PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (WPRI) — A veteran Democratic state representative has quit his local party committee over disagreements with the group’s more progressive membership, in another sign of the divisions roiling Rhode Island’s ruling party.
State Rep. Dennis Canario, a 58-year-old Portsmouth Democrat, announced his decision in a Facebook post that appears to have since been deleted. Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee Chair Len Katzman confirmed Canario resigned last week.
“I have devoted the past 15 years to serving on this committee and sadly with much regret, it is plainly clear to me that I can no longer participate due to the radical ideologies of a few members that I feel sometimes loudly hijack our committee’s goal,” Canario wrote in the post. He said he has no plans to give up his seat in District 71.
Canario elaborated in an email to WPRI 12, describing himself as “a proud and lifelong Democrat” and calling it “a decision that weighed on me greatly.”
“I am still in absolute support of the principles of the Democratic Party and will continue to be, yet, I felt that my time on the Portsmouth Town Democratic Party was no longer productive with the current makeup of the committee,” he said. “I will continue to uphold and fight for Democratic values in our state and I will continue to work with the committee on future issues.”
Katzman said Canario became frustrated during a meeting of the Democratic Town Committee on July 1 when some members began to criticize House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s handling of the state budget, which included a mention of $1 million for a Cranston chiropractor whose work is doubted by medical experts. (Mattiello pulled the money under criticism.)
“Mr. Canario said very loudly and forcefully that he was not happy with the way people in this room were criticizing his boss,” Katzman recalled. “And a number of our town committee members took issue with the idea that anybody is Mr. Canario’s boss other than the voters of District 71.”
Canario “perceives his boss to be the speaker of the House,” Katzman added. He later clarified that Canario’s defense of Mattiello was “about the whole budget process and the lack of transparency,” not specifically the chiropractor money.
Another flashpoint has been gun regulations. Canario, a retired Portsmouth police officer, has received the support of the National Rifle Association in years past and is a skeptic of some restrictions on firearms.
“Folks who are championing responsible gun measures haven’t found an ally in Representative Canario,” Katzman said.
Canario said he was proud of the House’s legislative accomplishments under Mattiello this year, “because the bills that were passed remained true to the Democratic ideals our party cherishes.”
“Our budget made significant investments in education and the economy, and I am proud of my votes in favor of passing the Reproductive Privacy Act and the extension of statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse,” he said.
Katzman, who has led the Portsmouth Democrats since 2008, acknowledged that its members “lean liberal,” and noted that it has become more active in recent years in promoting progressive policies and criticizing State House leaders. He said while there have always been ideological tensions on the committee, they have heightened since the 2016 election cycle.
Of Canario, he said, “You saw his Facebook posting — I’m reading into it that he no longer feels as much of an integral part of what we reflect as he may have once.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook