STORY OF THE WEEK: The Passion of the Progressives. Matt Brown and state Sen. Cynthia Mendes unveiled plans last week to gain control of state government in the 2022 elections with a slate of 50 mostly legislative candidates. With virtually no detail on
STORY OF THE WEEK: The Passion of the Progressives. Matt Brown and state Sen. Cynthia Mendes unveiled plans last week to gain control of state government in the 2022 elections with a slate of 50 mostly legislative candidates. With virtually no detail on the cost or how to pay for it yet (other than imposing higher taxes on the rich), Brown & Co. vow to usher in a new era of universally available affordable housing, quality healthcare, quality schools, equal justice, a fair economy and so on.
At 51, Brown would be a goner in Logan’s Run, and he hasn’t won an election in almost 20 years. But the former secretary of state channeled the RI Political Cooperative’s at-the-barricades zeitgeist in a slick launch video by crowing, “We’re going to win the whole f------ Statehouse.”
Candidates like Gov. Dan McKee, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea have the name recognition and fundraising apparatus that come with a statewide profile and years in office. But the passion of the RI Political Cooperative, combined with support from such activist groups as the Sunrise Movement, remains an X factor for 2022.
Looking ahead, the question is whether the RIPC will be able to build on its gains from 2020, particularly in the Rhode Island Senate, or whether the Democratic establishment can effectively parry the insurgents. And will what was already shaping up as a brutal Democratic gubernatorial primary help open the door for a GOP governor?
FILIPPI RISING: Don’t be surprised if House GOP Leader Blake Filippi of New Shoreham announces a Republican run for governor after Columbus Day. Filippi tells me he’s not there “at this point” but he didn’t rule out the possibility, either.
One can understand why this poses a tough choice. At age 41, Filippi is the most visible Republican in the state and he seems to relish his role in the House. Running for governor when the office is an open seat would be a lot more appealing, and Filippi hasn’t exhibited any signs of mobilizing a campaign up to this point. But the GOP needs a candidate for governor, and Filippi appears to be weighing the choice while reportedly taking meetings with D.C. consultants.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether two-time GOP candidate for governor Allan Fung will take another shot at that office or perhaps general treasurer. Fung said he doesn’t have anything to announce at this point.
ANOTHER VIEW: State Sen. Alana DiMario (D-Narragansett) ran a primary challenge against her predecessor, Jim Sheehan, over the abortion issue in 2018 and she won the District 36 seat (with support from the progressive RI Working Families Party) when Sheehan didn’t seek re-election two years later.
DiMario was my guest last week on Political Roundtable; I asked whether she supports the RI Political Cooperative’s stated goal of a takeover of state government.
“I am kind of predisposed to have some red flags whenever there is any type of absolute language used or language of extremes used,” responded DiMario, a mental health therapist. “Whether I agree with someone’s goals philosophically or not, the idea of a ‘progressive takeover,’ again, just kind of makes me feel like, is that representative of the communities that these candidates are running in? Is that reflective of the needs that their constituents are kind of passing up to them? I believe, I think, a little bit more in kind of a bottom-up approach to legislating where policy and direction and refining policy is really going to be dictated by the people that I’m supposed to be representing and not kind of a predisposed set of very strict ideals.”
(DiMario used a thread on Twitter to elaborate on some of what she said in our interview.)
CROSSFIRE I: While the RI Political Cooperative said it plans to run 50 candidates next year, mostly for the General Assembly, the cooperative’s initial list includes 24 hopefuls, including some incumbents. Conspicuously absent for now are legislative challengers to House Speaker Joe Shekarchi of Warwick and House Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski of Providence.
CROSSFIRE II: Matt Brown’s friends and allies reacted sharply when Kate Coyne-McCoy, senior advisor for the RI Democratic Party, released a blistering statement about his campaign. (In part, Coyne-McCoy pointed to how voters in 2018 “said no to his record of lies, ethical lapses and his trail of broken promises. Mr. Brown surfaces during election cycles – in a vain attempt to get himself elected.”)
