going door to door as much as possible with COVID, sending out mailers, that kind of thing. You had some trouble though,” said UpriseRI. “You were endorsed by several local Democratic institutions, but you were not endorsed and you were not helped by the statewide Democratic Party. Can you talk about that a little bit?”

“There’s a greater conversation within the party that that I think is happening,” said Cotter, prefacing her story. “I was endorsed by the Richmond Democrats, the Exeter Democrats and I was also endorsed by my district committee, which consists of five older folks who I interviewed with. They helped me along through my campaign, just amazing gentlemen.

“Once you get endorsed by your district committee, typically you go to the party and they give you the party VAN, which is extremely important when running a campaign. VAN gives you you everything you need to know. You create lists, you can look up any voter, whether they’re Democrat, independent, Republican, how often they’ve voted and you create your door knocking lists based on whatever you’re focused on that day. Maybe you’re focused on independent voters. I did a lot of independent voter door knocks.”

The Rhode Island State Democratic Party for some reason declined to endorse Megan Cotter against Representative Justin Price. Unendorsed Democrats are charged $1600 for VAN access, and money makes a big difference in hotly contested races.

“There were no other Democratic candidates in my race,” said Cotter, noting that access to VAN “would have been the bare minimum of help for someone running against someone [like Representative Price] who’s so right wing and not a Democrat.”

What the Democratic Party did instead was to send Cotter a rejection letter. The rejection letter stated that Cotter was not the endorsed candidate, not withstanding her local endorsements.

Despite these travails, Cotter is “feeling optimistic for the future because I think that with new leadership in place we’re going to see a very different Democratic Party moving forward.”

“I’ve already spoken to the new Speaker [Representative Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick)] and he’s told me that if I want access to party VAN, he will make sure that I get that,” said Cotter. “We are Democrats, right?”

“That’s what I hear from Democrats,” said UpriseRI, “that this is a big tent. But when push comes to shove, if you look a little too lefty, they don’t want you in… And that seems to be self-defeating, because in this case, as you point out, had you been able to get a few extra votes, this whole issue about Justin Price being in Washington, DC would be a nonstarter. He’d be a private citizen in DC. Whether he committed crimes or not is something the FBI could talk about and we wouldn’t have to worry about it.”

“Exactly,” said Cotter. “And I think the other piece is that a lot of people in the party didn’t think I had a winnable race. I think a lot of people have written off my district as a red district, [thinking] a Democrat can’t win here, but obviously that’s not true, right? I mean, I came within a snowball’s throw of winning the election. What it really comes down to is talking to people and listening to them.”

Megan Cotter will be running for the District 39 seat in 2022. “That is a promise,” said Cotter.

Here are some of the tweets Representative Price put out following the Capitol Insurrection:

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