2014-08-28 / Around Town

Martin Confident of His Re-election Chances

By Tom Walsh

After winning re-election two years ago without opposition, Peter F. Martin, Newport’s three-term member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives from District 75, faces a stiff challenge in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.

Lauren Carson, who works in lobbying and policy making for the environmental organization Clean Water Action – and who is also Martin’s neighbor on Willow Street in Newport’s Point neighborhood – has waged an energetic campaign over the summer to unseat the incumbent.

Martin, though, remains unfazed. And he won’t abandon what must seem to some people as the rather unorthodox campaign style that has already sent him to the General Assembly three times.

For one thing, Martin, unlike Carson, will not walk the district ringing doorbells.

“I don’t knock on doors,” Martin said. “I attend as many events as I can. I use media, including advertisements. I know that being available to the people of my district is important. But interrupting people in their homes, that’s not something I like to do.”

Then there was the matter of a campaign. As the campaign unfolded, the Newport County League of Women Voters sought to organize a formal Martin-Carson debate. Carson jumped at the chance, but Martin held back and finally said no thanks.

With less than two weeks left in the campaign, did he regret spurning what would have been a high-profile political confrontation?

“No, not at all,” Martin declared. “I work closely with my constituents. I don’t need to debate.” Others felt it was an event that should have taken place.

“It’s too bad,” offered Susan Wells, president of the Newport County League of Women voters. “There’s been so much going on. Informed voters are the best voters.”

Martin, 73 years old and retired after a career of more than 30 years working in information technology, sees his role as state representative this way:

“I think the major thing for me is, I don’t work for a special interest group. This is my full-time job. I put in a full-time effort to what would otherwise be a part-time job. And I get results. I’ve been very successful.”

This has already been an eventful year for issues. In January, as the General Assembly gathered for the 2014 legislative session, the question of whether drivers should pay tolls to use the new Sakonnet River Bridge captured headlines.

Martin believed they should pay tolls, and said so.

“The bridge will still be a loud issue,” said Martin as the Assembly convened. “It’s the most public issue. It will get a lot of ink.”

Martin came to the debate staunchly in favor of the original Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) proposal to charge motorists with E-Z Pass transponders 75 cents per crossing. Amid raucous debate, the authority later trimmed the rate to 10 cents per bridge crossing. Then, finally, the legislature came up with a plan that avoided tolls on the bridge altogether.

“I still believe that we have to pay for what we use,” Martin said.

More recently, Martin was asked whether he regretted so vehemently backing Sakonnet tolls.

“I have no regrets,” Martin said without hesitation. “I stand by my support for Sakonnet Bridge tolls.”

Now the issue that promises to generate consider- able debate in Newport as well as statewide is whether to approve the November ballot question on permitting table games at the Newport Grand slots parlor.

“I’m against gambling,” Martin said. “But I favor letting the people vote on the issue.” He said he serves on the board of directors of the organization calling itself Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling. “If the people vote for it, then the concerned citizens should shift and talk about the predatory nature of casino gambling,” Martin said.

Martin’s primary opponent also says she opposes table games at Newport Grand. “I’m not convinced that it is the economic boon that it’s been made out to be,” Carson told Newport This Week.

As of the third week in August, Martin said that his campaign had spent $5,000 to $6,000 on the reelection effort. Will he spend more as the campaign nears its conclusion?

“That depends on what comes in,” he said.

Martin said his re-election campaign comes down to this:

“Serving in the legislature is not a place for people to go and learn. It’s a place for people to go and serve. It’s about networking, about getting people in my community and those working in the state to work together to accomplish things.”

He had a role in an Aug. 20 “walking tour/news conference” in Newport that unveiled improvements to be made over the next year to the America’s Cup Avenue- Memorial Boulevard area under the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) “Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions”program. At that event, Martin was praised for his work in getting the $2.8 million program for Newport.

“Getting this kind of support for Newport is part of my job,” Martin said of the roads project. “I’ve been very successful representing Newport with state agencies such as RIDOT and others. They all know me and work well with me.”

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