September 16, 2010

Analyzing the Races Where Incumbents Lost on Tuesday

Carroll Andrew Morse

Scott MacKay of WRNI's On Politics blog summed up Rhode Island's Tuesday-night primary election results by saying "the only real throw-the-bums out anger came from the Democratic left, not the GOP right". MacKay also quoted Local AFL-CIO President George Nee's reaction, "I’d say it was a pretty good night for organized labor". Let's take a closer look at the nine House races where incumbent Democrats lost, to get a clearer idea of how large a role organized labor did or did not play in them

There's no doubt that Teresa Tanzi's victory over David Caprio in District 34 (Narragansett/South Kingstown) and Richard Morrison's victory over Doug Gablinske in District 68 (Bristol/Warren) were the result of long-term, announced campaigns over Democrats consistently described as DINOs -- Democrats in Name Only -- by the RI progressive/labor left.

David Bennett beat Al Gemma in District 20 (Warwick) by the largest margin of the night for anyone challenging an incumbent. Despite Gemma receiving August campaign contributions from House Speaker Gordon Fox, Majority leader Nicholas Mattiello and Democratic Party Chair Ed Pacheco, as well as having received support from a number of private-sector labor organizations earlier in the election season, Bennett was clearly the candidate of public sector organized labor, racking up big donations from NEARI-PACE, the RI AFL-CIO, the SEIU, and the United Nurses and Allied Health Professionals late in the cycle. It looks as if organized labor wanted to replace a sometime supporter (Gemma) with someone they expect will act more predictably (Bennett). However, especially given the size of Bennett's victory, it would be a mistake to chalk up the final result entirely to machine politics -- it is also likely that a portion of Gemma's constituency believed that the time had come to let someone new take on the task of representing the district. Still, it's safe to make David Bennett's victory the third victory for George Nee's "organized labor".

Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith lost to challenger Jeremiah O'Grady in District 46 (Lincoln/Pawtucket). In 2009, Shallcross-Smith received money from the big public labor PACs like NEARI-PACE and the RI AFL-CIO, but in 2010 O'Grady got their money while Shallcross-Smith didn't. It seems that the incumbent did something to displease her organized labor benefactors; a pre-election interview of both district 46 candidates done by Audra Clark of the Valley Breeze provides a list of possibly significant issue differences; Shallcross-Smith was yes on e-verify, favored pension reform, and non-committal on binding arbitration. O'Grady was no on e-verify, non-committal on pension reform, and yes on binding arbitration.

Spencer Dickinson defeated incumbent Michael Rice in District 35 (South Kingstown). Rice was very specific in an interview with Liz Boardman of the South County Independent as to why he believed he was primaried...

Rumor is that the AFL-CIO and teachers union is upset with me for voting for Article 16 of the budget, which removes part of the pensions for teachers. They courted Spencer Dickinson to run against me.
Rice also speculated that some constituents may have been upset with him for sponsoring a same-sex marriage bill. Dickinson replied in the article by saying that social issues aren't his thing, and by talking about how important pensions are. Rice received money from multiple teachers unions up until April of this year. After the state budget vote that included pension reform (early June), Rice got nothing else from the teacher's union, while Dickinson received a substantial contribution from NEARI-PACE in August. Rice had been generally regarded as a reliable progressive, evidenced by his no vote on e-verify when it was voted on last year and his sponsorship of a same-sex marriage bill this year. The combination of Shallcross-Smith's and Rice's races seem to show that Rhode Island legislators don't have to reach Al Gemma levels of non-linear behavior to find themselves subjected to union discipline; apparently taking the wrong side of pension reform is enough.

The dynamics in the other four races are a tad murkier.

