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RI POLITICS

R.I. Political Cooperative facing criticism over a second candidate’s social media posts

‘We will be evaluating our process of vetting prospective candidates’ backgrounds,’ the progressive group says.

Tarshire Battle is a Democratic candidate for House of Representatives District 60, running as a member of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative.
Tarshire Battle is a Democratic candidate for House of Representatives District 60, running as a member of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative.Handout

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Political Cooperative is again facing criticism over the social media posts of one of its state legislative candidates.

On Thursday night, the progressive group cut ties with state Senate candidate Jennifer Jackson following criticism over her social media posts. Jackson had been announced as the co-op challenger to Senator Dawn Euer, a Newport Democrat who sponsored the Act on Climate.

On Friday, attention turned to Facebook posts, by state House of Representatives candidate Tarshire Battle, that appear to defend religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines and a “One Nation Under God” ad by Hobby Lobby, the craft store that in 2014 convinced the US Supreme Court to strike down Affordable Care Act contraception mandates on religious freedom grounds.

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Battle is challenging Representative Karen Alzate, a Pawtucket Democrat who is chairwoman of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus.

“I think it’s starting to identify a pattern that the co-op has not vetted candidates very well,” said Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. “It’s surprising, but it raises the bigger question of how the co-op is making their decisions on who they support.”

Crowley argued that it’s hypocritical for the co-op to run candidates such as Jackson and Battle “under the progressive banner” while challenging Democrats such as Euer, who sponsored the Act on Climate, and Alzate, who sponsored a bill to raise Rhode Island’s top income tax rate from 5.99 percent to 8.99 percent.

“I don’t see what’s progressive about targeting legislators who are trying to tax the rich,” Crowley said. “The troubling thing here, from my point of view, is they seem to take the position that only one organization has the right to define what a progressive is, and I think it’s counterproductive to the goals of what the larger progressive movement in Rhode Island is trying to accomplish.”

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A spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Political Cooperative issued a statement on Friday, saying, “We will be evaluating our process of vetting prospective candidates’ backgrounds to ensure that every person involved with the co-op is aligned with our values and policy platform – policies that everyday Rhode Islanders desperately need to live better lives.”

Spokeswoman Camilla Pelliccia said the co-op decided to challenge Alzate because of her support for House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat who she said “opposes urgent progressive priorities including raising taxes on the rich, passing bold Green New Deal legislation, and addressing our state’s severe and accelerating housing crisis.”

While Alzate sponsored a bill to tax the highest income earners, the legislation died in the House Finance Committee.

Alzate has come out in support of Democratic General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who announced on Sept. 14 that he will run for governor in 2022.

Former secretary of state Matt Brown, a Rhode Island Political Cooperative co-founder, announced on Sept. 22 that he will be running for governor, launching a progressive slate with state Senator Cynthia Mendes, who is running for lieutenant governor, and as many as 50 other co-op candidates.

Battle was announced as the co-op candidate in House District 60, challenging Alzate. The co-op website describes Battle as “a community organizer, mental health professional, artist, and mother.”

On Aug. 24, Battle shared and commented on a Facebook post that appeared to reference COVID-19 vaccines.

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“As one person posted: the mandate has the force of law? No religious exemptions?” she wrote. “Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on religion. Forfeit position? That is considered unlawful termination based on discrimination. Unpaid leave? That is retaliation and is another violation of Title VII. People need to fight back – yes, like this letter states, be a soldier, but not for them.”

On July 8, Battle shared a Facebook post of a Faithwire article with the headline “Hobby Lobby Faces Atheist Backlash for ‘One Nation Under God’ Ad.”

“The Christian-owned retailer Hobby Lobby faced atheist scorn this week over its Independence Day ad, which ran in newspapers nationwide,” the article said. “Featured prominently on the advertisement – which depicted a child running with an American flag – were the words, ‘One nation under God,’ alongside a reference to Psalm 33:12, which states, ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.’ ”

Battle could not be reached on Friday afternoon.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.