The Bartholomewtown Podcast

Two Perspectives on The RI State Democratic Committee Elections: Chairman Joseph McNamara + activist/journalist Lauren Niedel

March 26, 2019 Season 1 Episode 85
The Bartholomewtown Podcast
Two Perspectives on The RI State Democratic Committee Elections: Chairman Joseph McNamara + activist/journalist Lauren Niedel
Chapters
The Bartholomewtown Podcast
Two Perspectives on The RI State Democratic Committee Elections: Chairman Joseph McNamara + activist/journalist Lauren Niedel
Mar 26, 2019 Season 1 Episode 85
Bill Bartholomew / Joseph McNamara / Lauren Niedel
The Rhode Island Democratic Party has solidly been in control of Rhode Island politics for decades, with members currently occupying all statewide and federal elected positions, as well as a dominant segment of the state’s bicameral General Assembly. However, in recent years, more and more attention has been paid to some of the widespread ideological makeup and differences within the state party and how that diversity is represented in leadership positions and legislative activity. For the most part, leadership within the Rhode Island Democratic party has rested in the somewhat conservative, institutionalist element of the party, and less so in the more and more vocal and active progressive wing. In the 2018 election, several indicators demonstrated what seemed to be increasing momentum for progressive ideals: progressive former Representative Aaron Regunberg’s impressive, near victory in challenging Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee in a Democratic primary; push back from party members at the insertion of former Trumpian Republican Michael Earnhart as a primary challenger to progressive Representative Moira Walsh, and, several General Assembly seats - and the party’s platform - swinging towards the left in and following the 2018 General Election, including the emergence of the progressive and anti-establishment Reform Caucus in the House. In seeking to advance the progressive agenda and to shake up the nature of party leadership, several challengers to party leaders emerged ahead of this past Sunday’s State Democratic Committee election. Although Rep. Walsh, the aforementioned Providence progressive challenged current chairman Rep. Joseph McNamara for the party leadership position, she fell short of mounting a serious challenge, ammassing 28 total votes to McNamara’s 144. Following Sunday’s State Committee meeting, I was left wondering, as I often have in recent times, where is the actual center of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, is major compromise possible given the size and scope of the party’s ‘big tent’, and can the state party forge a clear and consistent identity ahead of the 2020 Presidential elections? I spoke with Chairman Joseph Mcnamara and activist/journalist Lauren Neidel in separate conversations in an attempt to pinpoint where the Democratic party is and where it may be heading.
Show Notes Transcript

The Rhode Island Democratic Party has solidly been in control of Rhode Island politics for decades, with members currently occupying all statewide and federal elected positions, as well as a dominant segment of the state’s bicameral General Assembly.  


However, in recent years, more and more attention has been paid to some of the widespread ideological makeup and differences within the state party and how that diversity is represented in leadership positions and legislative activity.  For the most part, leadership within the Rhode Island Democratic party has rested in the somewhat conservative, institutionalist element of the party, and less so in the more and more vocal and active progressive wing.


In the 2018 election, several indicators demonstrated what seemed to be increasing momentum for progressive ideals: progressive former Representative Aaron Regunberg’s impressive, near victory in challenging Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee in a Democratic primary; push back from party members at the insertion of former Trumpian Republican Michael Earnhart as a primary challenger to progressive Representative Moira Walsh, and, several General Assembly seats - and the party’s platform - swinging towards the left in and following the 2018 General Election, including the emergence of the progressive and anti-establishment Reform Caucus in the House.


In seeking to advance the progressive agenda and to shake up the nature of party leadership, several challengers to party leaders emerged ahead of this past Sunday’s State Democratic Committee election.  Although Rep. Walsh, the aforementioned Providence progressive  

challenged current chairman Rep. Joseph McNamara for the party leadership position, she fell short of mounting a serious challenge, ammassing 28 total votes to McNamara’s 144.


Following Sunday’s State Committee meeting, I was left wondering, as I often have in recent times, where is the actual center of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, is major compromise possible given the size and scope of the party’s ‘big tent’, and can the state party forge a clear and consistent identity ahead of the 2020 Presidential elections?


