Being a progressive woman may be beneficial at the ballot box in the 2018 election but it doesn’t seem to help with respect to endorsements from the Rhode Island Democratic Party.
Three female legislators learned this the hard way when the state Party endorsed their more-conservative primary opponents. Reps. Moira Walsh and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, both Providence House members, and Sen. Jeanine Calkin, of Warwick, aren’t the endorsed candidates in their races. They are the only incumbents who didn’t win the endorsement of the state Democratic Party.
Walsh lost the House District 3 endorsement to Michael Earnheart, which didn’t surprise her. “My opponent changed affiliation to democrat in March,” Walsh tweeted about Earnheart. “Previous to that he’s been a republican his entire life. He’s a vocal Trump supporter. Now watch as the @RIDemParty shows its true colors and endorses my opponent. Straight up shameful.”
Earnheart could not be reached for comment. His Twitter account, which previously included advocacy for conservative positions, seems to have been deleted. On his campaign Facebook page, peppered with requests from progressives to explain his positions defended some conservative ideas. “I fully support the Second Amendment and will defend against legislation that attempts to stop or interfere with lawful gun ownership,” he wrote.
Ranglin-Vassell lost the endorsement in her reelection bid to Holly Coolman, a Providence College professor who doesn’t support abortion rights or, locally, the Reproductive Health Care Act. She told the Providence Journal she considers herself a “traditional Democrat,” though some counter that’s a euphemism for conservative Democrat.
“Not so random thought -speaking the truth has consequences, speak the truth nonetheless,” Ranglin-Vassell tweeted yesterday.
In 2016, Ranglin-Vassell upset Majority Leader John DeSimone, a close a close ally of conservative-leaning House Speaker Nick Mattiello. House speakers traditionally condone, or recruit, primary opponents against legislators who veered from the speaker’s agenda. Ranglin-Vassell and Walsh have both been outspoken advocates for sharp increases to the minimum wage and codifying abortion rights in Rhode Island law, both of which Mattiello opposes. The pair represent at least the third time a liberal-leaning female legislator from Providence has attracted a conservative primary opponent since Mattiello has been speaker of the House.
On the Senate side, Calkin will have to defend her seat in a primary against Mark McKenney, who won the state party’s endorsement. Calkin is a Bernie Sanders supporter who upset longtime Senator William Walaska in 2016. McKenney and Walaska, who died a year after losing his legislative seat, are friends and McKenney had long fancied Walaska’s Senate seat.
Incumbents aren’t the women who were passed over in the Party’s endorsement process. In spite of being active with her town party and the state Party’s Women’s Caucus, Bridget Valverde, of North Kingstown, lost the party endorsement to Greg Accairdo, a former state senator from Johnston who has been charged with drunk driving on several occasions.
There are six woman lawmakers who face Democratic primaries this year and three are endorsed by the Democratic Party. Senator Maryellen Goodwin, Providence and reps Susan Donovan, Bristol, and Carol McEntee, South Kingstown, are the endorsed candidate in their respective races.