Public Employee Unions May Decide the 2014 Democratic Primary
Monday, August 11, 2014
Political insiders, candidates and union leaders agree: public employee unions can wield a major if not deciding influence on election outcomes in Rhode Island, especially the Democratic primary for governor.
“Increasingly and inexorably unions have developed extraordinary influence in Democratic primaries, and this year in the Rhode Island governor's race this will almost certainly be the case as well,” Democratic pollster Doug Schoen told GoLocalProv. His clients have included President Bill Clinton, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
How do unions influence elections in Rhode Island?
National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) Executive Director Bob Walsh spoke to the power public employee union endorsements have in influencing Rhode Island elections.
“I think that with over 11,000 members our support can make a difference in a close race. We will leave it to the pundits to determine how much of a difference we make,” said Walsh.
“The great thing about Rhode Island is that it is easy to get involved with political campaigns in support of candidates that support your values. I don't know if we have any particular impact other than an active and involved membership and a good communication system with our members to ensure they understand which candidates will best support the values we share concerning children, public education and working families,” Walsh added.
Rhode Island pollster Victor Profughi addressed the advantage public employee union support can lend to the candidates they throw their support behind.
“With labor union support, you can be a successful candidate even with relatively little money,” said Profughi.
Former State Rep. Douglas Gablinske spoke to the importance of union ground support at the statewide level.
“On the statewide level public employee unions can add huge ground game. The role unions play in elections is not much different than other special interest groups it is just that they come together and act in unison so that unified strength has a magnified impact particularly in a Democratic primary” said Gablinske.
Gablinske served in the Rhode Island General Assembly for four years (2007-2010) as a Democrat representing the town of Bristol. He was defeated in the September 2010 Democratic Primary to Richard P. Morrisson. Gablinske was one of six state legislators targeted in 2010 by Working Rhode Island - a coalition of Change to Win unions, AFL CIO unions, and independent unions.
"The unions had a perfect storm with my election -- between them having had enough of me because I was a Democrat who was not marching to their drum orders, and my having voted for the statewide funding formula. They concentrated a huge effort and were able to focus a tremendous amount of ground support and resources into my race,” added Gablinske.
How do unions decide which candidates to support?
[SEE RELATED SLIDESHOW: 2014 CANDIDATE ENDORSEMENTS]
“For federal races, our support is a decision made in conjunction with NEA nationally. At the state level, those decisions are made by member representatives of NEA Rhode Island, based upon those candidates that best support our values,” said Walsh of how the NEA reaches decisions regarding which candidate to endorse in a given election.
Gablinske noted that an incumbent who was elected with public employee union support in a previous election cycle, but takes a policy position that is at odds with union interests while in office can expect that support to dissipate when he or she is up for reelection.
"You can support the unions to a large degree and then you disagree once with them and they come after you. It is either 100 percent support or no support," said Gablinske.
“It makes for this unholy alliance between the Democratic party and the public employee unions. Candidates trade policy positions on wages and benefits in exchange for votes,” Gablinske added.
How will unions impact the 2014 elections?
Looking ahead to next month’s primary elections, while the number of union members in Rhode Island has been down in recent years – dropping by 4,000 workers last year based on the most recent data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- Schoen spoke to the impact labor unions may have on deciding which of the three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for governor will emerge victorious.
“If [Providence Mayor] Angel Tavares wins the Democratic primary for Governor, it will be singularly because of the influence and power of public employee unions, pure and simple. And if Angel Taveras loses the primary, it will because a number of unions have broken away and given their support to Clay Pell--who private polling suggests is consistently cutting into Tavares' base of support,” said Schoen.
Taveras has been endorsed by the Rhode Island Alliance of Social Service Employees (SEIU Local 580) as well as the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters, Providence Fire Fighters IAFF Local 799, the American Association of University Professors URI Chapter, while Pell has the backing of NEARI and United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP).
Related Slideshow: 2014 Candidate Endorsements
Below are the lists of endorsements to date of the field of Rhode Island gubernatorial candidates, as well as candidates for Mayor of Providence.
City/ Town Republican Chairs
Jim McGuire-North Kingstown
Michael Grossi-North Providence
Mark Dosdorian-Cumberland (President of the RIGOP Chairman's Caucus)
Phil Hirons-Former Smithfiled Republican Town Chair, Former President of the RIGOP Chairman's Caucus
Governor Lincoln Almond (retired)
National Committeewoman of the RI Republican Party and State Representative (retired), Carol Mumford
National Committeeman of the RI Republican Party, Steven Frias
Republican candidate for Attorney General and current State Senator, Dawson Hodgson
Rhode Island Young Republicans
City/Town Republican Chairs
Nick Lima - Cranston
Chuck Newton - East Greenwich
Diane Allen – Exeter
Bruce Campbell - Foster
Ted Burlingame - Glocester
Amy Gallagher - Jamestown
Robert Matteo- Johnston
Pat Hagan - Little Compton
Antone Viveros – Middletown
Meg Rodgers - Narragansett
Bill McKernan – New Shoreham
Barbara Ann Fenton - Newport
Ted Soly – North Smithfield
Scott Rotondo – Pawtucket
Jeff Richard - Portsmouth
Paul Michaud - Richmond
Scott Klimaj - Scituate
Roland Benjamin - South Kingstown
Frank Nencka - Warren
Mike Penta - Warwick
Rob Priolo - Westerly
Rob Butler - West Greenwich
Lee Ann Sennick - Woonsocket
City/Town Republican Committees:
Statement from campaign:
"I refuse to let the words hope, change, trust and investment in RI to be muddled with party politics. Many political leaders and RI Voters of every campaign and party know I speak truth to power putting people first. Follow my personal facebook page and you will see a long list of ardent RI Voters who are of all Political Party and Independent voter engaged for the best America and fair rules of the road for banking, housing and human decency supporting my campaign."
