Politics & Elections

RI Rank releases General Assembly 2022 Overall Rankings

Election time promises mean nothing if, when push comes to shove, a legislator holds an important bill for further study or votes against the interests of their constituents because leadership tells them to. RI Rank’s General Assembly 2022 Overall Rankings seek to hold legislators accountable based on their most important responsibility, their votes.
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Published on August 29, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Doing the bidding of leadership is so automatic that some legislators don’t even remember how they voted on specific bills. For instance, Representative Jean Phillippe Barros (ranked 59th out of 75) was surprised to learn that he voted to hold, and effectively scuttled, the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (EACA) when speaking to voters forum at the George Wiley Center, even as he claimed that he was a supporter of the bill.

As opposed to protecting the health and wellbeing of their constituents, voting as leadership demands is considered an important part of the job. This might be why the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the dangerous, junk science plastics burning bill, despite the fact that it was opposed by all Rhode Island environmental groups and had virtually no support among the general public. The bill was passed because Senate leadership wanted it to pass, maybe to appease the powerful American Chemistry Council, who lobbied heavily for the bill.

The top three Senators in RI Rank’s General Assembly 2022 Overall Rankings are Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick), Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) and Senator Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence). The top Representative in the House is Representative David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence).

“I am happy to share the winners podium with fellow champions for the people Jeanine Calkin and Sam Bell. In my first term as senator, I was glad to have theses seasoned senators provide guidance and examples of how to lead with integrity and a people first mission,” wrote Senator Mack in response to the rankings. “We never fell in line with leadership and worked together to ensure a more transparent Senate chamber.

“In the House, it is no surprise that the three top legislators are people that I have a great working relationship with and have sponsored impactful policy with over the last two years,” continued Senator Mack. “The communities may not always know our names or policy wins, but I hope they feel and experience the impact of the new wave of Rhode Island legislators that work tirelessly for the people of our state.“

“Honored to be ranked with some amazing legislators in RI Rank’s results for 2022! Now more than ever, Rhode Island’s General Assembly has leaders working for the people of our state on policy that aims to truly put them first,” wrote Senator Calkin.

“Accountability and transparency are important factors for how well elected officials do our jobs, as well as standing strong in the face of sometimes immense pressure and possible retaliation,” continued Calkin. “I truly enjoy working with Senators Bell and Mack, and many other strong progressives including the ranked House Representatives, and I look forward to next session when more like minded candidates get elected.”

“As a Legislator, my policy priorities are always centered around the needs of my neighbors, the working people of Providence,” wrote Representative Morales. “So in between advocating for legislation to expand healthcare to all, lead services line replacements, and hosting over a dozen community meetings — I’m deeply honored to be ranked the #1 Representative for the second consecutive year! Alongside grassroots organizations and other unapologetic progressive legislators, I look forward to continuing our fight to improve the standard of living for all working people, seniors, and youth across our state. So far, we’ve made incredible progress by passing important Medicaid investments, lower insulin costs, and historic environmental protections. Now despite the wrongful influence of corporate interests, I remain focused and confident that our state government will continue to pass laws and budget investments that truly support our community.”

Challenging leadership has consequences. Senators Calkin, Bell and Mack all have primary opponents backed by Senate leadership. As philosopher George Lucas noted in 1980, the empire strikes back.

RI Rank does not measure how liberal or progressive a candidate is. The legislation used for the metrics RI Rank has developed are on issues including open government, civil liberties, and environmental legislation. The legislation considered is weighted based on how it is supported or opposed by non-partisan advocacy organizations such as the Rhode Island ACLU, Common Cause Rhode Island and the Environmental Council of Rhode Island.

Civil rights, voting rights, and clean air are not partisan issues. RI Rank does not list a legislator’s party affiliation, but note that Representative David Place (Republican, District 47, Burrillville) placed #4 in the 2022 House rankings. It’s not about party affiliation, it’s about democracy and representation.

The bills that most affected legislator rankings this year were the Redistricting bills (H7323, S2162). [For a detailed analysis of the corruption at the heart of the process, see: A corrupt process from the core, Rhode Island redistricting wraps up and Redistricting in Rhode Island: Grand Theft Democracy] It is now understood that the process of redistricting in Rhode Island is done via a series of secret meetings in the sub-basement of the Rhode Island State House where legislators literally altered maps outside the view of the public. This corrupt process can be depoliticized, to a great extent (but not completely) by passing legislation establishing an independent redistricting commission, but bills to reform the redistricting process in Rhode Island routinely fail to pass. Some form or another of this bill has been “held for further study” for literally decades.

This is why RI Rank considers the leadership vote and holds legislators accountable for their support of leadership. Legislators often make the excuse that the system at the State House makes it difficult, if not impossible, to defy leadership. But a legislator cannot blame a corrupt system for their failings when they themselves vote the corrupt system into place every two years like clockwork.

Uprise RI will be there, as we were nearly two years ago, when both chambers of the General Assembly hold their leadership votes after the November elections. We all be there when both chambers create committees to adopt the rules they will use to govern their deliberations for the next two years. These two decisions, on leadership and the rules, perpetuate the system that these legislators will blame when they have to disappoint their constituents and vote against the their interests. They will present these system as an inevitability, when in fact, it was a choice – a vote – made with knowable consequences.

Putting together the General Assembly 2022 Overall Rankings rankings is no small task. The House does not publish committee votes on bills held for further study anywhere on the internet. RI Rank had to request them via Uprise RI. [Thank you to the House staff for their help with this, by the way.] In the interest of transparency, the House should consider making these votes more public.

The primary is on September 13th here in Rhode Island, and early voting is already under way If you haven’t voted yet, we urge you to consider these rankings. If you voted already, we hope these rankings won’t instill a sense of buyer’s remorse.

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