What is the argument for supporting Raimondo in the primary?

Gina Raimondo

As former Secretary of State Matt Brown enters the gubernatorial race I have begun to watch the primary debate more closely.

Matt’s argument is simple: He is campaigning on the issues – of which most American voters consider to be the core message of the Democratic Party. His strong opposition to Medicaid cuts, his call for repealing the tax cuts for the rich, and his passion for the environment mirrors the spirit of politicians like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Barack Obama. They also draw a clear contrast with the incumbent, Governor Gina Raimondo. A policy-based argument may seem unusual to Rhode Islanders but it is standard for Democrats in states with a less broken Democratic Party.

The incumbent’s argument is not so clear. The usual arguments for establishment candidates in Democratic primaries do not work for Raimondo. What is the argument for Raimondo?

First, there is the electability argument, the core argument of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential primary campaign. At this time in 2016, Clinton had a 6-point lead nationally over Donald Trump, while Raimondo currently has a 2.5-point lead over Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. Raimondo is trailing Fung by a whopping 12 percent in one critical area: independents. Unaffiliated voters make up half of the state’s registered voters, so it is no surprise that the Republican Governor’s Association is targeting Rhode Island. Winning with a mere 40 percent plurality in 2014, and standing in a statistical dead-heat with scandal-tarred Fung, Raimondo is an extremely weak Democratic nominee. In a state as blue, and as progressive, as Rhode Island, Raimondo’s conservative policies do not attract unaffiliated voters. And those same conservative policies have caused so much harm to some families that a handful of loyal Democrats are looking for anyone other than Raimondo. Electability is surely in favor of challenger Matt Brown.

The argument I am most partial to is getting more women elected. Feminists agree that political representation is crucial in achieving equity, and most feminists also agree that gender identity is not a magical key that unlocks total feminist enlightenment, or the right to every woman’s vote. The woman argument falls short for Raimondo, who enacted abortion restrictions in Rhode Island after only 6 months in elected office and is listed as “mixed-choice” by NARAL. When a woman falls short on choice, the candidate who is strongest on choice is the better candidate for feminists, even if they happen to be a man. Simply put, Matt Brown is a man who is more pro-choice than Raimondo.

Regarding the argument that Democrats, progressives in particular, should embrace incrementalism and support moderate but well-meaning establishment candidates, Raimondo fails to deliver even moderate incremental change. Enacting abortion restrictions, repeatedly gutting Medicaid, aggressively funding corporate welfare projects, decimating hard-earned pensions, and pushing dirty fossil fuel power plants in Burrillville and South Providence are undeniably right-wing initiatives, not groundwork for incrementalist Democratic change. Hillary Clinton’s slow but positive progressive achievement is the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a meaningful expansion of Medicaid. Raimondo’s legacy will be devastating Medicaid cuts. Matt Brown is to the left of Raimondo because of her extreme conservative agenda, not because he is shooting too high.

The argument that establishment Democrats are superior managers with a greater likelihood of policy success is laughable if applied to Raimondo. UHIP, DCYF, pensions, and I-195 have become buzz words signaling catastrophic administrative failures on Raimondo’s watch. Matt Brown’s track record as Secretary of State is credible and impressive.

The last, and perhaps the most important, argument is that establishment Democrats evolve, adopting progressive agendas as they become popular. In most cases, this argument can protect a candidate from their political past by claiming they grew from those teachable experiences. In 2014, Raimondo ran in support of granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. Taking it a step further, she signed a poster board-sized pledge promising to issue licenses by executive order within a year, yet never followed through. Put simply, no one trusts her. And why would they? Raimondo explicitly broke the promise on licenses and back-stepped on her promise to both raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. Voters have little reason to trust new progressive promises put forward by Raimondo. As Rhode Island’s political climate grows more progressive by the minute, Matt Brown’s proven record on progressive issues and his trustworthiness make him poised for high favorability among the majority of Rhode Island voters.

What arguments have been made against Matt? It starts with a handful of shallow personal attacks on the projects Matt has been working on since 2006. Rather than commending Matt’s effort to eliminate nuclear weapons globally, Raimondo’s first comment on her primary challenger to Patrick Anderson of the Providence Journal was, “If he cared about Rhode Island I think he would have been here the last 10 years working in Rhode Island.” Coming from a governor who moved her venture capital firm out of the state in 2012 and routinely fundraises from corporate interests in big cities like Chicago, this attack is not only shallow but also tone-deaf as the President comes closer to starting a nuclear world war over Twitter each day.

