September 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Incumbent Conservative Democrats

Marc Comtois

Conservative Democrat Senator Michael McCaffrey won his primary last week. Conservative Democrat Representative Jon Brien lost his primary last week. The difference: union support.

Both have stated they are against gay marriage. Both are (I believe) pro-life. Yet, the NEA, AFSCME, the local carpenters union and others endorsed McCaffrey. Brien lost to a firefighter with union support. Brien didn’t lose because he supported 38 Studios, he lost because he was a Democrat who regularly took on the unions and the unions turned out their vote in a low turnout primary election. That’s the way the game is played. On the other hand, McCaffrey had the support of the unions, who helped him stave off a challenge from essentially a single-issue (gay marriage) candidate who had outside funding that helped to bolster her campaign. Without union support, McCaffrey would have lost. Without union support, Brien did lose.

It’s a lesson that probably won’t be missed by that unique-too-Rhode Island species, the conservative Democrat. You can go against the liberal Democratic/progressive ideals on social issues and still win, so long as you don’t go against the unions.

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That's a good point. McCaffrey also sponsored the binding arbitration bill for teachers, which passed the Senate in 2011 before it died in the House.

Of course, he didn't side with the unions as much as a Senator Tassoni (think income taxes, pension law). But he didn't get in their crosshairs like Brien, either.

Posted by: Ted at September 18, 2012 10:38 AM

Actually, the best part of this story was Chafee's seismic vs. no big deal comment. It's like a running comedy show except it comes with an expensive price tag.

Posted by: Max D at September 18, 2012 12:55 PM

They're downplaying union involvement over at RIFUTURE because it doesn't fit the progressive narrative of convenience that unions have no power in Rhode Island (yet somehow control a huge percentage of General Assembly seats), but the fact remains that unions are the top political donors in Rhode Island - more than all corporate donors combined. All one has to do is look at the publicly available campaign finance reports if one is interested in seeing from where the big donor money actually comes. Progressives pretend to be concerned about "money in politics," but when its the unions moving large sums of money, they're quick to change the subject. But so what? We all know what's good for NEARI is good for all.

Posted by: Dan at September 18, 2012 1:27 PM

Maybe there's also another factor, the makeup of the electorate too. In Cumberland, Karen MacBeth is a conservative Dem and I don't believe she had the union support, but her opponent was being touted over on RIF. Karen won handily. Woonsocket may also have more of a union-influence within the city than Cumberland.

Posted by: Patrick at September 18, 2012 3:27 PM

I live in that district, Macaffery sent three mailings the week of the primary, came to my door to introduce himself (again) and seemed to put more effort into being re-elected that his opponent, who other than some yard signs I knew nothing about. "The Unions" may have paid in part for the mailings but they didn't come to my door, and neither did his opponent.

Posted by: michael at September 18, 2012 4:03 PM

Was there ever any verification that Pisaturo's concession speech blamed 'hate and fear' of same sex marriage for the loss? I liked her at the AG's office but was disappointed when I read that on a blog.

Posted by: Max D at September 18, 2012 4:27 PM

Max, it was in the Warwick Beacon last week. Check over there (can't post link).

Posted by: Marc at September 18, 2012 4:44 PM

When was the last time you were in Woonsocket? Brien defeated himself by pushing for a waste to energy plant that would foul the air in the city even more than what the sludge-burning plant does now. Not to mention, the only place to put the plant would be on land controlled by his family. People are sick of the Brien's, their sense of entitlement and arrogance, that's why they voted out Jon's wife last year. This article is a simplistic look at something that has been building for years. Go do some homework before you comment on Woonsocket again.

Posted by: Quebecois at September 18, 2012 7:49 PM

Quebecois, thanks for the insight. And the habitant attitude mon frere. So the fact that 2 of the House primaries (Brien's and Baldelli-Hunts) involved unionized firefighters going against incumbents is supposed to strike me as....coincidental (especially when one is the head of the union)? Okay.

Posted by: Marc at September 18, 2012 8:04 PM

Quebecois -

Although Stella Brien (Jon's wife) was, as you say "voted out" of her Council seat in 2011, she was replaced on the Council by Albert Brien (Jon's dad). Bet that makes for some fun family gatherings!

Anyway, it was a Brien-for-Brien swap, not a complete rejection of the family.

Incidentally, when Jon won his House seat in a primary in 2006 he defeated incumbent Rep. (wait for it) Todd Brien.

There was a suggestion at the time that they were related, but only distantly.

I could go on . . (earlier, Todd and Stella nearly faced each other in a House primary, but we can leave details of that for our next class).

Posted by: brassband at September 18, 2012 9:01 PM
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