A group called Rhode Island Democrats for a Real Democratic Party released a petition Tuesday calling for the revocation of two endorsements and the resignation of Democratic State Committee chair Rep. Joseph McNamara after several progressive female candidates were passed over for party endorsements.
“We are outraged and appalled that the Rhode Island Democratic Party would rather endorse racist Trump supporters and people engaged in election fraud than effective leaders who are real Democrats,” the petition reads. “It’s time for a change.”
Among the endorsements decried by the petition was that of Michael Earnheart, running against progressive incumbent representative Moira Jayne Walsh for District 3 (Providence), which garnered national attention on Monday due to Earnheart’s prior support of President Trump and an extensive history of tweeting in support of conservative viewpoints—even calling undocumented immigrants “self-entitled lawbreakers and thieves”—as well as retweeting alt-right figures such as conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and Roseanne Barr, according to tweets highlighted by Organize Rhode Island.
The petition also called on Democratic leadership to revoke the endorsement of Gregory Acciardo, running against vice chair of the RI Democrats’ Women Caucus Bridget Valverde for Senate District 35 (East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett); Acciardo has been convicted of vehicular manslaughter in 1994, as well two DWIs in 2009 and 2010, according to the Cranston Herald; he has also faced accusations of domestic assault, according to a 1994 report by the Providence Journal.
Candidates and organizers who contributed to the petition effort told RI Future it was time to put pressure on the state’s Democratic leadership to rein in its “big tent.” Otherwise, they say, the party will be faced with losing disillusioned or disengaged voters, for whom the word “Democrat” will have lost all political purpose.
“We should be able to say [we’re Democrats] proudly. And lately I can’t say that,” Jennifer Rourke, a challenger to Senate Majority Leader and 23-year incumbent Michael McCaffrey for his District 29 (Warwick) seat, stated Tuesday.
For Rourke and her fellow progressive candidates, this is partially due to the fact that the state’s Democratic leadership has been far from forthright with their endorsement process. Rourke was part of a group of supporters for gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown which was shouted down by McNamara at the state convention on June 24. As reported previously on this site, Brown withdrew his request for nomination that night, but a vocal roll call vote was still conducted; when Rourke decried the vote as unnecessary, she says, she was asked to leave.
“We’re not very liked,” Rourke said. “They’re trying to silence us.”
It was the second time she was asked to leave a Democratic Party meeting. Rourke and her fellow Women’s Caucus members were ejected from the Democratic Party headquarters last year and forced to relocate to a nearby bar.
Sen. Jeanine Calkin of District 30 (Warwick) also expressed serious doubts about the fairness of the endorsement proceedings.
“I was informed by one of my constituents that the Warwick Democrats were calling people to run against me,” Sen. Calkin said. “Not that I expected their support anyway.”
Calkin had arranged a meeting with her district committee to discuss the possibility of an endorsement on June 27, she said. But a letter sent by Rep. McNamara to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea on June 25 had already listed her opponent, Mark McKenney, for an endorsement (the letter is publicly available via this tweet from Uprise RI’s Steve Ahlquist).
“What I’m wondering is why the decision to endorse my opponent on the 25th when I hadn’t even had my meeting yet?” Sen. Calkin said. “For me, that speaks to the fact that there was no expectation for me to get the endorsement. I have no bones about voting on bills and speaking out, and I agree that Rep. Walsh is the same way—she’s been very outspoken. Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, same way. Unfortunately, it’s three progressive, outspoken women who were not endorsed.”
Rourke added, “I’m at the point where, if I have to silence myself to get their endorsement, I don’t want it. Because I’m going to have to sit there and take whatever they give me. I’m not doing it.”
Rourke said that voter mobilization will be a key strategy, especially among young voters.
“It’s the younger voters that we really need to re-engage,” she explained. “I guess not re-engage, because when they were able to vote, they didn’t, because there was no one out there that was truly fighting for them. I knock on doors and I sit with people who tell me they didn’t go out to vote because the endorsement was given to someone else, or they didn’t feel like they could trust either one of their candidates, and that they have lost faith in their respective parties.”
For now, Rourke says that she’s knocking on Warwick doors to tell residents that she is fighting for progressive reforms—single-payer healthcare and a $15 minimum wage among them. Rourke shies away from calling her priorities “progressive,” however, because she feels like she shouldn’t have to qualify her stances as lying on the leftmost margin of the Democratic party.
“That D used to mean something,” she said. “It meant you were standing for something. Now it’s that ‘big tent’… those two words have ruined it for true-blue Democrats.”