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Editorial & Opinion

The Rhode Island Democratic Party is on the Wrong Track



Kevin Olasanoye‘s exit as the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) earlier this month is not a good sign for the direction of the party. Olasanoye is now the new Executive Director of the New Jersey Democratic Party. Tracy Ramos, the RIDP State Chair of the largest caucus – the Women’s Caucus, resigned as well. The departure of two high profile members of the party does not bode well for creating momentum and building unity heading into the critical 2020 election cycle.

Olasanoye had been the Executive Director for 2 short years before leaving. He came with a lofty set of goals including increasing transparency and uniting the party. Neither one materialized. When he started back in 2017 he attempted to bring civility to in the party. He even visited Glocester and expressed the need to reach out to Democrats across the state, especially supporters of Bernie Sanders.

Olasanoye did have some accomplishments. He was able to spearhead a fair transparency process for the rewriting of the party platform. He also answered emails and returned calls, something that should not be taken for granted.

Where Olasanoye failed was changing the dynamics of the party infrastructure. This included issues with the Women’s Caucus, creating a transparent process for State Committee meetings and encouraging participation by Rhode Island Progressives in the party. Was it the fault of Olasanoye or is the bigger picture the stranglehold that he faced due to RIDP Chair Joseph McNamara and the Speaker of the Rhode Island House, Representative Nicholas Mattiello.

2019 should be the year of action for the party, but politics is once again getting in the way. The State Committee members role of being more than just seat holders has not changed. Committee members still cannot communicate with each other. There is still no opt in email list, as promised by Olasanoye.

Can we please ask a favor?

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There is also no easy way for an additional meeting to be called without the blessing of Chair McNamara. The 60 votes necessary to call for a special meeting is outrageously difficult if not next to impossible. Additionally, the Rhode Island Democratic Party website still isn’t updated with 2018 committee members. Democrats across the state may not even have correct information on who represents them on the committee, a correction that is long overdue. It should not take the party months to upload a list!

Joseph McNamara

Then there is the recent appointment of the Bylaws Committee. This was the most critical way that leadership could have shown that they were serious about uniting the party. The bylaws committee for 2019 is made up of 12 men and seven women and seven members are also members of the Rhode Island General Assembly. (One appointed member, who was also on the Platform Committee, never attended any of the Platform Committee meetings.)

Chair McNamara, who also serves as a State Representative, stated in a June 13th press release that:

“This committee is comprised of a broad cross-section of the state committee and its membership is rich with the type of diversity that has made our party successful. I look forward to working with all of them to produce a product that will earn the support of all Democrats on the state committee later this fall.”

In addition to the imbalance of men and women, it so happens that not one of the members of the newly formed bylaws committee were part of the Bernie Sanders grassroots leadership team in 2016, although many applied, including Linda Ujifusa and myself.

We are almost 20 percent into the 21st century, yet the committee lives by antiquated bylaws and communication channels. With seven General Assembly members, and no executive director, it just about guarantees that there will not be any significant changes to the bylaws. Issues, including how votes are taken, the scheduling of additional party meetings, voting by email, the standing committees selection process and other possible reforms will probably not be addressed.

The announcement of the Bylaws committee was via press release. Members of the committee itself never received an email, a call or even a formal letter. I would not be surprised if most of the 275 plus committee members don’t know who was appointed. Inexcusably, committee members also did not receive a formal communication when Olasanoye left.

The party has not learned any lessons from 2016 and 2018 and refuses to acknowledge the importance of Progressive Democrats across the state, and how having a politically diverse committee actually adds value and critical insight.

The “big tent” that was advocated by Olasanoye never materialized. The Party itself has done very little outreach, abandoned northwest Rhode Island in the 2018 elections, and has been virtually non-existent when it comes to voter registration initiatives. The Democrats in the General Assembly could not even pass election reform bills to make voting more accessible and easier for many throughout the state. Rhode Island is still the only states with Democratic majority legislature to pass backwards Voter ID intimidation laws .

One can only guess why Olasanoye left. New Jersey has a Governor who is working to reform that state and end the corruption. It may be a better fit for him.

A quote from Olasanoye in the New Jersey Globe may provide insight:

“Democrats across the country are taking notice that Governor Phil Murphy is leading New Jersey in a more progressive direction, and that inspiring leadership is a major reason why I was attracted to this position where I will be able to join in that fight,” said Olasanoye. “I can’t wait to get to work in helping NJDSC continue growing its impact and reach and pushing to elect more Democrats at all levels.”

Olasanoye’s departure leaves the RIDP stuck in the mud. Our party now has no Executive Director, no vision and no way of really connecting with the people.

Here are the reported members of the RIDP Bylaws Committee:

  • Representative Joseph McNamara
  • Senator Louis DiPalma
  • Representative Jay Edwards
  • Representative Patricia Serpa
  • Representative Justine Caldwell
  • Representative Grace Diaz
  • Representative Arthur Corvese
  • Felix Appolonia
  • Nathan Biah
  • Anthony DeRose
  • Matthew Jerzyk
  • Bob Ritacco
  • Central Falls Mayor James Diossa
  • Lisa Tomasso
  • Win Hames
  • Ann Gooding
  • Stephen Mulcahey
  • Liz Beretta-Perik
  • Marcia Reback

Here are the 2011 Bylaws.

Lauren Niedel is currently a member of the RI Democratic State Committee - serving her 2nd term on the Platform Committee. She has been reelected for 2018-2022 session. She was also the State contact and delegate for the Bernie 2016 campaign.