PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Political Cooperative candidate Tarshire Battle on Friday ended her campaign for the state House of Representatives amid criticism of some of her past Facebook posts.
Battle had planned to launch a Democratic primary challenge against state Representative Karen Alzate, a Pawtucket Democrat who is chairwoman of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus.
But last week, attention focused on Facebook posts in which Battle appeared 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.
On Friday, Battle announced she is pulling out of the race. She did not disavow her Facebook posts.
“Over the past several weeks, I and other Black and brown working-class women in the co-op have faced relentless attacks against us,” Battle tweeted. “I have worked tirelessly to make life better for those in my community and I refuse to allow my life to be weaponized by the political establishment against my work and my movement. For that reason, I am suspending my campaign and will not be running for office.”
The announcement comes little more than a week after the Rhode Island Political Cooperative 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.
Jackson and Battle had been part of a slate of up to 50 state and local candidates that the Rhode Island Political Cooperative planned to back as part of its attempt to secure a “new governing majority” in the House, Senate, and governor’s office. Former secretary of state Matt Brown, a Rhode Island Political Cooperative co-founder, announced on Sept. 22 that he will be running for governor, as part of a progressive slate that includes state Senator Cynthia Mendes running for lieutenant governor.
Last week, Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, had said the social media posts by Jackson and Battle raised issues about whether the co-op had properly vetted its legislative candidates. “It’s surprising, but it raises the bigger question of how the co-op is making their decisions on who they support,” he said at the time.
Crowley told the Globe it was hypocritical for the co-op to run candidates such as Jackson and Battle “under the progressive banner” while challenging Democrats such as Alzate, who sponsored a bill to raise Rhode Island’s top income tax rate from 5.99 percent to 8.99 percent.
A spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Political Cooperative had said the co-op planned to evaluate its 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.”
On Aug. 24, Battle shared and commented on a Facebook post that appeared to reference COVID-19 vaccines.
“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.’ "
The announcement comes one day after Mendes, a Democratic state senator from East Providence, took to Twitter to respond to criticism of some of her past Facebook posts.
In 2014 and 2015, Mendes shared Facebook posts by groups opposing abortion rights. For example, in December 2014 she shared a post about how Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, had delivered a speech about “The Feminist Case Against Abortion.”
“I’m not ashamed of my past. I had a journey into this movement,” Mendes tweeted Thursday. “We need to celebrate how people learn and grow, not shame BIPOC candidates, working class candidates, or women for their histories!!!”
In a statement, she said she grew up in “a very conservative Christian environment” and attended a “conservative Christian college” – the Word of Life Bible Institute. “Today I am proudly, and strongly, pro-choice,” she wrote. “But it was a journey, one that involved expanding my world and challenging myself with new ideas — and relearning and unlearning many of the ideas I grew up with.”
Mendes pushed back on the criticism of the social media posts, saying, “I think these kinds of attacks, and knowing that well-funded opposition researchers will try to pick apart everything we’ve ever said or done, are part of the reason why more regular working-class people don’t run for office.”