To some, it was unseemly that the top RIDP strategist is calling out a candidate running under the Democratic Party flag. Brown, however, fired an opening shot by asserting in his launch video that Rhode Island “is run by the most corrupt political machine in America.” (In an interview, Brown was unable to cite evidence to support his claim, other than pointing to how Rhode Island – like a number of states – has a long-running association with corruption.)
NEARI Executive Director Robert A. Walsh Jr., an influential player among RI Democrats, responded via tweet: “Matt Brown uttered two obscenities in the Co-op video – the one that should have been bleeped was his unfounded allegation that ‘RI is run by the most corrupt political machine in America.’ Such hyperbole is so Trumpian in nature it overshadows an important progressive platform.”
CROSSFIRE III: Whether the second iteration of the RI Political Cooperative signals a civil war among local progressives or just a further fracturing of the political spectrum depends on your point of view.
For starters, some of the candidates who ran with the RIPC in 2020 do not appear on the cooperative’s new list of hopefuls. Some, like Rep. Michelle McGaw (D-Portsmouth), call this part of an evolution.
“My role with the RI Political Cooperative has recently changed from active member to alumni,” McGaw told me via email. “The organization has taken on a number of new candidates including some high-profile races. I want to be sure that the new candidates have access to the Co-op resources they need to begin their campaigns and therefore have stepped back to allow the Co-op to allocate their available resources to them.”
Megan Cotter, who ran against Rep. Justin Price (R-Richmond) in 2020 and is pursuing a rematch next year, offered a similar message: “The Rhode Island Political Cooperative has been and continues to be an extraordinary community resource, full of amazing people. I remain grateful for how they helped launch me and many others to run. At this point I have built a support structure for my campaign and along with my local advisory members, we will push towards a victory for our community.”
Yet there are signs of division elsewhere, with former Rep. Aaron Regunberg calling out the RIPC’s plan for backing a primary campaign against Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Newport), Senate sponsor of the Act on Climate and one of the architects of the successful 2013 campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island.
Rep. Brandon Potter (D-Cranston), who was ejected from the cooperative after last year backing Joe Shekarchi and Chris Blazejewski as the new leaders in the RI House, is also troubled by plans for primary campaigns against Euer and Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Pawtucket). He said he considers the RIPC toxic for Rhode Island’s progressive movement, “and while I applaud the new RIPC candidates for having the courage to put themselves out there, and I trust their motivations and passion are sincere, I know from personal experience the way RIPC’s leadership uses false pretenses to manipulate impressionable people who are ready to fight for change.”
CROSSFIRE IV: The cooperative’s critique extends to how the legislature, which approves billions in spending each year for education and social services, is not attuned to Rhode Islanders’ needs. To be sure, the state has no shortage of problems – from chronically under-performing public schools to issues involving Eleanor Slater Hospital, and taxpayers can debate the return they get for their investment. Regardless, it’s undeniable that a ton of money gets spent on safety-net and other programs.
CROSSFIRE V: RIDP senior advisor Kate Coyne-McCoy on the challenge from the RI Political Cooperative for legislative seats: “Bring it on. I have spent the last eight months rebuilding a party the likes of which Rhode Island has never seen. I am going to elect and re-elect Democrats who are fighting for voters,” supporting such issues as housing, higher wages, pay equity, and the Act on Climate.
CROSSFIRE VI: Perspicacious Sam Howard has a smart analysis of the news this week involving the RI Political Cooperative, which he characterizes as a parasitic party within the RIDP.
Excerpt: “[T]he opaqueness of the Cooperative makes me very hesitant. As best I can tell, it’s not a real cooperative. In a genuine cooperative, everyone has a piece of the ownership, directs it together, takes votes, and makes decisions together. To me, the Cooperative reads as a vehicle for Matt Brown to run for governor. I find it hard to believe that a genuine vote of its members would pick this guy to be their standard bearer. If they had, it seems like that would be in the press release.”
