Rhode Island is one of the most progressive states in the country, at least when it comes to the views of its citizens. Its residents vote Democrat by large margins and generally hold views that are in agreement with—or to the left of—the national Democratic Party. So why is our government so conservative? In my opinion, a big part of the problem is the structure of the state Democratic Party and its cynical endorsement process.
Many RI voters seem not to be aware of this, but the state Democratic Party’s formal endorsement process provides substantial resources to the officially endorsed candidates at all levels of the election. Unendorsed candidates are frozen out of a wide variety of party resources and can only obtain them at significant extra expense, if they can get them at all. In addition, “endorsed” candidates automatically get top billing on the ballot, and a star appears next to their name, as if to suggest that they are the clearly superior choice (even though, as a rule, the opposite is far more likely).
So how does one become an endorsed candidate, you may ask? Well, there are a vast number of local, district, and ward committees who typically award these endorsements (but not always—see below!). In theory, these various ward, town, and district committees serve as a way of ensuring that people who live in an area have the opportunity to endorse the candidate who is most in touch with the needs of their neighborhoods. In practice, however, these ward and district committees are invariably stuffed with the friends, relatives, and even employees of the incumbents. As a result, they serve as little more than a rubber stamp that inevitably endorses the incumbent or their hand-picked successor—even when evidence of their corruption is overwhelming. And if by some chance a new voice manages to impress their local committees and gain their support, the RI Democratic Party chair—a person who is not elected to fill this role, but is merely appointed by prominent insiders such as Speaker Mattiello—can simply overrule the local committees and impose his will on them by fiat, as he recently did to Linda Finn, who earned the endorsements of her local town committees but whose opponent has secured the official party endorsement as well as all the corrupt resources that come with it.
When my fellow Democratic primary voters show up at the ballot box in September, I hope they will remember that a vote for the star is a vote to maintain the status quo. It’s a vote for Speaker Mattiello, and for the anti-democratic, cynical, corrupt, and above all elitist political machine from which he and his ilk draw their power. If you want change from your state and local elected officials next year, the choice is clear: Vote for anyone who doesn’t have Mattiello’s star of approval.