Rhode Island Votes To Officially Change Its 'Hurtful' Name


Rhode Island will now be officially known as … Rhode Island.

The smallest state in the country will no longer have the distinction of also having the longest official name after voters approved a statewide referendum to strip the words “and Providence Plantations” from Rhode Island’s formal name.

Officially, Rhode Island was incorporated as The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations when it joined the union in 1790.

Although the word “Plantations” in Rhode Island’s name does not specifically refer to a place where slaves labored, the measure’s backers insisted it still offends.

A similar ballot question was defeated a decade ago, but the campaign was resurrected earlier this year.

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Democratic State Sen. Harold Metts, a black lawmaker who led the push to remove “Plantations” from the state’s name, called it “a hurtful term to so many of us.”

State officials said Wednesday they’ll begin assessing all state property where the offending phrase is inscribed, including the State House’s grand marble facade, in preparations for removal.

In a separate move in June, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order to remove the phrase “and Providence Plantations” from some official documents, including state employee paychecks and executive agency websites.

Meanwhile, election officials resumed counting thousands of votes on Wednesday after record turnout that delivered its four electoral votes to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and returned all three of the state’s congressional Democrats to Washington.

Do you think Rhode Island's official name should have been changed?

But in a stunning rebuke of local Democratic leadership, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello lost to Republican activist Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, who defeated him in a district in western Cranston that backed Donald Trump for president for a second time.

“While I wish last night’s outcome had been different, it in no way diminishes the privilege of serving in the House for so long,” he said in a statement. “It’s been a good run.”

Fenton-Fung said she looked forward to helping reform the state and continuing her husband’s legacy in Cranston.

Fenton-Fung is the wife of two-time GOP gubernatorial candidate and longtime Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who remains popular but is term-limited.

“People rejected the way Speaker Mattiello was running the Statehouse and running campaigns,” she told reporters after Mattiello conceded. “We were looking forward to the future and we literally outworked him.”

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Mattiello rose to House speaker in 2014 after then-Speaker Gordon Fox resigned amid a public corruption investigation.

First elected in 2006, he had served as majority leader under Fox, who was ultimately sentenced to three years in federal prison for accepting bribes and using campaign funds for personal expenses.

During the campaign, Fenton-Fung, a 39-year-old physical therapist, repeatedly called attention to scandals that have dogged Mattiello in recent years, including the money laundering trial of former campaign aide Jeffrey Britt.

More than 480,000 voters cast ballots, besting the state’s previous all-time high of more than 475,000 in 2008, according to preliminary tallies from Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office as polls closed Tuesday.

The outcome of the presidential race was in little doubt in Rhode Island, where Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by more than 15 percentage points in 2016.

Rhode Island has backed a Republican for the White House only four times in the modern era — twice for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, once for Richard Nixon in 1972 and once for Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed defeated Republican challenger Allen Waters, a perennial candidate who mounted earlier unsuccessful campaigns for the state Senate and U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.

Reed, first elected to the Senate in 1996, is a senior member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

Rhode Island’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, isn’t up for reelection until 2024.

In the U.S. House, Democrat David Cicilline, one of Trump’s harshest critics in Congress, defeated independents Frederick Wysocki and Jeffrey Lemire to win a sixth term representing the 1st Congressional District.

And Rep. Jim Langevin, the first quadriplegic lawmaker to serve in Congress, defeated Republican former state lawmaker Robert Lancia in the 2nd Congressional District to win an 11th term.

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