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Providence Democratic Socialists may pull endorsement of Morales for backing Shekarchi

“I still maintain my own level of agency,” the Providence Democrat said. “This idea that one ‘sells out’ by voting for leadership is misguided.”

Representative David Morales, a Providence Democrat, speaks to Boston Globe reporter Edward Fitzpatrick during the Rhode Island Report podcast.Carlos Muñoz

PROVIDENCE — The Providence Democratic Socialists of America are threatening to rescind their endorsement of Representative David Morales because he voted for K. Joseph Shekarchi as House speaker on Tuesday.

“This is a violation of our bylaws,” the group tweeted. “DSA-endorsed politicians are expected to play an oppositional role in the political system. They should not support establishment Democrats for the purpose of gaining the favor of Party leadership.”

Also, the group passed a resolution last spring that “specifically mentioned that a vote for Joe Shekarchi would be unacceptable,” a spokesman said.

So the group plans to meet later in January to decide what “the next steps” should be regarding Morales. A spokesman said the group’s bylaws have a process for officially rescinding an endorsement, and there is an option of writing a formal censure.

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Morales, a Providence Democrat, was first elected in 2020 at age 22, becoming the youngest legislator in the General Assembly and among the youngest Latino legislators in the country. He describes himself as a Democratic Socialist who counts Bernie Sanders, Malcolm X, and Shirley Chisholm among his heroes.

In November 2020, Morales abstained when House Democrats voted to make Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, the House speaker.

But on Tuesday, he joined in re-electing Shekarchi to the leadership role. Shekarchi received 63 votes for House speaker, while eight Republicans voted for House Minority Leader Michael W. Chippendale, and three Democratic representatives abstained.

On Thursday, Morales reacted to the statement by the Providence Democratic Socialists of America, saying, “First and foremost, the organization has a right to take action as they choose to.”

But, he said, “I would like to think my record over the last 2½ years to expand health care coverage to every child, to push for funding for libraries and affordable housing, will be able to speak for itself over any procedural vote that takes place every two years. I know I have done an effective job for the working people of Providence. That is my main priority.”

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Morales said he believes that abstaining from the House leadership vote two years ago was the correct decision because he was new to the legislature and unsure of what the House leadership style would be like. He said it is “absolutely not true” that his vote this week was aimed at gaining the favor of party leaders.

“I still maintain my own level of agency,” Morales said. “This idea that one ‘sells out’ by voting for leadership is misguided.”

He said his decision “centered around being able to have further discussion about policy.”

“While there are policy disagreements I share with some of the leadership, I understand that there are ways in which I can collaborate with them efficiently to push for policy, improve policy proposals, and at the same time have my own agency to oppose any bills that would hurt working people,” Morales said.

He said his priorities for the 2023 legislative session include replacing the estimated 100,000 drinking water pipes in the state that still contain lead. Last year, a proposal passed the Senate but not the House. “Unfortunately, the urban core has the highest rates of lead pipes, especially in the 02908 ZIP code neighborhoods that I represent,” he said.

Another priority is lowering the cost of prescription drugs “by capping the costs directly,” he said.

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Morales said he still identifies himself as a Democratic Socialist and will continue paying dues to the national organization.

On its website, the Providence Democratic Socialists of America explains that, “We are a political and activist organization, not a party; through campus and community-based chapters DSA members use a variety of tactics, from legislative to direct action, to fight for reforms that empower working people.”

The website features a photo of Morales speaking at a podium with a sign that reads “Improved Medicare for all.”

Another supporter of Bernie Sanders, Representative Brandon C. Potter, won a House seat in 2020 with the backing of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a progressive group. But Potter, a Cranston Democrat, said he was “denounced and expelled” from the Cooperative after he voted for Shekarchi for House speaker after the 2020 election.

Potter said he would have voted against former House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat, but Mattiello lost his House seat and Potter backed Shekarchi, the former House Democratic majority leader, as his successor. At the time, the Political Cooperative said one of its top priorities was getting new leadership in the General Assembly, “therefore Brandon is no longer associated with the Co-op.”

On Thursday, Potter said the House has a record of “progressive achievements” over the past two years, including “the most progressive recreational cannabis legalization in the country” and a 100 percent renewable energy standard.

“I think it’s very obvious at this point that the people that are creating these fights over leadership votes are deeply unserious people that aren’t interested in actually working on good public policy,” Potter said. “They are focused on political drama and fighting without any actual cause in mind.”

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