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Ajello to defend House seat against former Brown professor

This November, veteran State Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, will face repeat challenger Daniel Harrop '76 MD'79 — a Republican who is banking on voters' desire for change and the statewide, Republican-led "Clean Slate" initiative to unseat the nine-term incumbent.

This is not the first time Ajello and Harrop have contested the District 3 House seat. The state legislator fended off challenges from Harrop in 2002 and 2004, winning overwhelmingly both times. Ajello was reelected without opposition in 2008, the year presidential candidate Barack Obama carried her district with over 80 percent of the vote.

Harrop, a Providence psychiatrist and former clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, also ran against David Cicilline '83 as the Republican candidate for mayor in 2006 and is currently the chair of the state Republican finance committee.  "I entered freshman week in 1972, and I've essentially never left," Harrop said of his long history with the University.

Harrop currently serves on the board of trustees of the Brown Club of Rhode Island and was previously its president. He is also a member of the Brown University Community Council and was president of the Faculty Club.

Ajello, who goes by the nickname Edie, has represented the district that includes Brown for 18 years. She currently serves as deputy majority leader in the state House of Representatives and as secretary of the House Judiciary Committee.

Ajello's incumbency and her district's liberal leaning make the longtime state legislator well positioned for the general election, according to Scott MacKay, a political analyst for local public radio station WRNI.

"I would be very surprised if she lost," MacKay said, pointing to Ajello's leadership on passing a state school financing formula that will increase education funding for her district as a benefit to her constituents.

"Her being one of the key legislators in getting through the new school funding formula ought to really help her out with people in the city because it has a direct impact on what they pay in taxes," he said.

The education funding formula, which was signed into law in July and will go into effect in fiscal year 2012, increases the proportion of the more-than-$700 million state education budget that goes to low-income students. Rhode Island was previously the only state without such a formula.

"I was instrumental in adding a provision that we would raise the total amount of money spent as well as reapportioning the money," Ajello said, adding that Rhode Island's smaller state education budget relative to that of other states led local governments to rely on high property taxes — particularly on the East Side — to make up the difference.  

Ajello also mentioned legislation that she sponsored giving victims of sexual assault the ability to get a protective order against their attackers. She is also touting a law mandating women have access to contraceptives under health insurance plans in her bid for reelection.

Harrop said "a different atmosphere this time around" — fueled by national trends signaling voters are particularly hostile to incumbents — has the potential to tip the race in his favor.

Harrop also cited the Rhode Island "Clean Slate" initiative, which he described as "a multi-partisan effort with Republicans, moderates  and independents all joining together," as a chance to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with the political status quo in the Democrat-dominated General Assembly. "Clean Slate" is an effort spearheaded by the state Republican Party to back candidates who support eliminating the state's car tax and lowering the property tax, reforming education and promoting job creation.

"The major issue is the state budget and where the money is going to go," Harrop said, adding that without structural changes to how the state allocates its finances, the Ocean State will see "significant and really bad deficits" comparable to those in states like Nevada and California.

Harrop falls to the right of Ajello on the issue of same-sex marriage, which he testified against as a psychiatrist before the General Assembly. In a May 26, 2008, Providence Journal op-ed titled "Children need a mother and a father," Harrop defended traditional marriage and cited its benefits for children.

The District 3 candidates are also divided on whether taxing Brown and other nonprofits — a proposed solution to the state's financial woes – is a good idea.

Ajello said that while she would oppose a tax on Brown alone, it is "reasonable" for nonprofit organizations to contribute more to state revenue given the share of public services they use.

But Harrop is opposed to tax increases altogether.

"I think that nonprofits in the state have been invaluable," he said, comparing taxing nonprofits like Brown to "killing the goose that laid the golden egg."


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