A Progressive Civil War Threatens The Left’s Power In Rhode Island

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A year after the Left’s massive advantage against the state’s conservative Democratic establishment, one group’s litmus test is dividing progressives.

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In just a few short years, Rhode Island has gone from a Democrat-dominated state, where conservative party leaders switch from policy-making to progressives at the center of left-leaning legislative activity.

The time was right. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won Democratic presidential primary in Rhode Island in 2016, and the state’s progressive community took advantage of the momentum.

But now the controversial strategy Rhode Island Political Cooperative, or Co-op, an influential upstart, is driving a wedge among progressives.

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The Co-op, a group that provides campaign services and infrastructure to candidates, has declared war on any Rhode Island state legislator who opposes anyone associated with the pre-2020 Democratic leadership team in Providence. Doesn’t share its strategy of doing. The co-op expelled one of the elected lawmakers on its slate in 2020 and is facing challenges against two other prominent progressive lawmakers.

“I don’t understand what their approach is and what they hope to achieve,” said Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer for the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. “They seem intent on ousting pro-labor and progressive legislators as they are on attacking or ousting a conservative.”

“We are building a real movement for the first time in this state.”

–Matt Brown, co-founder, Rhode Island Political Cooperative

The battle lines are basically: Organized Labor, the Rhode Island Working Family Party and several mainstream environmental groups stand side by side. The Co-op, the Providence of the Sunrise Movement with which the Co-op is closely linked, Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, and several members of the Providence of the Democratic Socialists of America, on the other. Prominent members of rival factions barely keep their word.

Some veterans of state politics believe that the conflict, which has turned nasty and personal, is jeopardizing the gains the Left has made in recent years.

“Instead of the diversity of Left organizations in the state – which support more or less the same policy program – getting together and striving to maximize their power, we are turning to personality-driven infiltration and communalism. ,” said a left-wing Rhode Island activist who requested anonymity to protect professional relations.

The fight over the future of progressive politics is being debated on the Left across the country in a solid democratic, albeit small, state mirror. Nearly seven years after Sanders first presidential run Expanded leftist views of what is possible, activists and organizations with similar policy goals are at odds when electoral idealism crosses the line into self-destructive naivety, when correctness tests are necessary versus when they are unnecessary. Formally separate allies, and the extent to which ambition is hidden behind the demands of individual movement.

Matt Brown, a co-op co-founder and former Rhode Island Secretary of State running for governor, and State Sen. Cynthia Mendes, a Registered Republicans as of 2016 Those who have gone through an ideological shift and are running for lieutenant governor with Brown say they are more optimistic about restructuring state politics to address urgent challenges like climate change.

In 2022, the Co-op plans to run 50 candidates for state and local offices with the goal of achieving a true, progressive governing majority. Receiving criticism from left-wing people and institutions, which have adopted less effective strategies in the past, is an unfortunate byproduct of the co-op’s commitment to changing outcomes, he says.

Other progressives “accept and believe that progressives will be in a permanent governing minority and therefore the only thing we can do is to work with support and leadership so that we can achieve something piecemeal, something incremental,” Brown said in an October interview. “Our feeling is that we are building a real movement for the first time in this state.”

Supporters of then-Speaker of the Rhode Island House Nicolas Mattiello (D) on Election Day 2020. Mattiello lost to a Republican who had quiet help from the Progressives.
Jonathan Wiggs / Getty Images

Infiltrate the Old Boys Club

Although the Democrats had a veto-proof majority in the state legislature of Rhode Island. more than a decadeHe has historically had a conservative streak that is rare for Democrats in the Northeast.

Rhode Island was one of the only blue states to have a . had adopted photo id requirement For voters before the 2012 elections. state legislators cut taxes For wealthy residents in 2014. And top Democrats, such as State Senate Speaker Dominic Rugario and then-House Speaker Nicolas Mattiello, regularly won support. abortion rights opponents and earned “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

By 2016, the progressives were successful in blaming the ruling leadership, which put Democratic leaders in Rhode Island on notice. In the Democratic legislative primary that June, Marcia Ranglin-Wassel, a Jamaican-born public school teacher and first-time candidate, Rajya Sabha Majority Leader, an opponent of abortion rights. Ranglin-Wassell’s victory was one of four candidates that the state of the Working Families Party successfully ran in 2016 against more conservative Democratic incumbents.

“These victories send a clear message to the legislature – it’s time for some big changes,” Georgia Hollister Eisman, WFP’s Rhode Island state director, said at the time.

For the most part, the legislature did not listen. Mattiello, in particular, used his power to block the idea of ​​a $15 minimum wage, a bill mandating a transition to renewable energy, and a higher income tax bracket for the state’s wealthiest households.

In 2019, Mattiello finally stopped hanging out codification of abortion rights In state law, while still voting against the law. This was enough to anger some Conservative allies, but did little with Progressives to adopt them.

In November 2020, Republican candidate Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung deposed Mattiello With a steep drop of 18 percent. He did it with the quiet help of progressive volunteers.

“After expressing my concern [about certain decisions], I didn’t think they were being heard in a way that meaningful change was going to happen.”

– State Sen. Kendra Anderson (D)

“It wasn’t about him,” said a Rhode Island Progressive activist, who knocked on doors for Fenton-Fung. “It was about the larger power structures of what it would mean for them to not have more speakers. And there’s no point in having another Republican in that chamber.”

On a different but parallel track, Co-op launched in 2020, is underway 24 candidates On an over-progressive policy platform for state and local offices and a resolution not to support the current Democratic leadership team in the state legislature.

Some of the co-op candidates, such as Brandon Potter, a car salesman raised by a poor single mother, had support from other groups such as WFP, Planned Parenthood and Reclaim Rhode Island, a Sanders-inspired group that supports does not do. Co-op’s lead litmus test.

But in other cases, the co-op’s lack of ties to Democratic Party politics enabled it to take risks that other groups were unwilling to take. For example, Co-op was one of the only major groups to support Mendes and queer black activists. Tiara McKay, both won their state Senate races.

The Co-op asked individual candidates to contribute a few thousand dollars to pay for the various campaign consulting services provided by the Co-op. Both Mendes and Mack credit the co-op with providing much-needed advice, expertise, and access to fundraising resources.

“I had someone in the co-op staff that I could call every single day of the week during the busiest months of my campaign and yell, cry, yell and say, ‘How do we get this back on track? Are you going?’ Mack said. “I felt like my money was spent wisely at the time and it was a really good use of time.”

in totality, eight candidates of cooperative Prevailed in 2020, part of a larger progressive wave that picked up 15 new progressive legislators,

Rhode Island is home to the Block Island Wind Farm.  A new renewable energy mandate could spur the state's wind power development, but progressives say the state could do more.
Rhode Island is home to the Block Island Wind Farm. A new renewable energy mandate could spur the state’s wind power development, but progressives say the state could do more.
Michael Dwyer / The Associated Press

‘They condemn other progressives’

After the 2020 elections, an overwhelming majority of Democrats in the Rajya Sabha voted to make Of. Joseph Shekharchi, who served as majority leader under the next speaker, then-Speaker Mattiello. Only one MLA voted against him; Eight others were absent or absent.

Shekharchi, the openly gay son of Iranian immigrants, is more moderate than the cooperative candidates. But he received the votes of many progressives who saw him as more receptive to working with him than his predecessor.

Potter, who ousted a conservative Democrat in the September 2020 primaries and moved on narrowly lose A Republican in the general election, was one of them.

Given Mattiello’s defeat, Potter did not see voting for a different member of the pre-election House leadership team as a violation of his campaign promise…


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