James McLaughlin defeated incumbent Kenneth Vaudreuil in District 57 (Central Falls/Cumberland). McLaughlin was not the recipient of overt organized labor support. At the level of statewide intrigue, McLaughlin did receive a contribution from Rep. Karen MacBeth, an opponent of the current House leadership cadre, while Vaudreuil received money from House leaders Fox and Mattiello. The more notable name on Vaudreuil's contributor list, however, may be that of Central Falls' deposed mayor Charles Moreau. Vaudreuil won Central Falls, but lost Cumberland, and it is easy to imagine that association with Moreau would be a magnet for voter dissatisfaction, with voters from Cumberland being less than enthused about a friend of Charles Moreau representing them, and MacBeth taking the opportunity to ingratiate herself to a potential new ally against the House's leadership.

One other note of interest: Vaudrieuil was one of 10 legislators commended in a recent letter from a national group called "Democrats for Education Reform". Five of the ten legislators mentioned in that letter lost their primaries on Tuesday night (Vaudreuil, Gablinske, Gemma, Shallcross-Smith, plus Joseph Almeida who will be discussed below). It doesn't look like either Vaudreuil or Almeida were targeted specifically for their education reform positions, but whether it was intended or not, there is the potential for a major shift in the state legislature's balance on education policy brewing -- unless more explicitly pro-reform legislators are elected in the general election in November.

Peter Wasylyk's loss to Raymond Hull in District 6 (North Providence/Providence) and Christopher Fierro's loss to Robert Phillips in District 51 (Woonsocket) seem to have been powered by regular voters unhappy with their incumbents performance, as both incumbents were on organized labor's side of the Article 16 pension vote mentioned by Rice, and both were no's on the 2009 E-verify vote, suggesting they reliably voted with the progressive caucus.

Finally, there is Leo Medina's (pending recount) victory over Joseph Almeida in District 12 (Providence). Beyond the entanglement with the Providence Mayoral race, Almeida seems to have found his way to Rhode Island political no-man's land. Though he was an annual sponsor of some of Rhode Island's most progressive legislation, Almeida also voted in favor of the dreaded Article 16, and was praised by the Democrats for Education Reform. So while organized labor may not have targeted him in this cycle, neither were they inclined to come strongly to his support. On the other hand, based on the campaign finance reports, it doesn't look like Almeida was interested in anyone's support -- he has no reports of any individual campaign contributions since 2005. His minimal campaign efforts obviously opened the door to a challenger out-hustling him on the ground.

By my tally that makes 5 cases of organized labor knocking off their targets (Gablinske, Caprio, Gemma, Shallcross-Smith, Rice) and 4 incumbents who fell victim to broad-based dissatisfaction amongst their constituencies (Vaudreuil, Wasylyk, Fierro, Almeida). 5-4 is not quite the rout that was reported in the early analysis, though the organized labor wing of the Rhode Island Democratic party does look to be engaging in a systematic purge of any legislator whom they can, who even considers pension reform.

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I was curious whether you would do the analysis when you asked this question in another thread.

I could quibble, but you are in the right ballpark (or, left field in the right ballpark.)

Various groups had different priorities, but we went 18 for 21 in GA primaries in which we took an interest. A pretty good night indeed.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at September 16, 2010 7:58 PM

And thus do you continue to hinder a better future for the state of Rhode Island and merely manage incrementally to postpone the reckoning that your members will surely face, Bob.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 16, 2010 8:20 PM

I don't think single groups can claim responsibility for incumbent losses. I think the biggest factor was voter dissatisfaction, especially in the Blackstone Valley. Many incumbents were thrown out, but rebels Karen MacBeth and Rene Menard won big, despite challenges by reputable candidates. I wouldn't be surprised in GOP candidates like Beth Moura and Steve Orsini make strong challenges to some of the other Dems in the area.

I think many of the dissatisfied voted for "the other guy." The unions, teachers unions in particular, did a nice job of making sure the other guy was on the ballot, and was sympathetic to their causes. Plus, as they do so well, the union GOTV was significant.

