PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s top House Republican, state Rep. Blake Filippi, announced Thursday night he won’t seek re-election this fall, a surprise move that will shake up the dynamics on Smith Hill next year.
Effective immediately, Filippi was replaced as House minority leader by state Rep. Michael Chippendale, a Foster Republican. Stepping into Chippendale’s previous position as House minority whip is state Rep. David Place, R-Burrillville.
Filippi, a 41-year-old lawyer and cattle farmer, was first elected to the House in 2014 and has led the small GOP caucus since 2018. He is known for his libertarian-leaning views, his zeal for floor debates, and his battles with Democratic leaders over the transparency of legislative spending and hiring.
“Now having served in the General Assembly for eight years, nearly 20% of my life, I have struggled about whether to seek another term in office,” Filippi wrote in a message to supporters. “The time is now to step aside and for new public servants step up and serve our communities in the House.”
Filippi said his proudest moments included refusing to suspend the House rules during the final stages of the 2019 session, reining in the speaker’s powers; filing a lawsuit over the management of the committee that handles the Assembly’s budget; fighting the proposed Lifespan-Care New England hospital merger; and working on an effort to clarify Rhode Islanders’ rights of access to the shoreline.
“While I will not run for reelection, I intend to remain deeply engaged in our beautiful corner of the world,” he wrote. “The art of the politics, as is the art of life, is all about human connection and the friends we make along the way. I cherish our friendships and look forward to nurturing them in the years ahead.”
The announcement means both of the General Assembly’s top Republicans won’t be returning to Smith Hill next year, since Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere announced his own retirement last month.
News of Filippi’s decision came on the last night of the 2022 General Assembly session, and a parade of fellow representatives — Republicans and Democrats — rose to pay tribute to him. Many described themselves as shocked.
“Blake, you and I have always been very good friends, even though we have completely opposite views,” House Majority Whip Katherine Kazarian, D-East Providence, said in her remarks. “But that has never stopped you from respecting me, from us having a great relationship and a great friendship. I feel like I’ve learned so much from you.”
She added, “I feel like the first time you came in this room and you debated a bill, you stepped up the game.”
State Rep. Anastasia Williams, a veteran Providence Democrat, noted that just a day earlier Filippi had broken with other Republicans and supported one of her longtime priorities: a bill to give driving permits to immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Throughout much of last year, Filippi was widely touted as the GOP’s top prospect to run for Rhode Island governor in 2022. But in December he announced he would take a pass on that race in order to seek another term in the House.
Filippi represents House District 36, a Democratic-leaning area that includes Block Island, Charlestown, South Kingstown and Westerly. He won the seat in 2014 by defeating a Democratic incumbent, Rep. Donna Walsh, and has run unopposed since then.
This year, however, Filippi was already facing a Democratic challenger, Tina Spears, a social-services advocate. A second Democratic opponent, Victoria Gu, decided to switch races and instead seek the open seat currently represented by Algiere, the retiring Senate GOP leader.
Filippi’s father, Paul Filippi, is famous in Rhode Island as owner and operator of the Celebrity Club, a legendary integrated Providence jazz club during the postwar era. He later bought Ballard’s, the beloved Block Island establishment, which is still owned by the Filippi family.