Matt Brown will run for RI governor, with Sen. Mendes as running mate

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Former Secretary of State Matt Brown confirmed Wednesday he will run for governor of Rhode Island in 2022, making him the fourth Democrat to announce a challenge against incumbent Gov. Dan McKee.

While Brown’s candidacy had been expected for weeks, the formal announcement included a twist: he is running on a joint ticket with state Sen. Cynthia Mendes, a first-term East Providence Democrat, who will be a candidate for lieutenant governor against appointed incumbent Sabina Matos.

Brown — who returned to prominence by mounting an unsuccessful challenge against then-Gov. Gina Raimondo in 2018 — indicated he and Mendes will headline a slate of 50 leftist candidates seeking legislative and municipal seats up and down the ballot next year in Rhode Island. They disclosed 24 of those candidates Wednesday.

“Rhode Island has been run by the same corrupt political machine for decades, but it doesn’t have to be,” Brown said in a statement. “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.”

Mendes noted that last year she was one of 10 winning candidates who ran under the banner of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Brown that works to help progressive challengers win Democratic primaries. (The candidates pay the nonprofit for its campaign work.)

The victories by Cooperative-aligned candidates in 2020, Mendes argued, “proved there’s a resounding mandate for progressive, people-centered politics in this state.”

(Story continues below.)

Brown’s entry into the gubernatorial contest creates the possibility of a five-way primary pitting McKee against Brown, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and second-time candidate Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz. A sixth potential candidate, former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes, is also mulling a campaign.

No Republican has announced plans to run for governor so far, but state GOP Chair Sue Cienki has said the party will field a credible candidate.

McKee took office in March after former Gov. Gina Raimondo stepped down to become U.S. commerce secretary, and quickly named Matos — then president of the Providence City Council — as his own successor in the lieutenant governor’s office. The two have been operating as a team even though the offices are elected separately.

Brown and Mendes are taking the same tack, with plans to campaign as a ticket even though they will be on separate ballot lines, unlike in Massachusetts where the governor and lieutenant governor run jointly. Their campaign said they have the support of the Sunrise Movement, a progressive advocacy group.

The Brown-Mendes campaign and the Political Cooperative also released a joint platform committing to a lengthy list of progressive policies, including moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs; enacting a “Medicare-for-All style” health care system; net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2040; and a $19 minimum wage.

All the candidates running under the group’s banner will decline campaign donations from corporate political action committees, corporate lobbyists, and companies that produce fossil fuels, according to a news release.

Brown, 51, first shot to prominence in Rhode Island in 2002, when he defeated appointed incumbent Ed Inman to win the secretary of state’s office. After serving one term, Brown exited the spotlight in 2006 after a fundraising controversy derailed a bid for U.S. Senate.

Following more than a decade out of state politics, Brown unexpectedly returned to center stage in 2018 when he announced he would run against Raimondo, initially as an independent but eventually as a Democrat. He took 34% of the vote in that year’s primary against 57% for Raimondo.

Since then, Brown has been involved in multiple progressive projects that have sought to challenge the status quo among local Democrats. They include the Rhode Island Political Cooperative as well as Renew Rhode Island, an advocacy group he originally incorporated under the name the Green New England Deal Council.

Brown had $49 in his campaign account as of June 30 after paying off about $38,000 in outstanding bills from his previous campaigns during the previous three months, according to his most recent R.I. Board of Elections filing. He also had $207,100 in outstanding personal loans to his campaign account.

The following list of 2022 candidates was released by the Rhode Island Political Cooperative:

  • Tarshire Battle — House of Representatives District 60
  • Jeanine Calkin — Senate District 30
  • Leonardo Cioe — Senate District 4
  • Zachary Colón — No office announced
  • Jen Douglas — Senate District 34
  • Melanie DuPont — Senate District 22
  • Jackie Goldman — Providence City Council Ward 5
  • Gregory Greco — Senate District 18
  • Marlene Guay — Woonsocket City Council
  • Clara Hardy — House of Representatives District 55
  • Brianna Henries — House of Representatives District 64
  • Jennifer Jackson — Senate District 13
  • Maggie Kain — Senate District 37
  • Alexander Kithes — House of Representatives District 49
  • Damián Lima — No office announced
  • Jenna Magnuski — Senate District 12
  • Michael Niemeyer — Senate District 38
  • Zak Periera — House of Representatives District 22
  • Geena Pham — Senate District 3
  • Andrew Poyant — Providence City Council Ward 14
  • Jennifer Rourke — Senate District 29
  • Harrison Tuttle — No office announced
  • Adamaris Villar — Central Falls City Council Ward 2
  • Charmaine Webster — Woonsocket City Council

Six of the 10 elected officials affiliated with the Political Cooperative who won in 2020 were not on the group’s initial list of candidates for 2022: state Sens. Jonathon Acosta, Kendra Anderson, and Tiara Mack; state Reps. Michelle McGaw and Brandon Potter; and Central Falls City Councilor Jessica Vega.

While Potter and the Cooperative cut ties long ago, a spokesperson for the group, A.J. Braverman, said there has been no change of relationship with the other five.

“Some of our 2020 candidates – because of what we built together last cycle – already have the infrastructure to run their own campaigns this time around,” he said. “They’re still part of the Co-op community and are listed with our 2020 cohort on the website.”

But the announcement also quickly showed fissures among Rhode Island Democrats.

“Two years ago, the voters of RI had the chance to cast a ballot for Matt Brown for governor — the voters loudly, clearly, voted no,” Kate Coyne McCoy, the R.I. Democratic Party’s chief strategist, said in a statement. “It was not close. They said no to his record of lies, ethical lapses and his trail of broken promises.”

Among those facing a primary challenge from the Political Cooperative is Senate Environment Committee Chair Dawn Euer, D-Newport, who earlier this year led passage of the new Act on Climate law which calls for Rhode Island to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Her announced opponent in Senate District 13 is Jennifer Jackson.

Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a veteran of Rhode Island’s progressive movement who nearly defeated McKee in the 2018 primary for lieutenant governor, expressed exasperation with the decision to target Euer.

“What an absurd waste of resources, which will now go into both attacking and defending a longtime progressive ally, rather than targeting the actual obstacles to progress in our state,” Regunberg wrote on Twitter. “Real progressives don’t let petty egos and personal [expletive] derail movement-building like this.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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