I spoke with Chairman Joseph Mcnamara and activist/journalist Lauren Neidel in separate conversations in an attempt to pinpoint where the Democratic party is and where it may be heading.



Speaker 1:
0:00
Support the Bartholomew town podcast by subscribing, rating, and reviewing on apple podcasts:
Speaker 2:
0:10
visits the box telling you town podcast. Welcome in to another edition of the Bartholomew town podcast. I'm your host, Bill Bartholomew on today's episode, recapping the Rhode Island Democratic Party state committees, elections with Chairman Joseph Mcnamara and activists journalists,:
Speaker 1:
0:28
Warren [inaudible], the Rhode Island Democratic Party has solidly controlled Rhode Island Politics for decades with members currently occupying all statewide and federal elected positions as well as a dominant segment of the states by cameral general assembly. However, in recent years, more and more attention has been paid to some of the widespread ideological makeup and differences within the state party and how that diversity is represented in leadership positions and legislative activity. For the most part, leadership within the Rhode Island Democratic Party has rested in the somewhat conservative institutionalist element of a party and less so in the more and more vocal and active progressive wing. In the 2018 election, several indicators demonstrated what seemed to be increasing momentum for progressive ideals, including progressive former representative Aaron Reagan Berg's impressive near victory in challenging Lieutenant Governor Dan Mckee. In a Democratic primary push back from party members at the insertion of former trumpy and Republican Michael Earnhardt as a primary challenger to Progressive Representative Wairoa Walsh and several general assembly seats and the party's platform.:
Speaker 1:
1:47
Moving towards the left in and following the 2018 general election, including the emergence of the progressive and antiestablishment reform caucus in the house in seeking to advance the progressive agenda and to shake up the nature of party leadership. Several challenges to party leaders emerged ahead of this past Sunday's state democratic committee elections. Although representative Walsh, the Afro mentioned Providence Progressive Challenged current chairman Rep Joseph Mcnamara for the chair position, she fell short of mounting a serious challenge, massing 28 total votes to Mcnamara's one 44 following Sunday state committee meeting. I was left wondering as I often have in recent times, where is the actual center of the Rhode Island Democratic Party? Is major compromise possible given the size and scope of the parties. Big Tent and can the State party forge a clear and consistent identity ahead of the 2020 presidential elections, new episodes of the Bartholomew town podcast every Tuesday and Friday. Listen on your favorite podcast app or visit Bartholomew town.com or our I podcast.com it's where you'll find the dozens interviews I've conducted with Rhode Island political media, artistic and other influencers, Bartholomew town.com. It's right there for you. All right. We'll lead this off with my conversation from just a few hours ago with the chairman of the Rhode Island State Democratic Party representative Joseph Mcnamara.:
Speaker 1:
3:19
Can you just give me sort of a summary of, from your perspective, it didn't end up producing much momentum, but Mayor Walsh did get 28 votes. What was your sense of, where's the Democratic Party in Rhode Island right now? Is there any kind of actual wave of change or is it, you know, sort of more of a trickle in of new ideas from your perspective?:
Speaker 3:
3:42
Well, I think that now looking at the meeting itself, drawing 300 people, it is the one of the largest state committee meetings we've had and a couple of decades. And I think that the folks shows that, uh, there are some people that are engaging with different ideas and they brought those ideas forth. I think the nomination speeches were excellent. It introduced, uh, a state committee to some of our newer members and, uh, a lot of ideas were brought forth that, uh, I believe will be embraced by the potty and make us stronger. I think it also demonstrated that the Democratic Party has a very large tent and, uh, that has contributed to our success and our appeal and communities that were traditionally Republican and I believe it will continue to do so. So I see. Overall it was a very positive experience. I was pleased with, uh, all of the candidates, including Representative Wall Chin, her presentation. And, uh, I think that the challenge is, did a good job. I particularly enjoyed the nomination speeches and, uh, it just showed that and demonstrated that the Democratic Party has a lot of very talented, dedicated people who, uh, are out and wanting to improve both to the party and the state.:
Speaker 1:
5:43
Do you feel that going forward, the Democratic Party in Rhode Island, especially in light of the fact we're approaching the presidential election, do you feel like it can operate as one unit? That there's not too much division?:
