When people debate how bad their state Democratic Party is and they come up with answers such as Illinois and New York, I just laugh. Because Rhode Island, that’s where the true insanity is. See, the thing about being a Democrat in Rhode Island is that it comes with no ideological association except “I want power.” None. The voters feel differently, by and large, but they are mostly low-information, especially when it comes to state politics. So you routinely see campaign signs with nothing more than the name and “Endorsed Democrat.” Because that’s all that matters. This is how you end up with the Rhode Island Speaker of the House being a pro-NRA, anti-choice “Democrat” who doesn’t believe in white privilege and who wields power with no subtlety at all. I discussed a specific race in my former district here to help people understand just how horrible the Rhode Island Dems are.
That has finally begun to be challenged. In 2016, Working Families ran whole slate of progressive challengers to the revanchist House Dems and they won a lot of those races. The statehouse thugs are trying to strike back. How? Oh, how about having far-right Trump voters challenge these progressives–as Democrats.
Moira Jayne Walsh, a 27-year-old former waitress and labor organizer, captured a bit of national attention after she won a seat in the Rhode Island House in 2016. “I decided that I wasn’t just going to work on legislation, because there has been so much neglect in my neighborhood for so many years that I wanted to make sure that people felt that they had a sense of community,” she told The Atlantic that November.
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 submitted to Rhode Island’s Secretary of State. 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.”
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 and surfaced by the group Organize Rhode Island 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?”
Public records show that a Michael Earnheart, of the same age and location, registered as a Republican in 2014 and voted as one in the 2016 election.
Welcome to Rhode Island politics! Plus, this is Earnheart in 2006.
@slate Musical instruments valued at $7,400 were stolen from a locker on the RI College campus. The items reappeared on eBay, an auction website, under a username belonging to RIC student Michael Earnheart, who is now charged with receiving stolen goods.https://t.co/qf7Cl36LPi
— Kevin Brosnan (@kbrosnan_) July 3, 2018
Whoops! But really, who hasn’t stolen a few clarinets in their youth?
And in House District 13, the local Democratic committee’s leaders endorsed former Rep. John Carnevale, who is currently being prosecuted for allegedly lying to city officials in 2016 about whether he lived there, over incumbent Ramon Perez and challenger Mario Mendez. (Carnevale is fighting the charges.) The National Organization for Women has also expressed concern about Carnevale’s 2011 indictment for sexual assault, a case that was later dropped when the accuser died suddenly.
The controversy is the latest evidence of a deep divide in the Rhode Island Democratic Party, which holds every federal and statewide office as well as durable supermajorities in the state legislature, at the price of massive differences in policy and perspective across its nominal membership.
It’s hardly the first sign, however. A longtime party leader, Joe DeLorenzo, was forced out last fall after mocking progressive activists and questioning state Rep. Teresa Tanzi’s account of sexual harassment at the State House. Party platform meetings have erupted into open hostilities. The Democratic Party women’s caucus, reactivated after Trump took office, has complained of mistreatment by leadership.
Progressive women have also been frustrated that their priorities got short shrift in this year’s legislative session, particularly a high-profile bill on abortion rights that the General Assembly’s pro-life leaders kept bottled up in committee.
In addition to Earnhart and Carnevale, Regunberg took issue with the state party’s endorsement of former state Sen. Gregory Acciardo over Bridget Valverde in Senate District 35, as well as the House District 5 Democratic committee’s endorsement of Holly Coolman over incumbent Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell. Acciardo pleaded no contest to driving under the influence in 2010 and is currently seeking to have the record expunged; Coolman is pro-life, while Ranglin-Vassell is pro-choice.
Walsh, Perez and Ranglin-Vassell are all in their first terms. Acciardo and Valverde are seeking the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Mark Gee, whose wife, Dana Gee, is running to succeed him. The state party also endorsed Mark McKenney, the challenger opposing Warwick Sen. Jeanine Calkin, another progressive lawmaker in her first term.
These people are truly horrible. They need to be swept out of power. It will take more progressive challengers. And it will take their thuggish methods coming to light. This has already led to a huge backlash, with statewide officeholders announcing their support for Walsh and the other progressives. As Sam Howard points out, the Rhode Island leadership claims they are “big tent,” but that is a lie–they are actively excluding any progressive thought at all. They would actively rather have anti-choice, pro-gun, pro-racists. That’s the actual goal. Rhode Island has the worst Democratic Party in the nation. Can’t wait to return to the dumpster fire later this month!