The Rhode Island Democratic Party wants to take back two of four controversial legislative endorsements that lit a fire under the local progressive movement and drew the attention of national media. If successful, Michael Earnheart, a Trump voter challenging incumbent Rep. Moira Walsh, and Greg Accairdo, a former Johnston state Senator who has twice been arrested for drunk driving, would lose the party’s endorsement.
“Today, in the best interests of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, I submitted a letter to the Rhode Island Secretary of State rescinding the endorsements previously made in House District 3 and Senate District 35,” said party Chairman Joe McNamara in a press release. “I’ve worked really hard to make sure our Party is more open and transparent and is a place where all Democrats can feel they can have a voice and make a difference. I regret that these endorsements are inconsistent with that work and believe the actions we have taken today brings us closer to where we aspire to be.”
Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Sen. Jeanine Calkin both still face more conservative, endorsed candidates in their primaries. All four endorsements carried different nuanced and byzantine circumstances; the commonality was four progressive women who have been outspoken about and involved in progressive issues were passed over for party endorsements, three of whom are incumbents.
Walsh, a Providence incumbent (D3), and Bridget Valverde, who has been campaigning for weeks to unseat a Republican-held, West Bay Senate (D35) seat, lauded the decision – if not the party.
“We refused to be bullied,” said Walsh, who was her normal outspoken self when the state party endorsed her primary opponent, a Trump supporter who has made racist statements about undocumented immigrants on Twitter. “It’s terrifying to go up against the big dogs but I think we just showed in a really big way that it’s worth it to be brave.”
“I’m glad the chairman of the party listened to the people,” said Valverde. “I’m hoping more will be done to prevent something like this from happening in the future.”
Neither were informed of the decision by party operatives. Walsh said she was first told the news by an Associated Press reporter. She vowed to continue speaking out against the powers that be in the state Democratic Party – namely House Speaker Nick Mattiello and Rep. Joe McNamara, the party chairman.
“Just because they realized they couldn’t get away with this doesn’t mean we are cool now,” she said, noting that she expects them to continue working against her. “I don’t imagine this will make them less mad at me. I think the lesson they will learn from this is to be meaner to Moira.”
Both women said the controversy benefited their campaigns. “On balance, I’d say it has probably helped my campaign,” Valverde said. Walsh said she has raised more than $11,000 since July 1. “It’s nice,” said Walsh. “But it isn’t votes. I appreciate the people in California are pissed on my behalf but they aren’t my constituents.”
Neither Walsh nor Valverde said McNamara, a Warwick representative and Democratic Party chairman, should resign from his party post. But both called for the party to hold a vote for chair.
“There hasn’t been a vote on the party chair in at least a few years,” said Walsh. “If [McNamara] thinks he is doing a good job, then he should believe he’ll keep his job. I don’t think that’s what would happen,” she added.
Valverde added, “If they want to rebuild trust, there should be a vote on who should lead the party.” When asked if she thought McNamara was the right person for the job, she said, “I don’t believe so.”