I always thought my representative, Chris Fierro, was a fluke. He won a special election with a large field of candidates and small turnout. Big union money helped him run an impressive campaign then, with lots of outside help. This year he had to complete for resources with everyone else, and had just a single candidate well liked in the city.

Posted by: mikeinri at September 16, 2010 9:29 PM


Very nice work and analysis. This is real political analysis that you don't get from parts of the biased media that wants to hype a certain spin to the story.

Also, note that in 3 of the 5 races, the pro-union candidate got 53%. Labor by itself did not get their candidate barely over the top. The car tax was probably a tipping point in at least some of these races. ( I would look at if the reps who lost voted for the car tax and if their community has already imposed one) For Gablinske, his vote for a funding formula that hurts his community was big. For Caprio, the whole controversy about his brother party switching certainly factored in.

Pro-Labor candidates took advantage of a anti-incumbant climate. I think the GOP candidates will too. I think you will see the GOP knock off more incumbants on election night than Labor did in the primary, which as you point out was really just 5.

Posted by: Informed at September 16, 2010 9:52 PM

The unions' success in these primaries is a clarion call for any business in Rhode Island that doesn't absolutely have to be located here -- such as tourist t-shirt shops in Newport -- to get outta Dodge pronto.

Here is a state already ranked among the worst for business, taxation and condition of its infrastructure. Its legislature's economic policy is to import welfare recipients and export college graduates. Its education system is below-average, as is the skill of its workforce (and both continue to decline rather than approve).

So business expansion (and jobs) coming to the rescue to bail out the State via an expanding tax-base just-ain'

As the final death rattle, in the face of billions of dollars in unfunded pension and retiree health benefits (an unfunded liability that they themselves were instrumental in creating) Bob Walsh and his union-boss minions are determined to protect the status quo for as long as possible, but by so doing ensure the ultimate fiscal collapse of the State of Rhode Island and its municipalities.

In the meantime, the unions are going to keep squeezing the ever-declining number of private sector golden geese until dead.

So stay in Rhode Island and continue to get financially raped in order to feed the union and welfare industry greed, or depart for a less dysfunctional state that has a viable economic future.

Leaving RI is a no-brainer.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at September 16, 2010 9:56 PM

I think we're pre-supposing the conservative and Tea Party vote decided to skip Tuesday night and sandbag the primaries. Do you completely blow off a primary thinking "Hey, we'll do the job in November?"
And why did we see all the upsets in the House, but not the Senate? Strange.
As for low turnout, I think Carcieri was right. Nothing brings out the vote like a Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Posted by: rhody at September 16, 2010 11:00 PM

"but we went 18 for 21 in GA primaries in which we took an interest"

Why does that sound eerily like a football betting tout service? "Hey, we picked 11 out of our 15 games correctly last week. We aren't going to tell you which ones those are ahead of time, because that'd ruin our statistics!"

So Bob, why not tell us now which seats you are taking an interest in for November and then we can see how well you do?

Posted by: Patrick at September 16, 2010 11:09 PM

I'll leave it to Andrew to do a post general election analysis as well.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at September 17, 2010 3:14 AM

November's elections will be decided by the independent and moderate voters who did not feel an impetus to come out to the primaries. Political junkies can analyze this all day long, but the fact is that many people didn't even realize it was primary day, or did not feel the urge to get out and vote for folks who represented only nuanced differences in the major races on either ticket.

My bet is that on November 2nd, these sleepers will get out to the polls and growl. If by chance they don't, there will be a mass exodus of businesses and producers, leaving labor to support themselves, and hastening the collapse of the system in the state.

Posted by: Madmom at September 17, 2010 8:52 AM

The Senate is less politically volatile than the House,so people get more interested in the latter,plus the elections there are naturally more localized.
FWIW the are more "personalities"in the House and the spending bills get crafted there-the Senate is more like the House of Lords versus the Commons.
Try this-go to a Senate hearing and a House hearing on a controversial piece of legislation and see where there is a larger turnout and more energetic testimony and make your own mind up.

