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RI Republican Committee enjoys more democracy than Democrats



The Rhode Island Republican (RI GOP) State Central Committee held their elections for party leadership on Saturday morning. Voting was done by secret ballot. Secret ballots are what we are used to when we vote for our Presidents and Representatives. Secret ballots “are anonymous, forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation, blackmailing, and potential vote buying.” Wikipedia notes that, “Today, the practice of casting secret ballots is so commonplace that most voters would not consider that any other method might be used.”

Six days earlier, when the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) State Committee held their elections last Sunday night for Party leadership, the votes were done by roll call vote. One by one the Secretary of the Party, Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence), would read the names of those in attendance off a long list, and that person would call out the name of who they were voting for, all under the watchful eyes of powerful party bigwigs like Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, Party Chair Joseph McNamara, and other connected insiders with the power to make or break a political career in our state.

Open roll call voting is also the way both the Rhode Island House and Senate vote for their leadership. Such a system makes retribution against political opponents easy and inevitable for those in power.

The system of voting is just one way in which the RI GOP is more democratic than the RIDP.

The RI GOP also has all the voting done at once. At the RIDP, the voting for officers starts with the Chair, and then works its way down through the other positions. At the RI GOP, all the voting happens on paper ballots, all at once. This prevents people from leaving before other races are decided.

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For instance, at the RIDP Committee Meeting, 172 people voted for the position of Chair of the Party, 165 for First Vice-Chair, 166 for Secretary, 127 for Recording Secretary, and 122 for Treasurer. By the time the RIDP got around to the important work of approving their Party Platform, there were maybe 100 people in the room.

At the RI GOP, everyone in attendance voted on every race, and because they ballots were secret, the outcome of the voting was in doubt. That wasn’t the case with the RIDP.

At the RI GOP, people were encouraged to campaign, make their case to the voters, and most importantly, given full access to the voters. There were four candidates for Chair of the RI GOP, Sue Cienki, Robert Lancia, Rebecca Schiff and Mike Veri. The voting was arranged as knock-out rounds. If no member had a true majority of votes, the person with the lowest vote count was knocked out.

At the RI GOP on Saturday, second place vote getter Rebecca Schiff dropped out, encouraging everyone to get behind Sue Cienki, who had the most votes. In the second round, Cienki won. This builds unity and support for the winner of the race.

At the RIDP, no one challenged Chair McNamara until a few days before the vote was to take place. Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) entered the race, and was not given access to the voting list. Over the days leading up to the vote, Chair McNamara made key appointments to unfilled vacancies in the voter rolls. And of course, very few people felt comfortable voting for anyone but the presumptive winner of the race.

Another difference between the RI GOP and the RIDP: At the RI GOP, people are open about their support for President Donald Trump. There were more than a few MAGA hats, and candidate for Party Chair Rebecca Schiff stuck Trump stickers on the Granola bars she gave away for her candidacy.

At the RIDP the Trump supporters are secretive, and only give themselves away occasionally. But they are there, and they are powerful.

Not that the RI GOP is a political perfect paradise. The event hadn’t even really started yet before I was asked by a Party official if I was supposed to be there. I was fully credentialed media, but still viewed with suspicion because I’m known as being on the left side of politics. “If you want to throw me out,” I said, “that would be a waay better story.”

Steven Frias

Also, Chair Brandon Bell started the meeting with a Christian Prayer. This is alienating to people, like myself, who may be nonbelievers, but it’s also alienating to Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities. Moreover, even some Christians object to such prayers, because they are devout believers in the separation of church and state. Though i readily acknowledge that the RI GOP is not a state run enterprise, its objectives are political, and its religiosity somewhat concerning for many in that regard.

Sue Cienki

Sue Cienki, now the newly elected RI GOP Party Chair, said during her brief campaign remarks that she is not willing to “give any ground to Democrats, unions or any immoral cause.” Lumping Democrats and unions with “immoral” causes is hyperbolic and though it may rally the base, it’s not the kind of talk that will propel the country forward.

Finally, there’s the letter from President Trump. In his letter, with language typical of his extreme right-wing views, the President says, “The Democrats, of course, have their own solutions, which all seem to have one thing in common these days: socialism. Members of Congress and candidates for president have proposed or endorsed policies that will devastate our economy and our way of life, such as the Green New Deal, which would cost nearly $100 trillion, and Medicare for All. As for life, the Democrats don’t respect it, as they actually support abortions even after the birth of fully developed babies.”

Lies are lies whether they come from the President or they are read off a letter to a crowd of believers.

Here’s Projo coverage of the event from Kathy Gregg.

Here’s background on Sue Cienki from Elizabeth McNamara at East Greenwich News.

Here’s some video from the first half of the event.

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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 half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.