Speaker 3:
5:56
Oh yeah, absolutely. When you look at the outcome of the votes, uh, you know, I'm not going to start quoting numbers or percentages, but, uh, an any organization, I don't care if the elks, the royal order of the Mousses, if you have a phone for a presidency or board members that is as overwhelming, uh, it would show that there's a great deal of consensus. Yup. So, and I think I mentioned that and you know, my remarks that we have more that unites us than divides us. And very often what divides us if we take an issue like healthcare, do we all believe that healthcare is a right and not a privilege? Absolutely. Do we all agree how we can better deliver health care to every citizen in the United States? No, we don't. We don't. Whether it's medicare for all or Obamacare, we'll debate that till the sun goes down and it's a healthy debate to have. So, you know, that's, they are some of the internal debates we are having within the party. That being said, I think we all realize that one of the reasons that Donald Trump is in the white house is because we were not United going into the last election. And it's very important if we are to succeed is that a, we make sure that everyone is heard, we respect each other and listen to each other and be, once the debate has taken place, we support Democratic candidates. Period. End of story.:
Speaker 1:
7:52
You feel like there's enough room right now in the Democratic Party to expand to the right or to the left? Or do you feel like it's already in a position where the ideals are just about as spread out as they can be? And this is within Rhode Island? Do you feel, I asked someone yesterday, uh, Lauren Idela journalists more on the progressive side if she thought a third party, whatever immersion, Rhode Island, not the moderate party, but some sort of alternative Democratic Party and she strongly felt that it wouldn't, that even with the division of ideals on some major issues, that it's still important to remain as one party in your, you're firmly behind that idea that you're willing to embrace elements of the progressive platform or even:
Speaker 3:
8:34
some of them were swings both ways. Yep. Uh, I had a conversation the night of the convention learning ideal ran for state representative out and like Western coffin tree and it's very republican area. And I had a conversation with her and I said, I spoke with the young woman single who's a veteran who's a Democrat and she may be interested in running. And I said to her when she believes in common sense gun control, but, and she knows how to handle weapons, she's been in the military. I said to her, I said, it might not be a bad idea to join the NRA and the a woman who has progressive ideals has common sense gun ownership, have some pictures of yourself, may be shooting skeet, but supporting common sense. I said people and that district will appreciate that and respect it. And if we're going to win and conservative Republican districts, we need candidates that can relate to people in those districts. And uh, that as an example and why don't I tell, said, yeah, it's probably not a bad idea because you know, it's a tough, it's a tough district court because it's still wrong,:
Speaker 1:
10:04
right? Yeah, it is certainly, I mean, one of the reddest parts of the state along with foster, arguably. So yeah, I guess it's that politics of practicality element. I mean there's certainly in Rhode Island Democrats that are pad hi Nra endorsements and there are some Rhode and Democrats who are the complete opposite of that. So that's sort of that fine line that I think someone like me is trying to feel, wow, where's the center of the Democratic Party?:
Speaker 3:
10:29
Look glass jail. If you'd take, for example, the, the reforms that we pass to me leading to the second amendment, the Red Flag, uh, Bill for example, uh, that gut support almost unanimously from, uh, every Democrat in the house and the Senate bump, Stock Pan, unanimous support from Democrats. Uh, so there are a lot of Democrats who have, you know, higher ratings, a, B, c ratings. And even myself, I've gone up and down the, the NRA, depending on the legislation, I submit the sheer, I have a bill that prohibits canned hunting and the NRA, which is the importation of animals, is preserved. That wants to bring in elk from hottest state. Yup. Z NRA is opposed to it. However, the major hunting organizations in the state, uh, supportive of it because these elk buffalo and deer that are brought in, it started in Colorado, 26 states. They have a disease that is a chronic failure. Uh, it's a chronic digestive disease that stays in the soil. Contaminates are wild herds. And, uh, the end up with, it's called chronic wasting disease. And what island is one of 26 states that don't have it. So they don't want and who would have these animals brought into the state? So, you know, it's a kind of strange, I had a prohibition on duck hunting along my district coast, which is very popular there. I thought the bill was popular and uh, fortunately they killed it, but so it depends on the legislation they submit each year.:
