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Representative Moira Walsh to challenge Joseph McNamara for Rhode Island Democratic Party chair

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Surrounded by supporters on the cold and windy steps of the Rhode Island State House, Walsh declared her intention to run against McNamara in Sunday night’s Party elections.

“This is not a decision I cam to lightly,” said Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence). “As a single mother I do not relish the idea of another full time unpaid position and to be perfectly honest I was afraid it was going to look very personal and petty if I ran against Chairman McNamara.”

McNamara made international news when he endorsed former Republican and conservative Trump supporter and MAGA sign wielder Michael Earnheart over Walsh in the 2018 election. Walsh handily defeated Earnhardt.

Joseph McNamara

“That being said,” continued Walsh, “as we got closer and closer to the election and I saw that nobody was going to challenge him, I started getting more and more confidant that somebody needed to, and as more and more Democratic Committeemen and women came out and asked me to run I realized that this is in the best interest of my community and my Party.

“The primary reason that I am running is that I believe that our Party should be run democratically. Since I’ve been elected as a Representative in 2016, I’ve been actively fighting for rules reform, transparency, democracy and equity within the State House, so it should come as no surprise that I expect the same from my party. As of right now, there are a lot of problems within the party that are very similar to the problems within the State House. Namely, power is significantly centralized to one member of the Party, that being the Chairman.

“There are a lot of practices that, when I’m elected, I would immediately end. Practices we’re calling ‘Lawful but Awful.’


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“So when the Chairman bypasses the committee process and endorses an alt-right former Republican over an incumbent Democratic woman – lawful, according to the bylaws, but awful.

“When the Chairman does not censured members of the Party who make homophobic, sexist or racist remarks – lawful within the bylaws, but awful.

“When the Chairman, a mere week before elections for Party seats nominates and fills 30 vacancies of State Democratic Committeemen and women, who will presumably then vote for him as Chair, it’s lawful but awful.

“It is nearly impossible to have a democratic and fair election process in this Party, namely because the incumbents have access to information that us newcomers do not. The incumbents have, for weeks, been able to call, send mailers, and email members of the Democratic Party because they have access to those lists. People like myself, do not.

“One of the many reasons that I called this press conference today is because it is one of the only ways that I can actively advocate for myself to run for this seat. Because they’ve made it incredibly difficult to unseat any incumbent.

“I’m going to be asking my colleagues, Democratic Committeemen and women, to censure the Party Chair for violating the endorsement bylaws of our Party. I’m going to ask for that to be voted on on Sunday, because while our bylaws currently aren’t particularly democratic, they matter even less if we’re not going to follow them.

“The election is going to be on Sunday and I’m going to be working very hard to ensure that our Party has another option. I think that people in my generation are not going to settle any more. We’re not going to settle for centralization of power, we’re not going to settle for a lack of transparency…

I could not reach Representative Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick) but I did speak to Kevin Olasanoye, executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party.

I asked Olasanoye about McNamara filling vacancies ahead of Sunday’s election. “I do know that he has filled vacancies, I would say two things about that. [Walsh] is right that under the law and our bylaws that’s 100 percent appropriate. Not only is it appropriate but it’s his responsibility as the Chair to fill vacancies when he is asked by his colleagues to fill them.”

Olasanoye disputed that the last minute nominations are some sort of quid pro quo. “Up until [Walsh] announced that she was going to run this morning, the Chairman did not have an opponent. So I’m not sure why he would feel the need to make a bunch of appointments for his own election…”

“That’s true,” I said, “But he must have heard the same rumblings that you and I did about people about to run, so there might have been an actual motive…”

“Sure,” replied Olasanoye, “but up until people actually publicly declare themselves, I mean, I don’t know what people are running for what office until Sunday. people can tell me they’re running, publicly make an announcement and withdraw after that.” Also, it’s possible that there will be nominations from the floor on Sunday.


Answering questions, Walsh denied that her campaign is somehow directed at Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democratic, District 15, Cranston). “I don’t think of it that way,” said Walsh. “We are told that the Party and the State House are entirely separate entities and I’m going to give them the benefit of a doubt. I hope that I’m right.”

“What I don’t want is for the next person like me, a single mom, a waitress who wants to run for office to be scared out of it by bullies,” said Walsh. “We have a very big Presidential race coming up in 2020, we need to be building our ranks, not dwindling them, and I think that when activists and organizers see the kind of behavior that goes on in the Party, it does not inspire a lot of confidence.”


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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade. atomicsteve@gmail.com