Sabina Matos: Leading the “messy” work of democracy


“Historic and ongoing systemic exclusion of people of color from economic opportunity has led families of color in Rhode Island to be trapped in the cycle of poverty at higher rates than White families”, reads in part the 53-page “RI 2030” plan released by Gov. Dan McKee and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos last week.

The document states that “Between 2015 and 2019, 33% of Hispanic-Latino children in Rhode Island lived in poverty, compared to 13% of White children.”

The hope McKee said is to build a more resilient, prosperous, and equitable state for all – a challenge, and opportunity Matos knows very well.

The Lieutenant Governor is the seventieth person to hold the position — only the second woman and the first person of color.

Mattos is also the first Dominican-American to hold the post in the United States. Originally from Paraiso, Barahona – she and her family moved to Rhode Island in 1994 after living in New York City.

In March, McKee selected Matos to fill the post he vacated when then-Governor Gina Raimondo departed to become President Joe Biden’s secretary of commerce.

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea swears in Sabina Matos as lieutenant governor of Rhode Island. Gov. Dan McKee is at left. Holding the Bible for Matos is her daughter Annemarie Ward. Behind them are Matos’s husband, Patrick Ward, and their son, Diego Matos.

Since being sworn in in April, Matos has been zigzagging across the state’s thirty-nine cities and towns.

“I really wanted to get to know places in Rhode Island I didn’t know before. And we’ve gotten a really warm welcome — strangers telling me: ‘We’re rooting for you,’ ” she told the Rhode Island Monthly. “It makes me realize that this opportunity means so much to so many people; it’s bigger than me.”

Matos considers her work with Rhode Island’s Hispanic-Latino community key to her success.

“Rhode Island Politics and Policy Series”, October 4
Michael Seoane / The Brown Daily Herald

“Like any other community, we care about education, the economy, housing,” Matos said at a virtual event hosted by Brown University earlier this month. “Sometimes, the Democratic establishment wants to talk to us only about immigration and that’s it, and that’s not the case.”

Matos was elected to the City Council in 2010 after an unsuccessful run in 2006. She represented Ward 15, which includes the Olneyville, Silver Lake, and Valley neighborhoods. Matos made history becoming the first Latina to serve as City Council president in Providence.

“We run for office to get things done, and it’s always frustrating to see that it takes so long,” Matos said. “Democracy is messy and you need to work with others and compromise to advance what you care about.”

The lieutenant governor office is normally an elected position, but McKee was allowed to fill the vacancy with the advice and consent from the Senate.

Matos is planning to run for lieutenant governor in next year’s election.

Matos, a graduate of Rhode Island College, is married to DHS chief program development manager Patrick Ward and has two children, Diego and Annemarie.