Speaker 1:
12:46
Right. You can't draw circles around people, especially here in Rhode Island when he got elected officials. Um, thanks so much for your time. I know if there's anything else you want to add to the, you know, going forward here.:
Speaker 3:
12:55
Just my, what I would like to add, I was extremely proud of the decorum and civility that was demonstrated with some very difficult issues. And to me that's what we have to do a better job and as respecting and listening to each other and that will help us become more successful as a party and to state. Okay.:
Speaker 1:
13:26
All right. For another perspective, on this same situation, I'm going to take you out of my conversation with activists and journalists. Lauren Nidell reports, I saw there are about 300 people at its peak. By the end, there were only 122 something votes, uh, during the final roll call. Did you find that was sort of the, the nature of the night where it was a dwindling crowd as the process went on?:
Speaker 4:
14:13
Oh, absolutely.:
Speaker 1:
14:44
Did you get a sense of that was kind of, you know, you don't want to call anybody out for something that you can't verify it, but did you get a sense that that was a procedural, a mechanic to kind of slow the process down and, and that they got the result that they wanted them being the, I guess the institutionalists within the Democratic Party?:
Speaker 4:
15:14
Yeah. Kinda like that. And you know, little people can do without calling them, calling attention to themselves.:
Speaker 1:
15:47
Right. And that's been one of the major themes in Rhode Island sense. Really. Going back to last year's general election, we saw a little bit, a little bit of in the state offices with particularly the lieutenant governor race with Aaron Reagan, Regensburg former Rep, Reagan Berg, challenging Lieutenant Governor Mckee, but also a little bit with Matt Brown. And certainly in general assembly races we saw, um, you know, a movement towards the progressive end of the spectrum. And in the recent HD 68 race, we saw not only the progressive end but the libertarian do well as well as the progressive candidate. So kind of an outsider's, um, gravitation. Do you feel like the, the Democratic Party within Rhode Island right now is due for some major change and as really just a small faction of, of men and some women that are kind of blockading that change? Or is it that it's the early stages of this, um, you don't want to say revolution, but upheaval within the party and it's just a matter of it's being, it's got to grow more before it can have that kind of impact.:
Speaker 4:
16:51
Yeah, sure. And a lot of it is, it's like, you know, a lot of progressives, like why bother when there's such a machine in place. It's just way too hard to, you know, to become, you know, to make the change necessary by becoming state committee members. And it really is because in 2018 we had a pretty good success with state committee members who, you know, ran a, that we got in that we're progressive. We did not help my success with um, people that ran for the first time. Again, current state committee members. So the names are well known, the money is there, the party is very indoctrinated with keeping the status quo and people don't like to see change in the Rhode Island Democratic Party. And it's a shame because, you know, if you look at the mentality of a lot of people in the party, it's very 20th century. There is no vision. It's just wants to stay right where it is kind of stuck in time without trying to, you know, bring in new people, new energy, new vitality and you know, keeping to the old school rule. And you could see that there because, um, the diversity was horrendous. Um, there was none Prac, it was practically no diversity in within the 300 people. It was quite sad. And that's because there's no effort to really bring in people outside of party elite.:
Speaker 1:
19:40
Yeah. And there's really no better example of that then with Representative Arthur Corvette Casey, you know, here's a guy who on papers or Republican anywhere else and you wonder that mentality within the Democratic Party is that, um, miss alignment, if you will, uh, of, of, uh, ideology. Is that one of the major things that's kind of holding Rhode Island back, you know, the, the lack of debate at some of the core levels of, um, not only government, but just the way that things are way business is done.:
Speaker 4:
20:12
So yeah. How, I mean, if you're looking at a party platform, it's not bad. Right? It's pretty, it's pretty progressive. It has some good ideal and it's maybe not quite as good as the National Party platform, but it's definitely decent. I worked on it twice in 2016 and 2018 but then when you, when you ask the, you know, like the court bases and the policy for, you know, for a May policies and a lot of the representatives you'll see that, you know, well, you know, it's just on paper. It doesn't really mean anything. Go ahead and aspirational or it's this or it's that. And you know, it's, it's, it should be tried and true. This is what we should stand for as Democrats. We did that is people in office right now did that. We would be in a lot better shape and there would be, you know, it would be less distraction in the party.:
