Joanne’s Journal: Will Progressives Take Over the RI Democratic Party?


Will the Rhode Island Democratic Party be called the RI Progressive Democratic Party?

Will the Progressives win enough seats to dominate the General Assembly?

One of the main components required to gain the endorsement of Democratic Progressives is a pledge not to support Speaker Nicholas Matiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

This is interesting. Many of the rank-and-file progressives already support the present leaders in both the House and Senate.

So what will happen with the Progressive Party Endorsements? Will Progressives take the pledge? And if they do not take the pledge, will they still get endorsed by progressive Democrats? If they still are endorsed by the Progressive Democrats and don’t live up to their pledge, does the endorsement even stand for anything? It’s an interesting and important question.

Former RI US Senator John Pastore listening to Mr. Rogers request federal funding. Could this man be elected in RI if he were alive today?

Old School Values

I grew up in the political days of old time Democrats like Senator John O. Pastore, Governor Joe Garrahy, and Mayor Sal Mancini of North Providence.

These were the staples of the RI Democratic Party. They were well-respected and popular in their communities. The Democratic Party was considered the party of the working people.  

The issues we focused on weren’t social initiatives. Instead, they cared about the economy.

New developments such as malls, businesses and the moving of highways were rampant then. There were always cranes in the sky!

More importantly, these elected officials were accessible, honest and forthright with their opinions and answers.  Whether you agreed with them or not, you knew where they stood.

Back then, Democrats united in their fight to help the middle class working people. They didn’t focus on some social agenda.

Divisive Social Issues

It was not uncommon for some of our most popular Democrats in Rhode Island to be pro-life because our state was predominantly Catholic. And it was not a criteria of the Democratic Party then to pledge on social issues such as being pro-choice or for gay rights.

I remember when I voted for gay rights legislation as a freshman legislator in 1995. House Speaker John Harwood told us, on the House floor, that the social issues were up to us individually, and to do what we felt was best for our communities.

Those who didn’t vote for it, weren’t shown the door by the Democratic Party. They weren’t chastised for their beliefs. Social issues were considered a matter for each legislator to decide on their own. We embraced diversity of thought. 

Thing have changed–drastically. We have a new progressive platform, and the Democratic platform has changed. Social issues such as pro-choice issues and gay marriage and LBGT issues are now part of it. A progressive agenda has split the Democratic Party in two.

Progressives: Their Way or the Highway

We really have two Democratic Parties now–the Progressive Democratic Party and the Moderate Democratic Party. The inclusion of social issues in the Democratic platform has changed this.

More Progressive Democrats are running and challenging Moderate Democrats based on the new platforms of the Party. The split in the Democratic Party will hurt. Disgruntled Democrats could  become independents and leave the party altogether.

Are Progressive Democrats willing to work with people who disagree with them?

The RI Democratic State Committee decides on Party platform and it is always voted on at the Democratic state Committee meeting, which takes place before the Democratic endorsement process.

Where will the new National Democratic Committee Man Joe Paolino, who is a former Mayor, stand on  these Party issues? Will he be leaning to a more Progressive agenda? Or will he go toward a moderate one, which some of his mentors (Pastore and Garrahy) embraced? It will be an interesting year to see which way the platform goes.

Can We Still Have a Big Tent?

The Progressive Democrats have already announced several candidates running for the General Assembly–such as Nika Lomazzo, Sandra Cano, Nick Autiello and  a candidate for Lt. Governor, Aaron Rugenberg.

This adds  to the list of progressives already there such as Rep.Teresa Tanzi, Rep. Deb Ruggeiro Rep.Moira Walsh, Rep. Edith Ajello, Rep. Marcia Ranglin Vassell, Rep. Chris Blazewski, and Rep. Julie Casimiro just to name a few. There are more.

The status of the Democratic Party and its platform will be determined this year. The outcome of the General Assembly elections this year will certainly define the Democratic Party and the General Assembly leadership.  

Voters have to decide what they want the Democratic Party to be. And leaders of the Democratic Party have a serious decision to make. They alone will decide what platform the Democratic Party chooses to endorse.

These are turbulent times in our country but all politics is local, as Tip O’Neil famously said. It couldn’t be a more important time for the Democratic Party to define itself. Let’s hope they are ready for it!

Joanne Giannini
Joanne Giannini is a former State Representative from Providence. A freelance journalist, consultant and writer, she has previously written commentary for The Providence journal, GolocalProv and WPRO radio. Contact her at