PROVIDENCE — Former secretary of state Matt Brown jumped into the governor’s race on Wednesday, launching a progressive slate with state Senator Cynthia Mendes, who is running for lieutenant governor, and as many as 50 other Rhode Island Political Cooperative candidates. Together, they are pursuing an ambitious goal: a “governing majority.”
“We’re gonna win the whole [expletive] State House,” Brown said in a kickoff video.
Brown argues that Rhode Island has been run by a “corrupt political machine“ for decades, saying, “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to replace our entire state government in a single day and usher in an era of transparent, progressive, effective government that works for all Rhode Islanders.”
The announcement provides yet another dramatic jolt in the 2022 governor’s race, coming just seven days after Democratic Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza announced he would not run despite having amassed more than $1 million for his expected campaign.
Brown, 51, a Providence Democrat who served as Rhode Island’s secretary of state from 2003 to 2007, challenged then-governor Gina M. Raimondo in a 2018 primary, losing with 33.5 percent of the vote to Raimondo’s 57.2 percent.
He now enters a 2022 race that’s expected to include three of Rhode Island’s Democratic statewide officeholders. Governor Daniel J. McKee, who took office in March after Raimondo joined President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, is expected to run. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced his candidacy Sept. 4. Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea announced in May. And Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz announced in April.
Brown enters the race with just $49.35 in his campaign account — not much more than the $36.29 that Cool Moose Party founder Robert J. Healey Jr. spent in the 2014 governor’s race. Magaziner, meanwhile, has amassed more than $1.5 million.
But, Brown said, “We are just getting started.”
“We think we have a story to tell here,” he said. “This is something that has never been done in the state, never been done in the country, and we are going to build a big base of grass-roots support, including funding support.”
He noted that all co-op candidates pledge to refuse money from “corporate political action committees, corporate lobbyists, and fossil fuel companies.”
In 2019, Brown joined state Senator Jeanine Calkin and former state Senate candidate Jennifer Rourke in launching the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, introducing 15 candidates and aiming to eventually win enough legislative seats to “form a new governing majority” and install a new House speaker and a new Senate president.
The cooperative helped 10 progressives get elected to state and local office in 2020, and on Wednesday the group identified 24 candidates for state and local office while vowing to recruit and support a total of 50 in next year’s elections.
“This is about a movement of people across this state taking our government back from the ultra-rich and the corporate lobbyists,” said Rourke, a co-op co-chair who will again challenge Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat. “Next year, with 50 progressive candidates on the ballot, the people of Rhode Island will have an unprecedented opportunity to replace the corrupt establishment.”
Brown and Mendes are backed by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate organization, and they vowed to “enact sweeping climate legislation to put Rhode Island on track to become the first state to achieve net-zero emissions.”
The Rhode Island Political Cooperative policy platform also includes:
- Extending the eviction moratorium throughout the pandemic
- Building 10,000 “green affordable homes for working families”
- Implementing statewide rent control to ensure that rent increases do not exceed 4 percent annually
- Enacting “Medicare-for-All-style” universal health care
- Taxing the richest Rhode Islanders to fund smaller class sizes and improve school buildings
- Passing a $19-per-hour minimum wage
- Implementing a statewide mask mandate in public spaces
- Repealing the state’s voter ID law
Mendes, 41, an East Providence Democrat, was one of the co-op candidates who won in the November 2020 elections. She beat then-Senate finance chairman William J. Conley Jr., emphasizing her opposition to development of an East Providence golf course while he represented the course’s owner as an attorney.
“Now, I’m thrilled to be running for lieutenant governor alongside Matt and the rest of our slate to finish the job and win a true governing majority,” Mendes said. “As the pandemic rages through Rhode Island and the climate crisis accelerates, corrupt incumbents in our State House are sitting on their hands, hiding from their voters, and refusing to lift a finger to help us.”
The co-op is backing Gregory Greco, a public school teacher, for the Senate District 18 seat that Mendes will leave to run for lieutenant governor.
Mendes, who is of Cape Verdean and Puerto Rican heritage, is part of the most diverse General Assembly in state history, and the co-op described the slate of candidates as a “multiracial group of community leaders,” including teachers, waitresses, retail workers, and nurses.
McKee has emphasized that he is working closely with Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, the first woman of color to hold that position, since he named her in April to fill the seat he vacated to become governor.
But Brown said his campaign with Mendes would mark the first time that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor have run as a ticket in Rhode Island while sharing a platform with up to 50 other candidates.
“There has actually never been anything like this in the country, forget about the state,” Brown said. “That is what it is going to take to actually pass any of this because you need a legislature that is going to be in support of this progressive agenda.” That agenda will never become reality “as long as the corrupt political machine remains in power,” he said.
What does he mean by “corrupt”?
“Working for corporate interests, working for wealthy interests, giving a $1 billion tax cut 15 years ago to the wealthiest 1 percent because those are the people with influence in this state while gutting health care, gutting schools, leaving our schools literally crumbling,” Brown said. Also, he claimed McKee “has already got a couple of corruption scandals under his belt.”
Brown will be running against Gorbea, who served as his deputy secretary of state. “We just have very different visions for the state,” Brown said. For example, he said, “I would raise taxes on the top 1 percent. She wouldn’t do that.”
While the announcement mentions the potential for 50 candidates, the co-op identified 24 on Wednesday and did not specify what position three of them would seek:
- Tarshire Battle — House of Representatives District 60 (now Representative Karen Alzate)
- Jeanine Calkin — Senate District 30 (now Calkin)
- Leonardo Cioe — Senate District 4 (now Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio)
- Zachary Colón — To be announced
- Jen Douglas — Senate District 34 (now Senator Elaine Morgan)
- Melanie DuPont — Senate District 22 (now Senator Stephen R. Archambault)
- Jackie Goldman — Providence City Council Ward 5
- Gregory Greco — Senate District 18 (now Mendes)
- Marlene Guay — Woonsocket City Council
- Clara Hardy — House of Representatives District 55 (now Representative Arthur J. Corvese)
- Brianna Henries — House of Representatives District 64 (now Henries)
- Jennifer Jackson — Senate District 13 (now Senator Dawn Euer)
- Maggie Kain — Senate District 37 (now Senator V. Susan Soznowski)
- Alexander Kithes — House of Representatives District 49 (now Representative Steven J. Lima)
- Damián Lima — To be announced
- Jenna Magnuski — Senate District 12 (now Senator Louis P. DiPalma)
- Michael Niemeyer — Senate District 38 (now Senator Dennis L. Algiere)
- Zak Periera — House of Representatives District 22 (now Representative Joseph J. Solomon Jr.)
- Geena Pham — Senate District 3 (vacated by former Senator Gayle L. Goldin)
- Andrew Poyant — Providence City Council Ward 14
- Jennifer Rourke — Senate District 29 (now Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey)
- Harrison Tuttle (executive director of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC) — To be announced
- Adamaris Villar — Central Falls City Council Ward 2
- Charmaine Webster — Woonsocket City Council