Speaker 4:
21:10
But you know, when you come out again, you know, certain very basic democratic principles, you know, this is where you get some of the, you know, the stripes and some of the resistance within the progressive movement to join in with everything that the party says. And, um, you know, there's also other things, the party, the Democratic Party really didn't work very hard in 2018 to help outlining tunicates like myself who was in a very red rural districts to, you know, to really progress in, you know, how I did it with me. It's like, you know, um, I, you know, I can't really align myself with Ramondo or many members of the Democratic Party because of the fact that I am out in the red area and that there's a lot of resistance to the party establishment. But at the same time, things could have been done on the back end and there wasn't. Now I'm not the only one that this happened to. This is, you know, this isn't a lot of different places. So you held that, but there's the same time they're saying, yeah, we want to work and get people get Democrats elected and we want to bring in diversity. They say it, they say it think honestly. Do they, I think they bought us. We mean what they say, they don't ask on what they say and this is the problem.:
Speaker 1:
22:45
Very interesting. And that's sort of the awareness, like you say, if it's an awareness issue of how to actually execute these ideals or if it's just that, um, they don't really know what the ideals are they're trying to, to reach at the end anyway. Um, but you're right, there's a disconnect. There's that when you go person to person and, and that's not a new thing.:
Speaker 4:
23:10
Yeah. You're going to say that has been Democratic Party can get away with it because they could be, you know, an area where nobody, you know, we're one part of the state doesn't even really associate with that. The beat with the different part of the state that's having the issue here. It's just like these days and um, you know, it's, maybe it's getting a little bit better, but mostly what happens, certainly when people voted against Mcnamara and they lost their chairman, chairperson shit for several of the members, that's not a good sign. You know, you know, when January when that happened, kind of the purge of people who had chair positions who, you know, were part of the reform caucus, you know, that's not, that's not healthy for the party, that's not healthy for the state. Certain things like that just are, you know, resonate as being super negative and why does also strife and you know, one of the things that we're going to be looking into, um, especially now that we have 30 people is changing the bylaws of the, of the Democratic Party, which go back from two to 2011 and have not been redone.:
Speaker 4:
25:00
And um, you know, and we want to, we want to make changes and because of must have bylaws a change, nothing is gonna Change. So we have to make changes as far as towing, voting that is done, you know, who gets on committees, things like that. Because right now also the cheer chooses whoever gets on the committees. So having a bylaws committee and that she chooses who's on those committees on that committee, you know, and things like that. So there has to be more equity than us to, you know, people, people who are on the committee are on there for a reason and they need, it needs to be respected and then needs to be almost like a lottery with some of these committees to say, okay, let's put people who want to be on this committee, let's put all their names and their outlet to choose seven bill for the members of the community.:
Speaker 1:
25:58
Yeah, and I wonder over on the Republican side in infighting is, is I guess ideologically not as wide and certainly their numbers as a whole and Rhode Island are minimal, barely. They're almost a minimum as compared to the Democratic Party, but how they proceed over there on Vr, you know, and, and how the, the Democratic Party proceeds over there on the left in terms of just figuring out who they are and who is going to take the party forward into the future. I feel like the nomination of leader Philippi at the Republican side, it's sorta indicated they're ready to step forward and try to find at least some version of a new identity. Do you get the sense that the Democratic Party is, even if it's not, um, you know, I'm warrior Jane Walsh, uh, that stats or a Sam bell that's leading the party. Do you get the sense they're ready to throw some kind of olive branch to try to move forward in terms of their identity, even if it's at their own peril to some extents?:
Speaker 4:
26:57