Posted by: joe bernstein at September 17, 2010 9:14 AM

"I'll leave it to Andrew to do a post general election analysis as well."

Of course you will. That makes it easier to say that you won 64 of the 75 seats you had an interest in.

"but the fact is that many people didn't even realize it was primary day"

Shame, shame on them. I guess I have to wonder that if someone didn't even know it was a day to vote, why would they care in November.

Posted by: Patrick at September 17, 2010 9:41 AM

People of this state deserve EVERYTHING they are going to get over the next decade:

1. Double digit sales tax
2. No jobs for their kids-other than the lucky few "public service" jobs.
3. The highest property taxes in America.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at September 17, 2010 9:41 AM


In response to your initial comment, I was hoping that by asking the question earlier this week, someone would drop by the comments section with all the answers, but no one did, so I had to go do the research myself.

An important set of questions that this is building to is what is organized labor going to want in return for supporting Gordon Fox's continued speakership and, if he doesn't agree, who is the alternative choice?

Posted by: Andrew at September 17, 2010 10:08 AM

And an even bigger question is how all our new Reps propose to solve the state's ever worsening fiscal crisis. Cut social safety net programs? Cut pensions (certainly seems to be a no go area)? Raise taxes? Default on the state's bonds? Buy Foxwoods bonds at a deep discount and contribute them to the public sector pension funds?

Regardless of the outcome of this primary election, the real problems and the limited solutions thereto haven't changed. I'm with Ragin'. Hit the road.

Posted by: John at September 17, 2010 3:27 PM

Excellent analysis, Andrew.

"And an even bigger question is how all our new Reps propose to solve the state's ever worsening fiscal crisis."

Indeed, that is the question.

Posted by: Monique at September 17, 2010 5:04 PM

"And an even bigger question is how all our new Reps propose to solve the state's ever worsening fiscal crisis."

Indeed, that is the question.
Posted by Monique at September 17, 2010 5:04 PM

Oh, I think deep down we KNOW what they will do:

Tax increases of the "slowly boiling frog" type on the odd years.
Smoke and mirrors on the even years.
By 2020 we will have a double digit sales tax and the highest property taxes in America...and cops and firemen will still be retiring at 41 with "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" pensions.
Count on it.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at September 17, 2010 7:44 PM

What we need is to clearly state and then repeat over and over one simple message to the non-union voting taxpayer: The unions have declared war on you. Candidates supported by the unions must be defeated.

Non-union taxpayers have a gun aimed right between our eyes. Unions have their finger on the trigger. This is WAR, unions against taxpayers. Nothing less. Forget the party banner, forget the stupid distractions that pose as issues.

John, Ragin', Tommy, channel your cynicism into action - stand and fight. GET PISSED enough to DO something constructive. There are more of us than there are of them.

Posted by: elemare at September 18, 2010 1:12 AM

Watched you on Channel 18 on Walsh show.

I sent Gov. Carceiri and email after his Exec. Order that got lots of attention worldwide including a hispanic newpaper in Miami.

In essence it gave suggestions that I, as a Business Office of DCYF RI, picked up on that could save the State money on.

One of these was a Waiting Period for ANY person coming to RI to establish Residency for say 18 to 24 months BEFORE being able to receive any State Benefits, ie: food stamps, housing, welfare, etc.

No Reply.

My ideo takes the Immigration Issue out of the target of focus. It simply said "Any person that is not currently a RI resident must wait for 18 to 24 months before being able to receive ANY kind of public assistance in the the State of RI".

I thought I gave RI an opportunity to close the loppholes. For example. You could be white with blue or purple pokadots from upstate NY and come here...BUT., you would not be eligible for any public assistance until you were a resident for 18 to 24 monts..whatever the time limit would be decided". As an MPA grad of URI 2007...I thought someone would see the light?

Posted by: Ron Sanda at December 14, 2010 5:08 PM
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