Next came criticisms on Matt’s salary. Talk on personal finances should be an obvious weakness for Raimondo, hardly a smart platform to spar on. Any critique on Matt’s salary while working for a pro-peace charity is hypocritical and hollow considering Raimondo earned far more while working for a controversial private equity firm.

Again and again, the arguments for Raimondo are either baseless or rooted in personal attacks. After nearly 4 years of waging a war on the social safety net Democrats have spent years building, her extreme right-wing policies have pushed her so far to the right of the Democratic primary electorate that the usual arguments for an establishment candidate simply do not work for Raimondo in 2018.

So I have a challenge for my fellow Democrats (and unaffiliated voters) planning to cast a ballot for Raimondo over Matt Brown in the September primary: Say why.

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About Capri Catanzaro 1 Article
Capri Catanzaro is the political director of the Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island.

10 Comments

  1. No disrespect intended Capri, but you’ve focused solely on the negatives of the argument for Rhode Island while completely ignoring the positives, and ignoring the one primary argument that wins nearly every election: the economy.

    First, let’s discuss the Rhode Island economy – for years our economy had languished and that is no longer the case, in large part because of Governor Raimondo’s economic policies. While I’m not a huge fan of business incentives, we cannot as a state unilaterally disengage from leveraging them when all of our neighboring states are using them. Our state economy should matter as a point of significance to us as progressives. In the past, passage of progressive legislation was challenging because of our faltering finances – it’s tough to make the case for expansion of economic programs to help our poor when we can’t balance our state budget supporting the programs we already have. Our economic success makes it easier to enable legislative victories for progressive legislation.

    Secondly, let’s look at the incredible leaps forward that have been made in the past four years, we have had more progressive legislative victories in the past 4 years than at any other time: on education, on immigration, on gun legislation, on equal pay, on paid sick leave, on net neutrality, on so many other topics. I’d like to keep that momentum going and believe that we will under Governor Raimondo.

    Lastly, popularity is not a substitute for voting preference – so while Raimondo may be lagging on “likability”, I go back to my first point on the economy, which at the end of the day, tends to be the one issue that independents look to. Whether independents are feeling positive or negative about the economy is a stronger indicator of incumbency voting.

    I posted my full thoughts on the Governor’s race and why I support Governor Raimondo for reelection: https://www.facebook.com/nickinglis/posts/10216109323870051

    No disrespect intended Capri but I disagree with you on this one.

    • Nick is more or less saying that corporate welfare is the foundation for progressive policy. If that’s how you think, then fine, Raimondo’s your candidate, even though she’s not particularly progressive. You’re not going to get anyone particularly good anyway, as long as you think that way. What Nick euphemistically calls “business incentives” (even though they don’t deserve that free-market name) amount to paying a price to unscrupulous businesses in hopes that they’ll treat RI fairly, but the price that these unscrupulous businesses demand just keeps on rising. So you pay an ever-increasing amount in corporate welfare without really gaining any substantially greater amount of business than our fellow states do, which leaves less and less for the middle class and other working people. The corporate-welfare sector of the economy is growing — I mean people like the lobbyists and lawyers (who donate to Raimondo), the media commentators who keep arguing for corporate welfare (and for Raimondo), the think tanks that are paid to push policies favoring the elite (in alliance with Raimondo), and of course the government-insider hedge funds (like Raimondo’s). But all that growth in the corporate-welfare sector is at the expense of the rest of us who are working in the real economy. Sure, Raimondo and other corporate-welfare people like to throw a little something here and there to the rest of us from time to time, to aid their own branding. But when they strategize on how to make gestures here and there to brand themselves — backing this item from progressives, or that item from moderates — it doesn’t mean they’re on the side of the people, at all. Nick says that Raimondo “championed” progressive changes. No. She was never the champion. The champions, in getting good things done, are the grassroots movements that recognize a need, find a solution, work for it and argue for it, until politicians decide it’s advantageous to side with them. And sure, the politicians try to take credit afterwards, but we should know better than that. Saying that Raimondo and her ilk are the champions for constructive political changes is like saying that corporate-welfare profiteers are the champions for improving the economy. In both cases, I don’t confuse the well-branded guys who are good at taking advantage of others with those people who are really doing constructive work. I realize some people want the Democrats to become a party centered around branding elites, corporate-welfare-supporting politicians (and their donors), a kind of cultural capital that’s more or less aligned with the powerful, and a conception of “progressivism” that never even tries to give ordinary people much political voice or much say over their economic life. Well, a lot of people have rejected a Democratic Party that’s like that, and it’s against all the best things that progressives have stood for historically.