National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI)
United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP)
East Providence Democratic City Committee
Charlestown Democratic City Committee
Johnston Democratic City Committee
Victor Capellan, who served as deputy campaign manager for Angel Taveras during his 2010 mayoral campaign.
* According to website
Barrington Democratic Town Committee
Cumberland Democratic Town Committee
East Greenwich Democratic Town Committee
Foster Democratic Town Committee
New Shoreham Democratic Town Committee
North Smithfield Democratic Town Committee
Scituate Democratic Town Committee
Tiverton Democratic Town Committee
Warren Democratic Town Committee
Bricklayers' and Allied Craftsmen Local 3
Ironworkers' Local 37
Plumbers' & Pipefitters' Local 51
Plasterers' and Cement Masons' Local 40
Roofers' and Waterproofers' Local Union No. 33
Sprinkler Fitters Local 669
Operating Engineers' Local 57
Sheet Metal Workers Local 17
United Steelworkers Local 12431
Women's Campaign Fund
Italian American Democratic Leadership Council
Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts
Gov. Philip Noel
Sen. Donna Nesselbush
Rep. Grace Diaz
Rep. Anastasia Williams
Providence Councilman Luis Aponte
Providence Councilman Davian Sanchez
Providence Councilwoman Sabina Matos
Smithfield Councilwoman Suzy Alba
Woonsocket Councilman Garrett Mancieri
The Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters
The American Association of University Professors URI Chapter
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 328
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin
Retired Pawtucket Mayor James E. Doyle
Former Senator Rhoda Perry
Senator Elizabeth Crowley
Senator Daniel Da Ponte
Senator James E. Doyle II
Senator Gayle Goldin
Senator Maryellen Goodwin
Senator Roger Picard
Senator Juan Pichardo
Senator Leonidas Raptakis
Senator Adam Satchell
Representative Marvin Abney
Representative Joseph Almeida
Representative Gregg Amore
Representative David Bennett
Representative Stephen Casey
Representative Robert Craven Sr.
Representative John DeSimone
Representative John Edwards
Representative Deborah Fellela
Representative Frank Ferri
Representative Scott Guthrie
Representative Ray Johnston
Representative Katherine Kazarian
Representative James McLaughlin
Representative Helio Melo
Representative Mary Messier
Representative Michael Morin
Representative Tom Palangio
Representative Patricia Serpa
Representative Agostinho Silva
Representative Scott Slater
Representative Lisa Tomasso
Representative Larry Valencia
Representative Donna Walsh
Pawtucket City Councilman Jean Philippe Barros
Pawtucket City Councilman Terrence Mercer
Pawtucket City Council President David Moran
Pawtucket Councilor At Large Lorenzo Tetreault
Pawtucket Councilor At Large Albert Vitali, Jr.
Pawtucket City Councilman Mark Wildenhain
Coventry Democratic Town Committee
Hopkinton Democratic Town Committee
North Kingstown Democratic Town Committee
Pawtucket Democratic City Committee
Providence Democratic City Committee
Smithfield Democratic Town Committee
Westerly Democratic Town Committee.
Statement from campaign:
“Lorne has been focusing his efforts on identifying real solutions for Providence, not on political endorsements. As Mayor, Lorne will always put our neighborhoods and citizens ahead of politics. He brings the fresh perspective and years of experience necessary to help create jobs and grow Providence’s economy, not politics as usual," said Adrain campaign spokesperson Steve Gerencser.
Phil West, Retire Head of Common Cause Rhode Island
Marie Langlois, Board Member of the Rhode Island Foundation
John Kelly, Meeting Street School Chief Executive Officer and President
Victor F. Capellan, Central Falls Deputy School Superintendent
Lorraine Lalli, Roger Williams University School of Law
Stan Israel, Formerly of SEIU 1199
Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20)
Did not respond to requests for comment.
Myrth York, Former Senator and Democratic Nominee for Governor
Patrick Lynch, Former Attorney General
Rhoda Perry, Former Senator
Ray Sullivan, Former Rep. and Campaign Manager for Marriage Equality RI
Senator Gayle Goldin
Representative Edith Ajello
Representative Art Handy
Representative Frank Ferri
Representative Linda Finn
Margaux Morisseau, State Senate Candidate (District 21)
Lauren Nocera, Campaign Manager for Angel Taveras for Mayor 2010 and Former Chair of the Providence Democratic City Committee
Leah Williams Metts, Chair of the NAACP Youth Council
International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 11
Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO
Local #23 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
Ward 5 Democratic Committee
Ward 9 Democratic Committee
Ward 10 Democratic Committee
Joe Almeida, State Representative District 12
Luis Aponte, City Councilman Ward 10
John Carnevale, State Representative District 13
Carmen Castillo, City Councilwoman, Ward 9
Michael Correia, City Councilman Ward 6
John DeSimone, State Representative District 5 and House Majority Leader
Grace Diaz, State Representative District 11
Senator Maryellen Goodwin, Providence Democratic City Committee Chairwoman and Rhode Island Senate Majority Whip
Terrence Hassett, City Councilman Ward 12 & President Pro Tempore
Wilbur Jennings, City Councilman Ward 8
Sabina Matos, City Councilwoman Ward 15
Nicholas Narducci, City Councilman Ward 4 & Senior Deputy Majority Leader
Thomas Palangio, State Representative District 3
David Salvatore, City Councilman Ward 14
Scott Slater, State Representative District 10
Anastasia Williams, State Representative District 9
Seth Yurdin, City Councilman Ward 1 & Majority Leader
Sam Zurier, City Councilman Ward 2
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