Yeah. You know, like I said, sometimes they caught the cock. Like I know they were trying to make the party a little bit yet last night for sure. Getting everybody on the same page, making it, trying to make it into a positive experience, but then we'll see what happens. It's a big thing will be, um, with our town to, um, address the bylaws, um, how that works and if that is taken seriously and if that, and if we have, you know, uh, 50 50 membership on that committee, um, that's going to be really critical. If that doesn't change, that's going to be, that could create it, uh, you know, issues.:
Speaker 1:
27:49
Right. That seems like it'd be the next sticking point is, all right, we've gotten through this now. We've got to make some changes. Otherwise we're going to have an actual upheaval of some kind in within the party and maybe a new party emerge in Rhode Island. It's, it's possible. I mean, do you think that's something that could happen that progressive's independence, progressive libertarians, this is the room for a new tend to be formed in Rhode Island.:
Speaker 4:
28:15
No. The reason and the reason electorial college is done away with no won't happen because anybody on the Democratic Party, regardless of where they stand, they, there's one mission and that is to make sure that Trump is not reelected. So people will be United for that. And um, so I would not expect to see any changes or Green party, uh, or the Green party evolving, et Cetera, because Democrats are going to be United to make sure that, um, you know, we get a new president.:
Speaker 1:
28:52
Yeah. I guess that's my last question then. So you're, you're on of the impression that this state party committee election is his past and we're, you know, we're seeing some, uh, for example with abortion, uh, and with some gun control measures, we're seeing some olive branches thrown in the legislative sense to the, the, the progressive side. Do you feel like that will be reciprocated by progressive's? Um, in a sense to try to become more of a United front going into the presidential election?:
Speaker 4:
29:23
I think it's going to be the primary. I think the primary is probably going to be very contentious. Yup. After the primary we'll kind of see what happened. And a lot of that is also, you know, and it depends upon, you know, the super delegates get to vote in the second, you know, second round we're about half and what happened there. Um, but you know, I would say that any Democrat on the state, no, no Democrat on the state committee wants to see Trump. I think I can say that. Um, almost with a 100% assurity. Um, so that's pretty much going to all fall into place. Now what will happen again of course is general assembly members still trying to put, put through or general the General Assembly progressive's we'll try to put through people in the general assembly and we'll try to primary people. So that's all going to, you know, still be the same in 2020 but as far as actually splitting into a secondary party, we have a two party system is kind of thing.:
Speaker 4:
30:32
But that's what we have to deal with. And until something is done on a federal level where we can actually have an independent party that actually independent, vibrant and can muster a winner, I'm wouldn't be expecting any major changes in the party distribution of people. So I think it's going to stay pretty much the same. Although 70% like in my district, 70% of the people are independent, but they actually pretty much align themselves with one party or another by a great majority. So they were, you know, we're an affiliated but we're still, you know, really aligned with one party or another. Found that when I was canvassing, you know, it's, it's already, you know, it's getting into April, you know, we'll go probably be a lot of new bills, you know, presented in one committee or another or getting out of this committee and putting into another community. So we're going to see what happens in April. Um, and that will really show what kind of progress we've made in some with some of our, uh, bills, especially the reproductive rights bill. If it just sits and sits and says, I'm going to be concerned that that won't get out of the Senate. So we'll see what happens there.:
Speaker 1:
31:51
Yup. Then you just have to think that there has to be codification this year based on the momentum. You have to think that Senate leadership doesn't want to have to take this for another session in 2020. Um, for that reason alone, boy, you'd would I be, I'd be shocked to Nazi you get out. But you're right. The mechanics, you never know. That may be the stall tactic that ends up, uh, keeping it another year out:
Speaker 4:
32:21
because that would really create a lot of animosity. Well,:
Speaker 2:
32:33
all our bolt now, we'll be a problem. As always, thank you for joining in on the Board Newtown podcast. I'll be back on Friday with a brand new episode. Until then, I'm bill Bartholomew. We'll talk soon.:
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