Joe Trillo may run for RI lieutenant governor

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Former state Rep. Joe Trillo is considering a return to politics.

In an interview Thursday night, Trillo confirmed he may seek the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2022. He said he’s been thinking about a campaign “for a short period” and discussed it with a small number of people.

“I’ve just been digesting the whole thing,” Trillo told 12 News. “Do I want to do this? Can I make a difference doing it? I know exactly what the position is.”

“I’m leaning more positively toward doing it, but at this time I don’t have my ducks in a row in order to do it,” he said. “So I’m not ready to commit.”

Trillo, 78, represented Warwick as a Republican in the General Assembly from 2001 through 2016, the year he shot to new prominence statewide as an early and vocal supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He went on to serve as Trump’s honorary state co-chair.

In 2018, Trillo ran for governor as an independent — to the frustration of Republican nominee Allan Fung — but he wound up garnerning only 4% of the vote as Democratic incumbent Gina Raimondo easily won a second term.

“One of the things that happened to me in the governor’s race — I managed to get both parties to come after me,” Trillo said, adding, “You have enough people telling a lie over and over, it becomes reality.”

Republicans have struggled mightily in Rhode Island over recent election cycles. The party hasn’t won a statewide race in 15 years, since incumbent Gov. Don Carcieri’s successful 2006 re-election campaign.

But Trillo said he thinks President Biden’s recent struggles due to issues such as inflation and Afghanistan could bolster the GOP’s fortunes next year.

“I think the Democrats have been destroyed by this president, and I think it’s going to hurt them right down the slate,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people that have had it. I think there’s an opportunity there. And that’s what I’m trying to evaluate.”

Trillo would be the second candidate to mount a challenge against Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, a Democrat who was appointed by Gov. Dan McKee earlier this year after he left the job to succeed Raimondo. State Sen. Cynthia Mendes, D-East Providence, has announced she will challenge Matos in the primary as part of a joint ticket with second-time gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown.

Only one Republican has been elected lieutenant governor in Rhode Island since 1940: Joseph O’Donnell Jr., who was swept into office in 1966 on then-Gov. John Chafee’s coattails. O’Donnell lost re-election two years later. (Republican Bernard Jackvony was appointed to the job in 1997 to fill a vacancy, but Jackvony lost his bid for a full term to Democrat Charlie Fogarty in 1998.)

Still, Trillo said he thinks he has time to make a decision.

“It doesn’t need the same preparation that you would do for a governor’s race,” he said.

Ted Nesi ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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