RI GOV 2022: While Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza lacked a path to the governor’s office, his decision not to run takes $1 million in campaign spending off the table, much of which would have been spent in the Democratic primary against Gov. McKee … Matt Brown’s entry in the race changes the math, with at least five candidates competing for the win, making Gina Raimondo’s 2018 primary victory over Brown, with more than 50 percent of the vote, a distant memory … Seth Magaziner picked up a significant endorsement this week from United Nurses and Allied Professionals, which boasts more than 7,000 members … Nellie Gorbea landed an endorsement from the Latino Victory Fund and unveiled a senior campaign team composed exclusively of women.
RI SENATE: The RI Political Cooperative focused its attention on the Senate in 2020, since it’s easier to make a bigger impact in a smaller chamber. The approach appears similar this time around, so how much will things change? Will a higher than usual number of incumbents decide not to seek re-election? Will new leadership emerge? Or will Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (who have respectively served in the chamber since the 1980s and 1990s) extend their run?
RI SENATE II: Sen. Alana DiMario tells me she abstained from voting for Ruggerio and McCaffrey in a caucus a few days after she won election in 2020 because she didn’t really know them. Now, she said on Roundtable, she’s open to supporting Ruggerio for president if he wins re-election to his Senate seat next year.
“One session in, I was very pleased with the priorities that they laid out at the beginning of the session,” DiMario said. “I have been impressed with the way that they have been able to get consensus on a number of issues that we’ve been able to get across the finish line in the Senate. Even on issues where I think ideologically or philosophically I disagree maybe with leadership, I think that they are open to listening and they are open to being able to understand things from a different perspective, and I have a lot of respect for that … It’s not necessarily about finding somebody who ideologically is a complete match to you. It’s also about recognizing that not everybody in that room is going to be exactly where you’re at on something, and you want somebody who’s going to be effective in kind of holding that diverse coalition together.”
BAY STATE: Jasiel Correia, the former mayor of Fall River, received a six-year prison sentence this week, “beginning the next phase of Correia’s remarkable journey from the youngest mayor in Fall River’s history to convicted felon,” as my colleague Ben Berke reported. “Correia, now 29, was found guilty in May of extortion, extortion conspiracy, wire fraud and filing false tax returns after jurors spent four days deliberating the verdict.” Ben also has the latest on the current mayoral race in Fall River.
NEWS UNCHAINED: CNN’s Brian Stelter recently talked with two women who took over local newspapers previously owned by Gannett, one in Arkansas and the other in Florida. Part of the takeaway is unsurprising: people want relevant news about their own community, not a McPaper bereft of local flavor. Closer to home, Gannett seems unlikely to shed the ProJo or its other papers in the region, precisely because they represent the kind of concentrated audience sought by the corporation.
MCKEE WORLD: Gov. McKee’s team declined comment when I requested input last month on how Rhode Island will spend $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money. Last week, McKee fleshed out some of his thinking via a ProJo op-ed, calling for support for small business, affordable housing, and affordable child care
KICKER: Kudos & Congrats to Randy Rosenbaum, who is set to retire at year’s end after 27 years leading the RI State Council on the Arts. Via RISCA news release: “In thanking Rosenbaum for his service, Governor Dan McKee said: ‘Randy is a true professional, a passionate advocate for artists and organizations, and a determined champion for Rhode Island’s arts and culture sector. We wish him the best as he embarks on his next adventure. On behalf of the State of Rhode Island, I thank him for his lengthy service, especially during the pandemic, when Randy’s devotion and dedication to this important economic sector ensured that the hard-hit arts and cultural organizations and workers had the resources they needed to stay afloat.”
Ian Donnis can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@IanDon). For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit thepublicsradio.org.
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