As a member of the RI Democratic State Committee, a Bernie Sanders delegate, and a member of the Women’s Caucus and nominating committee, I’ve tried to be the good Democrat and change the party from within. But it’s been difficult from the get-go for me to get information, to feel included and respected. This also manifests itself in the relationship between the party and its Women’s Caucus.
On Thursday, December 10th I was one of the 14 women who were evicted from Democratic Party headquarters at the bequest of Executive Director Kevin Olasanoye. We were in a closed meeting for just the nominating committee and our candidates for 2018’s Executive Board. Our meeting was disrupted by Olasanoye. At that point a 5 minute conversation ensued where we were given an ultimatum – we could either have someone babysit us or leave. We all left.
After the fact Olasanoye decided to claim that having someone in the meeting was in the party structure.
“This is not about the party not having respect for women,”Olasanoye said. “It’s about transparency in the process as a party we operate within a certain structure. Having a closed nomination process flies in the face of that.”
That the bylaws or party structure were cited as reason for an observer is laughable. The bylaws have been routinely breached. In fact, it’s unclear to me if the current executive committee of the Rhode Island Democratic Party was ever legitimately elected. The party bylaws call for quadrennial elections of party officers.
In 2014, there was an emergency meeting to replace previous chairman David Caprio, who abruptly resigned. At this meeting, held at the Portuguese Club in Cranston, Rep. Joseph McNamara was elected basically because his nomination was strongly supported by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. New members of the committee who won in the primaries – including myself – were not invited because our terms wouldn’t begin until 2015. As this meeting was just to fill a vacancy, only a new party chair was elected at this meeting. No other officers were elected, as confirmed to me by Olasanoye who was brought on to be the Executive Director of the party in May 2017.
In 2015, I made several attempts to find out when elections were going to be held. I was told numerous times by the staff at the RI Democratic Party that a meeting was forthcoming and that there would be one held in the first quarter, then by June, then in October. But there was no meeting. According to the party bylaws, it is at this “reorganization meeting” that the Chair and executive committee would be elected. But they refused to hold the meeting. There were no elections. No meeting in 2015 was also a clear violation of the parties own bylaws established in 2011.
The first meeting to be held after October 2014 was not until June 2016. This meeting was to approve the delegate slates for both Bernie and Hillary. But this was the only meeting for 2016 and still no elections scheduled. Not only was there no election for chair, but there was no election for the other executive positions including first vice chair. At this meeting I also discovered that Frank Montanaro and Edna O’Neill Mattson were previously elected to fulfill the 2016 superdelegate slots in 2012. After a series of 4 email requests since October 16th, I still have been unable to find out exactly when Vice Chair Grace Diaz was first elected, the fourth super delegate. Of course, all 4 of those superdelegates, Reps. McNamara and Diaz, Frank Montanaro, and Edna O’Neil Mattson voted for Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that Rhode Island Democrats overwhelmingly voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary.
As for superdelegates for 2020, according to Olasanoye, there was already an election. When I inquired when Montanaro and O’Neill Mattson were re-elected, Olasanoye informed me via email that they were elected in 2016 in Philadelphia at the party convention. According to the party bylaws, these positions are elected by the RI Democratic State Committee, of which I am a member. Even though I was in Philadelphia at the time as a Bernie delegate, I was not invited to what one must consider a clandestine election. I don’t know how there could have been anything even close to a quorum. John Hamilton, another Bernie delegate who sat on the State Committee as the chairman of the Charlestown Democrats, was also not invited, nor was state Senator Joshua Miller This secret election, if it actually happened, was a gross violation of basic democratic principles. (Montanaro has since passed away and was replaced in October by Joe Paolino, who was legitimately elected at the 2017 annual meeting.)
Olasanoye also said that all meetings for committees and caucuses are open. This is not correct. In 2017, we had our regular state committee meeting. I followed instructions by the party and filled out an online survey to request an appointment on Long Range Planning committee. I felt it was paramount that someone from the progressive movement be on that committee as it will be this committee that will recommend changes to the superdelegate process. At the October 2017 meeting I found out that I was not selected and reappointed to the Platform Committee. When I followed up at the meeting and afterwards I was told via email from Kevin that that committee was only for “executive members” of the party – and my request was denied to just attend the meetings. Pretty elitist and non welcoming for a party who promotes the “big tent” mantra.
We have to have leadership that understands that corporate-influenced party heads will not grow the party. RI Democrats need to have progressives, women, POC and diverse backgrounds in the mix. The good ole boy network of the 20th century has to be dissolved. And the leaders of the party from Speaker Mattiello to Chairman McNamara on down are the antithesis of what Rhode Island requires in order to have a vibrant energized party. The Democrats will continue to be divided, and our ongoing efforts for a strong united party will be threatened unless immediate changes are made.
That is why I will be calling for the Rhode Island Democratic Party to finally, years late, hold a reorganization meeting and elect our Party’s officers. We should be a democratic Democratic Party.