On Tuesday, I voted in the Rhode Island Democratic primary. It was a dispiriting experience. The Rhode Island Democratic Party is a complete disaster. There are some good Democrats. But in a state where Democrats have a 69-6 majority in the House and a 32-5 majority in the Senate, for the most part, if you want power, you need to be a Democrat. And thus, the term “Democrat” means nothing. What has this enormous majority given us? A voter ID law. And then, earlier this year, the legislature decided to borrow a tactic from the great progressive state of Oklahoma and ban municipalities from setting their own minimum wage. This latter move was a response to the Providence City Council voting to place the $15 minimum wage on the ballot this fall.
So yes, the Rhode Island Democratic Party is openly implementing the ideas of the Oklahoma Republican Party.
All this means that the Democratic primary in Rhode Island is hugely important. Now, we aren’t talking about Georgia circa 1930 here. Republicans can win statewide office. Despite our very progressive senators and enormous Democratic majorities, Rhode Island has not elected a Democrat to the governor’s office since 1991, although Lincoln Chafee eventually converted to a Democrat in a failed attempt to win reelection (and according to a rumor I heard because his wealthy wife wouldn’t fund him as an independent since she didn’t want to foot the whole bill). But still, the real ideological divides are really in the primary.
Or they should be anyway. In fact, this primary consisted of nothing but terrible candidates. The winner of the primary for governor was Gina Raimondo. She is so deep in the pocket of Wall Street that she’s been attacked from the left in the page of Forbes Magazine. Forbes. Who knew that was possible. The state workers hate her because of her attacks on pensions. I could not vote for her in this primary under any circumstances.
Unfortunately, the other two options were almost as bad. At first, it looked like Providence mayor Angel Taveras would be a good option. Then Taveras fired all his progressive advisers and embraced Rheeism as a central tenet. Moving right to challenge a right-wing candidate made no political sense. Raimondo already had those votes wrapped up. Taveras ran a terrible campaign and ran out of money at the end.
The third option was Clay Pell, grandson of the famous senator. By most accounts, Pell is a wealthy plutocrat from a famous political family who is, to be kind, not very smart and has the charisma of a rock. We already have that exact thing in the statehouse right now. Although he is married to Michelle Kwan so that separates him somehow. He was also a Republican until just a few years ago. Youthful mistake perhaps.
Despite all of this, I voted for Pell. Do you know what it takes for me to vote for a dim plutocrat ex-Republican? That’s how bad these candidates were. But I figured he would govern to the left of the horrible Raimondo and increasingly terrible Taveras.
Of course, Raimondo is still probably better than the Republican candidate Allan Fung. Voting for her is going to be gross in November.
But wait, there’s more!
The Providence mayoral primary was also a lot of fun. First, you have the fact that ex-mayor, convicted felon, and unconvicted rapist Buddy Cianci is running again. He has a very strong chance of winning and making my adopted city a national embarrassment. He would also like you to know that he did not urinate on that man.
Who gets to face the vaunted Cianci? There were two, utterly horrible but very different, choices.
First, there was Michael Solomon. At first glance, this guy seems like the most generic kind of old-school Democrat with all the warts that entails. First of all, he’s a long time local pol and there are a lot of rumors about corruption which I have no doubt are true. Corruption is crazy widespread in this state. He is also the least articulate guy in the world. He makes Mumbles Menino in Boston sound like Bill Clinton. There wasn’t much reason to have faith in him until he bucked his long-time business allies and pushed the $15 minimum wage law. That was pretty impressive. Still, his negatives are real.
Then there is Jorge Elorza. This is an interesting case. He is the son of Guatemalan immigrants. In fact, that was the entirety of his campaign. Because of his story and because progressives will so often place a good story and diversity above the substance of a politician, Elorza received a lot of progressive endorsements. But not from the unions. And there’s a good reason for this. There is absolutely no evidence is he progressive on almost any issue. This is a powerful indictment of this right-wing empty suit, cut from the Cory Booker and Angel Taveras cloth, although he’s almost certainly worse than the latter at least. Specifically, Elorza publicly opposes raising the minimum wage, is an advocate for charter schools that comes right out of the Michelle Rhee playbook, and opposes raising taxes on the wealthy.
And of course Elorza wins, making the Democratic candidate for mayor in a poor city someone who opposes a fair wage for workers. Have to be pro-business after all. I voted for Solomon, corruption rumors notwithstanding. At least he stands for something positive. But at least Elorza is not Buddy Cianci.
Finally, there was my state House rep. To me, this summed up the incoherentness of the Rhode Island Democratic Party more than anything. I am represented by a woman named Maria Cimini who is reasonably good progressive with particularly strong environmental and gun control credentials. Her opponent was a right-wing Democrat by the name of Daniel McKiernan, who was supported by the horrible Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello. How did Mattiello become Speaker? Earlier this year, the slightly less terrible Gordon Fox resigned after the FBI raided his home and Mattiello won the race to replace him as Speaker. Cimini didn’t support Mattiello and he went after her.
McKiernan is a Republican in just about every other state. His whole campaign was anti-crime. He had these disgusting 1980s-style flyers about how Cimini opposed locking up child abusers, wanted to put criminals back on the streets, and the like. Every picture of him except a very few (the necessary one per flyer or ad) were with other white people in a district filled with Dominicans, Guatemalans, and African-Americans.
And of course McKiernan won too. Now the Rhode Island state assembly is even more right wing than before. Awesome.
What a state.