The Uprising, July 6, 2018

Over the last four years as chair, I’ve worked really hard to make sure our Party is more open and transparent and is a place where all Democrats can feel they can have a voice and make a difference.
Joseph McNamara, Chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party

The Rhode Island Democratic Party, widely assumed to be controlled by Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) embarrassed itself on Monday with a series of politically motivated endorsements and endorsement snubs that was only partially rectified by the rescission of two endorsements on Thursday.

Let’s get into this, and a few other things that happened this week.

1a. Michael Earnheart

Shortly after learning that Michael Earnheart was running, as a Democrat, against freshman State Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) I was reminded that I had taken his picture over a year ago, March 27, 2017, at Joe Trillo and John DePetro‘s Pro-Trump MAGA March. You can read about that rally here and here.

That’s Earnheart in the picture, holding the upside-down Make America Great Again sign, engaged in passionate discussion with the late environmental activist Robert Malin.

So I think I was as surprised as anyone that Earnheart received the the Rhode Island Democratic Party‘s endorsement. Worse, looking at the endorsement papers filed at the Secretary of State’s office, Earnheart’s name is written in after the document was already prepared, a last minute addition to the list.

Rhode Island Democratic Party Executive Director Tolulope Kevin Olasanoye told me that Walsh did not receive the Party’s endorsement because she never asked for it. “There may be good reasons for someone like Walsh, who is often at odds with House and Party leadership, to not seek the Party’s endorsement,” said Olasanoye.

Earnheart did seek the Party’s endorsement. According to Olasanoye, Earnheart claimed to be a lifelong Democrat who voted for Donald Trump because he didn’t like Hillary Clinton. Earnheart, said Olasanoye, regrets that vote.

Earnheart also came with letters of recommendation from several people, including Providence City Council Member Nicholas Narducci (Ward 4).

Justin Roias is running against Narducci for that Providence City Council seat.

“Can I see those letters of recommendation?” I asked.

“No,” replied Olasanoye.

1b. Nicholas Mattiello

In a Providence Journal interview with Katherine Gregg, Earnheart admitted “he voted for Republican Donald Trump — and supports House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat — for the same reason: they strike him as pro-business.”

This got me thinking: In what other ways are Donald Trump and Nicholas Mattiello similar?

Both are supported by the NRA, both are opposed to women’s reproductive rights, and both pursue economic policies that cut taxes for the rich.

1c. Moira Walsh

From her allegation of excessive drinking at the Rhode Island State House near the start of her two year term…

“When asked by [WPRO’s Matt Allen] what she found most surprising at the State House, Walsh said, “The drinking. It is the drinking that blows my mind. You can not operate a motor vehicle when you’ve had two beers but you can make laws that effect people’s lives forever when you’re half in the bag? That’s outrageous!”

…to her passionate call for a gubernatorial veto of Speaker Mattiello’s pet bill, Kristen’s Law…

“Communities like mine, District 3 in Providence, have experienced opioid epidemics and drug epidemics for years. And now that it’s creeping into Cranston, we have to put in a law,” said Walsh. “We hear you loud and clear. You’re saying that our lives, if we live under a certain dollar amount, don’t matter to you.”

…Moira Walsh has been a constant thorn in the side of both House Leadership and the Rhode Island Democratic Party (which when you think about Speaker Mattiello’s leadership of both these institutions, is really the same thing).

The endorsement of her opponent made Walsh “furious.” And the endorsement shocked and outraged people from across the political spectrum.

Okay, maybe that last one is more like schadenfreude than outrage, but you catch my drift.

1d. John Carnevale

The endorsement of Earnheart over Walsh wasn’t the only contentious thing about the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s endorsements. The House District 13 District Committee had already endorsed John Carnevale, who is currently facing criminal perjury charges and has a sordid history charges relating to the assault women.

1e. More women snubbed for endorsement:

Aaron Pearson came up with this list of women, “who were snubbed endorsement for a man or nobody: Shannon Donahue, Valerie Lawson, Deborah Perry, Mel Dupont, Melissa Murray, Carol Frisk, Jennifer Rourke, Jeanine Calkin, Bridget Valverde, Alana Dimario, Moira Walsh, Rebecca Kislak, Jeanne-Marie Dimasi and Lauren Niedel.”

1f. Bridget Valverde

The case of Bridget Valverde is significant because her opponent, former Johnston State Senator Gregory Acciardo, has a lengthy “rap sheet” of sorts. In an oped, Valverde writes:

What I’ve learned in the past few days about Mr Acciardo is astonishing.

  • Acciardo has a lengthy criminal history and pattern of endangering others. He was first convicted of vehicular manslaughter in 1994; police said he crossed the center line and caused a crash that ended the life of a 62-year-old woman.
  • A few years after that, in 2009, he was arrested for driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.321 – four times the legal limit.
  • The following year, he was arrested for DWI again.
  • He has also been accused of domestic assault, and was sentenced to three years for harboring a felon before that conviction was overturned on a technicality.
  • According to the Secretary of State’s office, he currently owes Rhode Island over $5,000 for campaign finance violations that he has refused to pay for years.

Someone with this kind of history is unfit to represent our district, and completely unworthy of our party’s endorsement.

Kevin Olasonoye, the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, told RIPR’s Ian Donnis that, “We had to make a decision about who we thought was best suited to win in the district based on what we knew.”

Maybe Olasonoye was unaware of what Valverde dug up on the internet in a few minutes of Google searching, but what Olasonoye did know was this:

Valverde is the vice president of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.

1g. Endorsements begone!

On Thursday, Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Joseph McNamara reversed course and rescinded the endorsements of Michael Earnheart and Gregory Acciardo. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell questioned the legality of a party chair unilaterally reversing the endorsements (and questioned the legality of unilaterally making the endorsements in the first place), but former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, in his position as outside legal counsel to the Rhode Island Secretary of State, made the legal case, at least for now, and the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office is playing along.

1h. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell

Incumbent Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) also did not receive the Rhode Island Democratic Party‘s endorsement. The endorsement went to her opponent, Providence College Theology Professor Holly Taylor Coolman. It was not the state party that snubbed Ranglin-Vasseell, it was her own House District 5 District Committee, apparently still under the influence of John DeSimone, the man Ranglin-Vassell unseated in the last election. DeSimone’s brother, Anthony Desimone Jr, is one of the four people on that committee.

Holly Taylor Coolman told me she was unaware of the endorsement until she read it in the Providence Journal. She was unaware of who was on her District Committee until she read it on this blog.

Turns out that despite Rhode Island Democratic Party Executive Director Tolulope Kevin Olasanoye assertion that you have to ask for the endorsement in order to get it the opposite is true. Sometimes the party doesn’t ask and gives you the endorsement whether you want it or not.

Taylor Coolman had nothing to do with her endorsement. “My own theory,” said Taylor Coolman, is that the endorsement is “anti-Marcia much more than pro-Holly.”

1g. Jeanine Calkin

The executive committee of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus touched on the endorsements of the Democratic challengers to Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Senator Jeanine Calkin, noting that the explanation for “these choices lies in the arcane district committee system, which is something that should also be addressed at another time.”

Will Weatherly at RI Future writes:

“I was informed by one of my constituents that the Warwick Democrats were calling people to run against me,” Senator Calkin said. “Not that I expected their support anyway.”

Calkin had arranged a meeting with her district committee to discuss the possibility of an endorsement on June 27, she said. But a letter sent by Representative McNamara to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea on June 25 had already listed her opponent, Mark McKenney, for an endorsement.

“What I’m wondering is why the decision to endorse my opponent on the 25th when I hadn’t even had my meeting yet?” Senator Calkin said. “For me, that speaks to the fact that there was no expectation for me to get the endorsement.”

Arcane is one word for it. “Fixed’ might be another.

1h. Belen Florez

As Ted Nesi reports here, “Belen Florez secured the Democratic endorsement over two-term incumbent Representative Daniel McKiernan” in House District 7.

Why then does the Party Chair letter on file at the Secretary of State’s office list McKiernan as the endorsed candidate?

McKiernan says he never sought the Democratic Party endorsement. As far as he’s concerned, Florez is the endorsed candidate and he has “no idea’ what’s going on with the State party.

1g. Gina Raimondo

“To be clear, Governor Raimondo supports all of our incumbent Democrats. She does not support Earnheart, and would not endorse any candidate who supports President Trump’s divisive agenda,” said campaign spokesperson David Ortiz.

1h. A slow news week

Usually the week of July 4th is a slow news week locally. But the Rhode Island Democratic Party endorsement controversy kept me busy. Here’s what UpriseRI published on the story this week.

Shanna Wells – RI Democratic Party should stop stifling the voices of women and people of color!

Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair endorses Trump supporter over incumbent Moira Walsh

Bridget Valverde – My opponent is “unfit to represent our district, and completely unworthy of our party’s endorsement”

Democratic Party endorses Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell’s anti-choice opponent

Representative Joe Almeida – Shame on the Democratic Party

Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus and LGBTQ Caucus address endorsement isssue

Holly Taylor Coolman – Facts over spin in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization for Women calls for the Rhode Island Democratic Party to formally renounce party endorsements

Holly Taylor Coolman never sought the Democratic Party’s endorsement, it was given to her

Rhode Island Democratic Party rescinds endorsements of Earnheart and Acciardo

Representative Daniel McKiernan never sought the Democratic Party endorsement, they tried to give it to him anyway

More to come, I’m sure.

2. Russell Jennings

Lost in this week’s endorsement kerfuffle was the Rhode Island Democratic Party‘s attempt to stop Russell Jennings, the Democratic primary challenger to Representative Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester) from getting on the ballot. After the Burrillville Board of Canvassers ruled that Jennings’ declaration of candidacy was invalid because he had put the wrong district number in, Jennings appealed to the Rhode Island Board of Elections and won.

The Party sent William Lynch, former party chair and on again/off again special advisor, spokesman or uncompensated volunteer, to advocate against Jennings getting the declaration papers he needed to collect signatures to be on the ballot.

Jennings considers himself a progressive, unlike Keable, who is a traditional Democrat and chairs the House Judiciary Committee as part of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s leadership team.

3a. Family Separation Crisis

On July 1 there was a rally across the street from the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institutions to end all family separation. Though there were similar rallies across the country, Rhode Island’s stood out because organizers broadened the scope of public concern from opposition to the Trump Administration‘s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration at the border to a call for an end to all family separation and all policies that facilitate family separation.

Organizers, including the March for Racial Justice and AMOR RI (Alianza para Movilizar Nuestra Resistencia) explained that, “We are here to end all forms of family separation. The recent executive order is a political tool to quell public outrage and hide the fact that detaining and deporting children with their parents is still separation from family, community, and justice.”

Central to the theme of the rally was that family separation, far from being an anomaly of a particularly nativist and racist presidential administration, is an ugly part of our nation’s DNA. Organizers write:

This nation was built on family separation from the beginning of colonization of indigenous land and the transatlantic slave trade, and this legacy continues today. Mass incarceration, police brutality, a punitive child support and foster care system, United States militarism, criminalization of sex workers, low-wage work, pipelines that destroy Native land, and restrictive immigration policies are just a few ways this government destroys families, biological and chosen.

We cannot be silent. NOBODY should be forced away from community. We will not stop talking about colonialism, patriarchy, ableism, slavery, capitalism, or imperialism just to get a concise message together as a reaction to Trump’s policies.

Organizers are demanding “restorative and transformative justice.”

[W]e need healing and accountability mechanisms that don’t make us turn to the government when harm occurs. In the end, all roads lead back to the grassroots organizations on the front lines working to protect the most affected by the state-sanctioned violence inflicted upon black and brown citizens and migrants by ICE and the police.

Here’s community activist and candidate for Providence City Council Ward 1 Justice Gaines expanding the conversation to include all kinds of families:

You can see all the videos and lots of photos here.

Photographer and filmmaker Selene Means contributes their photos here.

3b. We Belong Together

I was happy to work with Newsweek on this story:

‘We Belong Together’—Meet the Americans Opening Their Homes to Families Seeking Asylum in U.S.

“Roger* and Beth,* a Rhode Island couple in their late 60s, had been watching, “horrified,” as the Trump administration launched its hard-line campaign to crack down on undocumented immigrants in the United States, seeing thousands of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The married couple told Newsweek they had been looking for a way to do more to help undocumented immigrants arriving in the U.S. when they received an email from rights group Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) asking if any supporters would be willing to open their homes to asylum seekers coming to the country with little to no support.

The couple, whose names have been withheld to protect the anonymity of asylum seekers whose applications are still being processed, did not hesitate. “We both kind of impulsively just said yes,” Beth said. “That if there was any way we could help these folks, we would love to do that.”

