With Vow To Be A 'Major Force,' Rhode Island Working Families Makes Primary Endorsements

Jul 25, 2016

Rep. Teresa Tanzi is among the candidates backed by RI Working Families.
Credit RI House of Representatives

Rhode Island Working Families, the newish progressive group, has made six legislative endorsements, as part of the group's aspiration to be "a major force" in September primaries for the General Assembly.

"We're excited to be digging in," Georgia Hollister Isman, state director for Rhode Island Working Families, tells RIPR. She said the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who edged Hillary Clinton in the state's Democratic primary, "proved that there's a hunger in Rhode Island for more ambitious change. People clearly want leaders who are ready to really fight for a bold vision where Rhode Island works for everyone, not just the wealthy."

With a focus on economic issues and promoting paid sick days for workers, RI Working Families is backing its primary push with a full-time RI organizer, Abby Godino. Hollister Isman said the group plans to channel $5,000 in campaign-related spending through a PAC and an equivalent amount through communications with a list of Working Families' members that she said includes about 4,000 names.

She said RI Working Families' primary push is separate from a similar effort by the RI Progressive Democrats, although one that might have some overlap with the other organization.

RI Working Families endorsed the following candidates in primary elections:

-- State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown). She faces a primary challenge from rival Democrats Rachel Clough and Ewa Dzwierzynsk. According to Working Families, Tanzi "has been fighting for a whole host of progressive causes in the Statehouse, including labor, environmental protection and public education."

-- State Rep. Kathy Fogarty (D-South Kingstown), who is being challenged in the primary by former rep. Spencer Dickinson, a Democrat. Working Families cites Fogarty's support for a mandatory recess bill that became a law.

-- Susan Donovan, a Democrat running for the seat vacated by former House Finance chairman Ray Gallison of Bristol. Working Families points to Donovan's experience as a retired teacher and calls her a longtime environmental activist. She faces fellow Democrat Todd Giroux, a past candidate for governor.

-- Jason Knight, a lawyer who is running a primary challenge to Rep. Jan Malik (D-Warren). Working Families said Knight backs "economic development that really works for families" while supporting reproductive choice and LGBTQ rights.

-- Dennis Lavallee, one of four Democrats running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Edward O'Neill (I-Lincoln). The other Democrats are Hagop Setrak Jawharjian, Keven McKenna, and Jinsa Petrarca-Karampetos. Working Families said Lavallee is a labor organizer and small business owner.

-- Jeanine Calkin, who is running a Democrat primary challenge against Sen. William Walaska of Warwick. Working Families said Calkin organized the middle part of Rhode Island for Sanders' campaign and hopes to advance Sanders' values. 

Hollister Isman, a veteran activist who lives in Massachusetts, became the state director for Rhode Island Working Families in April after the group's first director, Christopher Torres, quietly left to become is national campaign director of “Families Fight Back,” described by the group as a multi-million dollar campaign aimed at flexing the muscle and power of the pro-immigrant vote. The Families Fight Back campaign is led by the Center for Community Change Action, America’s Voice and the Latino Victory Project. Torres is with CCCAction.

Working Families also organizes in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

This post has been updated.