PROVIDENCE — Former state Representative J. Aaron Regunberg on Wednesday received sharp criticism and glowing praise all within the space of half an hour as he runs for the First Congressional District seat.
First, the Providence chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America issued a news release saying Regunberg “casts himself as a leader of the left,” but that “judging from his record rather than his rhetoric,” the group “sees little evidence he would protect the interests of working people.”
Fifteen Democrats are running for the seat that US Representative David N. Cicilline is vacating on June 1. But the Providence DSA said it believes “there is currently no left-wing candidate” in the race. “The working class deserves a real alternative to the status quo, and the Democratic Party has failed to deliver one in this race,” the group said.
While it doesn’t comment on every race, the Providence DSA said, “The contrast between Regunberg’s rhetoric and actions is so stark that we feel the need to speak up. Whatever his intentions, Regunberg has a clear history of undermining progressives and collaborating with the pro-corporate Democratic Party establishment.”
The group cited a list of reasons for its stance. First, the group claimed that Regunberg, a Providence Democrat, supported former House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, an “economically conservative” Cranston Democrat who was opposed to abortion rights and had and “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.
“Regunberg routinely voted in lockstep with Mattiello,” the group said. For example, it said Regunberg voted for a part of the fiscal year 2016 state budget that made “disastrous cuts” to Medicaid.
The group said Regunberg “opposed every proposal to reform the House’s rules, which at the time allowed the leadership to manipulate the legislative process by presenting an entirely new version of a bill just minutes before a vote.”
Also, the Providence Democratic Socialists of America said that “despite Regunberg’s criticisms of police violence and the prison system,” the group uncovered that he accepted donations from police and correctional officers associations. The group linked to a June 2020 Uprise RI article that quoted Regunberg as saying he would donate the $500 he had received from police and prison guard unions to AMOR’s legal fund to free people detained by US Immigration & Customs Enforcement in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Providence DSA spokesman Daniel Crowell said 50 people voted on the Regunberg statement, with 34 votes in favor. Some who opposed the statement did not do so because they supported Regunberg, but rather because they did not want to appear to be taking sides with progressive Democrats who the chapter had not endorsed, he said, and prefer a clearer message against the Democratic Party as a whole.
In response on Wednesday, Regunberg issued a statement saying he is not a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and never has been.
“I appreciate their support for public utilities and universal healthcare, two issues I have advocated for throughout my career,” Regunberg said. “But my priority has been to solve problems and deliver meaningful results for regular people. I’m proud of my record of building coalitions to pass laws that have given working people paid sick days, higher wages, harm reduction strategies, and access to renewable energy. I’ve always been willing to work with people who didn’t always agree with me in order to get big things done. That’s what my constituents wanted from me as their state rep, and I believe it’s what voters expect from their next congressperson.”
Earlier this year, the Providence chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America voted to rescind its endorsement of Representative David Morales, a Providence Democrat who is a self-described Democratic Socialist, because he voted for K. Joseph Shekarchi as House speaker.
Less half an hour later the Democratic Socialists statement went out Wednesday, the Regunberg campaign issued a news release announcing endorsements from four current Democratic state legislators – Representatives Megan L. Cotter of Exeter, Brandon Potter of Cranston, Kathleen A. Fogarty of South Kingstown, and Arthur Handy of Cranston.
“The work we do can be exhausting and draining,” Cotter said. “It is so, so helpful to have supportive people around you who want you to do well, and help you become the best version of yourself. Aaron is that kind of friend. In all the fights I care about – for working families, public schools, the environment, and protecting abortion access – he has been doing the hard work to get things done.”
Potter called Regunberg “brave as hell,” saying “I’ve seen him give voice to concerns shared by so many progressives who did not have the courage to speak out for fear of personal repercussions. For Aaron, that stuff doesn’t matter – he does what he thinks is right. That’s the kind of leader I want representing our state in Washington.”
Fogarty said that during his two terms in the House, “Aaron pushed our legislature to pass important policies that have made a real difference for countless Rhode Islanders. I know he’ll do the same in Congress.”
And Handy, an environmental advocate, said, “We need leaders who understand the urgency of the climate crisis and have the expertise and talent to win the federal climate action we so desperately need. I know from my firsthand experience working with Aaron that he is exactly the kind of passionate, effective climate champion that can make a real difference in Washington, and I’m proud to support his campaign.”
Regunberg has also been endorsed by Democratic Representatives Cherie L. Cruz and Leonela Felix, both of Pawtucket.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.