*Roger and Beth are pseudonyms.

4. Glocester Ancients & Horribles Parade

I take a whack at explaining some off the politics on display at the 2018 Glocester Ancients & Horribles Parade, from marching politicians to the floats that mock and challenge them. Being in northwest Rhode Island, that means taking on those politicians who support the building of Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant, politicians like Governor Gina Raimondo, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena.

4b. Energy Facilities Siting Board

Rhode Island Department of Administration Director Michael DiBiase has announced that Meredith Brady – the Administrator for Planning at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) – has been selected as Associate Director of the Rhode Island Division of Planning.

Brady, of North Kingstown, will begin her new role on Monday, July 16. As Associate Director of the Division, she will serve on the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) and the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB).

By state law, Brady will be able to sit in on the soon to begin final hearings of the EFSB consideration of Invenergy’s proposed energy plant. She just has to catch up on the thousands of pages of highly technical documents first.

Sleep tight, Burrillville.

5. Tax credits for wage thieves

The Commons at Providence Station, the $54.1 million Tocci Building Construction project that runs from the Amtrak Station to the corner of Smith and Canal Streets in Providence ran afoul of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (RIDLT), through their subcontractor JS Interior Construction, for employee misclassification. The RIDLT determined that JS Interior Construction misclassified 29 workers as independent contractors. The company agreed to pay fines of $1500 per workers and pay each misclassified worker $750.

The project has received nearly $10 million in State and City credits.

On Monday and Tuesday morning workers led by Justin Kelley, business agent for the Rhode Island Painters and Allied Trades Local 195 of District Council 11, held an Area Standard Wages and Benefits picket. “The workers are very badly paid, far far below what professional drywall workers make in the industry for wages and benefits,” said Kelley. Most of the drywall workers are immigrants, and are too easily being taken advantage of. The workers don’t know their rights and fear retaliation.

“With all of this occurring, we are calling on the Providence City Council and Mayor of Providence to work together to pass pending language that would help prevent these sorts of embarrassing incidents, language that would attach to Tax Stabilization Agreements to ensure that workers are protected and that if labor law violations occur that developers tax breaks are revoked,” said Kelley in a statement.

“Furthermore we are calling on the State of Rhode Island to make similar attachments to Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits to ensure that tax payers at either the municipal or state level are not subsidizing criminal contractors.

“Finally we call on the powers that be at both the City of Providence and the State Government of Rhode Island to revoke the tax credits for this project in light of these appalling labor conditions and violations admittedly committed by unscrupulous subcontractors.”

6. The Woman Project

The Woman Project shared a series of questions with Ashley Gray, State Advocacy Adviser and Agata Pelka, State Legislative Council for the Center for Reproductive Rights. They co-shared answering these questions:

“What keeps me up at night are the unintended consequences of restricting abortion access should our national landscape worsen: pregnant people being prosecuted for experiencing miscarriage, etc,” said Gray.

“I worry that we will lose the momentum we have had to improve access to abortion, contraception, and maternal health in terms of expanding insurance coverage and that there will be a narrative that we should just be grateful to have legal abortion,” said Pelka. “We have been working so hard to ensure that all people can actually access services in practice, I hope we don’t lose sight of that goal.”

7. Rhode Island sues fossil fuel companies

In any other week, this might be at least my second biggest story:

“Rhode Island is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate changes that is now on our doorstep with sea level rise and an increase in severe weather patterns, as seen by the extensive damage caused by storms in the past several years, including Super Storm Sandy and the floods of 2010,” said Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. “The defendants’ actions for the past several decades are already having and will continue to have a significant and detrimental impact on our infrastructure, economy, public health, and our eco-systems, and will force the State to divert already-limited resources to mitigate the effects of climate change, thereby diminishing resources for other vital programs and services.

You can see the lawsuit here.

8. Fundraiser?

Yes, some very kind and patient people are throwing a fundraiser for me and my little blog here. Come on in even if you already contribute or even if you can’t contribute. Let’s have a good time. I’ll be addressing those in attendance at 6 and 7pm. I won’t be too boring, I promise.

2018 Muckraker-Palooza!

Thursday, July 12, 2017 at The Parlour, 1119 N Main St, Providence, Rhode Island 02904!

9. Picture of the Week:

Art as activism

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About Steve Ahlquist 659 Articles
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. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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