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.