      Capri mentioned many areas where Raimondo’s record is poor, but I’ll add two more important ones that Capri left out. The 2017 bus fare hike, targeted precisely at those disabled and senior Rhode Islanders who are least able to afford bus trips, was something she helped push through along with other top RI politicians. For a few months, Raimondo (and her allies) managed to take away the no-fare bus pass that the poorest of the disabled and senior citizens had had for 40 years, until grassroots pressure managed to undo her fare hike.

      As for civil rights, she had a choice whether to sign or veto the most anti-civil-rights bill that the General Assembly sent to her desk, and she chose to sign it into law. That law she signed in 2016 basically shut most Palestinian businesspeople out of bidding on government contracts. It says that you can’t get a government contract in RI unless you promise not to boycott Israel, though boycotts against Palestine are fine. I’m not going to oversimplify the complex issues betwen Israelis and Palestinians, and most of us are aware that both sides of that conflict have done bad things fairly often. But just looking at the Palestinians for a moment: given the bad things they’ve suffered at Israel’s hands in a situation that currently shows no signs of progress, it really isn’t realistic or fair to expect that most Palestinians will feel comfortable buying things from Israel. Just as it would be wrong to punish Israeli-Americans just for supporting an embargo against Palestine, it’s wrong to punish Palestinian-Americans here for boycotting Israel. I know many Israelis do support an embargo against Palestine, and many Palestinians do boycott Israel, but in both cases that’s basically understable whether you agree with it or not. When Raimondo’s law shuts out just the Palestinians and not the Israelis from bidding on government contracts, that’s a classic attack on civil rights. Earlier this year, a federal court indicated that a Kansas anti-Israeli-boycott law similar to the one Raimondo signed was a violation of people’s First Amendment rights (Koontz v. Watson), since people have a right to boycott for political reasons. If Raimondo cared about civil rights, she wouldn’t have signed this law that blatantly discriminates against Palestinians.

      • Re: business incentives”:

        “Brian Bishop spoke on behalf of the Providence Apartment Association. “Apartment owners are concerned because we’re essentially being asked, through these TSAs… to subsidize our competitors,” said Bishop. “We pay one of the highest tax rates in the country for small apartment buildings, and essentially we are expected to cover whatever additional revenues needed for police and fire protection…”

        Truer words are seldom spoken.

  2. I respectfully disagree with your counterpoints, Nick. Our current governor has harmed the progressive movement in this state by encouraging companies such as Invenergy and organizations such as the PawSox into the fray. Cutting Medicaid (something you did not retort in your counter argument) is counter productive and will cause more harm than good when patients decide to wait it out until their medical conditions fester to seek medical care. And that’s from an economic standpoint, not a moral one, even though the moral argument still exists. Patients who allow their disease states to get worse and do not seek treatment will ultimately strain the already bare bones system we have today.

    Our governor also has a $3.5mil warchest, but I question how much of that money actually is from the average middle class Democratic or unaffiliated voter. If you look at her 2018 Q1 Campaign Finance report, it is alarming how many outsiders are contributing to her campaign, at the $1,000 max contribution amount. Samson Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Eversource come to mind. Will Raimondo take the pledge to not accept money from fossil fuel companies? Or is it too late due to these campaign donations?

    One may feel that a warchest is necessary, but historically, Matt Brown beat the incumbent in his race for Secretary of State and then beat the Republican candidate by a significant margin, one that our current Governor did not have against Fung. Capri’s argument, drawing a parallel between Fung and Raimondo, Trump and Clinton, is a fair assessment. In fact, many of our own Rhode Islanders voted strongly for Sanders in the 2016 Primary, and then swung far right and sided with Trump in the General. This is an important note, and a history lesson we should not ignore.

    Unaffiliated voters are not necessarily independent voters. Many side with Democrats, but are disenfranchised by the DNC and RI Democratic Party and therefore choose to stay unaffiliated. Candidates like the current Governor do not help with that sentiment.

