The Rhode Island Democratic Party Is Trying to Sabotage Its Own Progressive Legislators


Rhode Island is one of eight states where the Democratic Party holds a trifecta, meaning they control both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion. Do not, however, mistake Rhode Island for a bastion of progressivism: the Democratic speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello, is pro-life and has an A+ rating from the NRA, as does state Senate president Dominick Ruggerio. And Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo is a venture capitalist who might not even get re-elected, in a possible wave year in a state which has voted for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1984.

The state party is totally cool with all of this, thank you very much, and are not interested in your complaints—so much so that they’re willing to support a pro-Trump ex-Republican to a progressive 27 year-old incumbent who made her legislative leadership feel just a little bit uncomfortable.

Slate’s Osita Nwanevu reports:

[Rep. Moira] Walsh has since been a progressive voice in the legislature and supports increasing the minimum wage and marijuana legalization. She also caused a stir in March when she said in a radio interview that there was an “insane amount of drinking” among legislators at the statehouse. All this might go some way towards explaining why the state Democratic Party has endorsed her opponent in the upcoming primaries—a man who appears to have once been a vocal supporter of Donald Trump and alt-right figures.
On June 28, the Rhode Island Democratic Party endorsed challenger Michael Earnheart in a handwritten addition to a printed endorsement sheet. On his Facebook page, Earnheart describes himself as a “moderate” and responded to queries about his political positions in late May with statements of support for the “Second Amendment” and a promise to “defend against legislation that attempts to stop or interfere with lawful gun ownership.”

According to Slate, Earnheart registered as a Republican in 2014 and voted as one in 2016, and progressive political blog UpriseRI published pictures of Earnheart at a Trump rally holding a Make America Great Again sign in 2016. UpriseRI noted that the party’s executive director says that Earnheart regrets his vote for Trump. But wait—there’s more, reports Slate (emphasis mine):

Some angry Democrats have been circulating screenshots from a Twitter user also named Michael Earnheart, who closely resembles the picture on Michael Earnheart’s Facebook page. In one exchange on May 26, whose authenticity was verified by Slate, Earnheart wrote on Twitter that undocumented immigrants are “self-entitled lawbreakers and thieves,” in response to a tweet from the Washington Post’s Radley Balko criticizing the Trump administration’s child-separation policy. In this thread, Earnheart also alleged that many liberal and left opponents of the Trump administration’s immigration policies “don’t believe in God.”
An archived version of Earnheart’s Twitter page accessible on the Wayback Machine also features retweets of posts by Roseanne Barr, Donald Trump Jr., Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, and alt-right journalist Laura Loomer. Earnheart also made Islamophobic comments over a retweet of a post by alt-right figure Gavin McInnes about “Muslim pedophiles.” “We are normalizing grooming gangs and creating and lending legitimacy to rape culture by allowing these garbage human beings to live in civilized society,” he wrote. “Is the UK government actually stupid?”

The Rhode Island Democratic Party looked at its candidates at a time when the right-wing controls pretty much everything else and said, you know what we’re in desperate need of? More state legislators who are firmly to the right of Zell Miller.

In addition to its snubbing of Walsh, progressive political blog RI Future reported that the party also endorsed challengers over two other progressive incumbents, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Sen. Jeanine Calkin.

Ranglin-Vassell is a teacher who defeated the former Democratic House majority leader on her way to election in 2016. In the September 12 primary, she will be facing Democratic-endorsed pro-life candidate Holly Coolman, who signed a letter in support of Ireland’s now struck-down constitutional abortion ban.

Walsh told Slate that the endorsement of Earnheart was her punishment for making Mariello and the state’s Democratic leadership mad. “This is all very expected with the way our political machine is run in Rhode Island,” she told Nwanevu. “It only took two years to piss off the speaker this thoroughly. I’m pretty impressed with myself.

This is Rhode Island, not Alabama; the usual arguments you hear about the need for a “big tent” do not apply in a state where Democrats have a nearly 4-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans. And while the RI Democratic Party is its own deranged animal, it sure as hell doesn’t bode well for progressives who hope that the national Democratic Party can be reformed that, in one of the only places in the country where Democrats have real power, they’re using that power to kneecap their progressive caucus in an attempt to elect MAGA guys and pro-lifers.

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