The Rhode Island Democratic Party today rescinded the endorsements of Michael Earnheart, running for House District 3 in Providence and Greg Acciardo, running for Senate District 35, North Kingstown and Narragansett. Two women, House District 3 incumbent Moira Walsh and Bridget Valverde, vice president of the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus were passed over for nomination.
These rescissions came after days of outrage when it was learned that Earnheart was a Trump supporter with a colorful social media history and Acciardo, a former State Senator from Johnston, had a lengthy criminal record. The news of the endorsements went national, causing embarrassment for the Rhode Island Democratic party.
“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 Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Joseph McNamara. “As a policy matter, the people in each district should decide who gets chosen when no district committee exists, because they’re the people closest to the candidates and have more information about those candidates than the state party could ever have. In practice, what we’ve learned over the last few days only reinforces my belief that this is the right policy going forward.
“Over the last four years as chair, 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,” continued McNamara. “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.”
Walsh received support from United States Representative David Cicilline and actress Debra Messing, among many others.
— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) July 2, 2018
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— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) July 3, 2018
Though some have questioned the legality of rescinding the nominations after the final date, Rhode Island Secretary of State outside legal counsel, former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras of Greenberg Traurig LLC, released the following statement:
RIGL 17-14-15 addresses withdrawal of candidacy and allows candidates to withdraw “within the time prescribed by Section 17-14-13 for filing objections to nomination papers.” In addition to this, there is case law (Gomes v Rhode Island Bd of Elections, 393 A.2d 1088 (R.I. 1978)), where an endorsed candidate withdrew his candidacy and the City Ward Committee tried to endorse another candidate. The Rhode Island Supreme Court explained that the statute provided a specific time limit for the endorsement: “Where the language of a statute is free of ambiguity and conveys a definite and sensible meaning that does not contradict an evident legislative purpose, there is nothing to construe.” The result in Gomes was that the remaining candidates appeared on the ballot without a party endorsement.
Rhode Island election laws do not have any explicit provision addressing a rescission of a party endorsement.Accordingly, we are left to interpret what the legislature intended. If an endorsed candidate can withdraw his or her candidacy up to a certain time, then certainly, in the absence of contrary language, the state committee or local committee may withdraw its endorsement within the same time period.
In the letter, McNamara requested that the Secretary of State’s office reissue signature papers to reflect that no endorsements shall be made in either race. This begs the question as to whether signatures collected on the old papers are valid.
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