    I look forward to these midterm elections. We have several progressive candidates up to bat for the Democratic nomination , and I hope that the Rhode Island Democratic Party encourages a robust and thoughtful debate among the candidates. While that may be idealistic of me, it is still a hope that I, as an unaffiliated voter, want to see become a reality.

  3. Matt Brown did a terrible job as Secretary of State because he focused on issues that had nothing to do with the office but got him a lot of press (like prescription drugs for seniors) while neglecting the actual duties of the office. Specifically, one of the most useful parts of the SOS website is the ability to look up your legislators. This feature is crucial for grassroots organizations that want to mobilize people to contact their legislators. He took that feature offline and kept it offline for months during the legislative season until finally the ProJo had to call him out in an editorial (and I’m no fan of the ProJo.) As someone who was involved with grassroots organizations at the time, I can tell you that it caused us significant hardship. He also tried to essentially launder money during his abortive run for Senate by having donors donate to Democratic parties in other states so that they would donate to him. (He downplays this now, saying that the FEC said it was okay. He knows that people mostly won’t remember what happened.) All of this is documented.

  4. Why do Democrats in R.I. feel they are the only party here? We also have a Republican Association which I feel should be listened to and given the consideration they deserve.This State needs to be noticed and respected by Washington. Our present Governor has never even attended the inauguration or any Governor’s meetings in Washington. We need to be represented and respected. A change is badly needed. I had been a Democrat all my voting life but I am so glad that I changed my party as our country is getting back to having the respect it once had!

  5. Nice to see a broad discussion of the Governor’s race, I thank all 5 of the previous commenters who all made interesting points. I hope others join in, on this and other posts.

    My view on the Governor’s race is mixed. I agree with Tina that Matt Brown was a problem as Secretary of State, as a volunteer lobbyist I saw services from that office decline then, he didn’t seem interested in that job.

    I disagree with Randall on two points. The “no-fare” policy during peak hours gets in the way of trying to attract commuters to transit so that RIPTA can really help to fight climate change, revive cities, and attract progressive employers. Even seniors should recognize there are other interests. And that the Governor agreed the state won’t do business with companies that support those who intend destroying Israel seems quite reasonable.

    On the other hand I agree with him that corporate giveaways are excessive, especially flagrant in the case of the minor league stadium. Her administration facilitated Citizens Bank moving much of its workforce out of the metro area to the Johnston woods contrary to all our land use and environmental goals. I didn’t like how the Governor dumped a political appointment on the Rhode Island College Foundation whose resources were supposed to help students. As Treasurer she gave huge fees to hedge fun managers, money gone for good. And remember UHIP administration and Cooler and Warmer!

    That said, there are positives. She promotes Green Economy bonds used to clean up pollution, promote outdoor recreation, and protect farmland and natural areas. Road and bridge repairs are seriously underway with the big heavy trucks that do a lot of the damage helping pay for it. Though the legislature cut back its scope, she has expanded access to higher education, especially helpful to low income students. She has generally defended rights for women (as at the Women’s March) gays, immigrants, and with the GOP in DC hostile to all that I don’t want a Republican in the Governor’s Office who is likely to accept the party line against civil rights.

    So though I’m undecided on the primary, I’d hope either way all Democrats will come together and support either candidate for Governor over today’s Republicans.

  6. Late to the discussion, but I just wanted to point out this error from the article: “Matt Brown is to the left of Raimondo because of her extreme conservative agenda…”

    Extreme conservative? No, Capri. Under no rational analysis in Governor Raimondo an extreme conservative. Anyone who thinks Raimondo is an extreme conservative ignores the reality of what extreme conservatism is. Look at the governors of Texas or Oklahoma for examples. Or, closer to home, look at Trillo or Nardolillo. Anti-choice? See: Barth Bracy and compare against Raimondo.

    One of the hallmarks of being a progressive is that we’re able to embrace the nuance in issues and reach rational conclusions.

    I’m not saying Raimondo is progressive. But, you forgo all sense of proportion (and credibility) when you paint the world of politicians in black and white terms, conflating not being a progressive with being an extreme conservative.

  7. How can Gov. Raymond propose cutting 18 million dollars from the handicapped in her proposed???? budget and call herself a Democrat?

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