Rhode Island’s public-sector unions are expected to try and defeat some of the dozens of Democrats who voted for last year’s pension law in the September primary. But State Rep. Jon Brien, one of the most conservative members of the House Democratic caucus, has filed a bill he hopes will help protect his colleagues.
Brien’s legislation would allow independent voters who join a party solely in order to cast a primary ballot to leave the party right after they vote. Right now, they stay listed as a member of the party whose primary they voted in for 90 days after the election.
“They don’t want to be a part of a party,” Brien, D-Woonsocket, told WPRI.com. “When you’re knocking on doors, people are skittish. The thing that I hear the most out there is, ‘I don’t like to show my hand.’ No one wants to show who they belong to. … It’s really creating open primaries.”
“I can go out there and say to all my unaffiliated voters, ‘You’ve got to come vote for me in the primary, and as soon as you disaffiliate, you’re done,’” Brien said. “That takes away the edge that the unions have had, where they’ve beaten a David Caprio or a Doug Gablinske or a Mary Shallcross Smith as a punishment for votes.”
The bill – which was drafted incorrectly [pdf] and will be replaced by a “Sub A” – has a hearing Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee. Brien said he’s discussed it with Speaker Gordon Fox, “and he thought it was a very worthy idea.” (A spokesman for Fox was not immediately available.) Other bill sponsors include Reps. Michael Marcello, Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and Donald Lally.
Update: Larry Berman, a spokesman for Fox, said it’s possible the speaker will back Brien’s legislation.
“Speaker Fox shares Representative Brien’s belief we should encourage people to actively participate in all aspects of government, particularly voting,” Berman told WPRI.com. “If this bill makes people more likely to vote in the primary then that is a positive step in increasing citizen participation. The speaker will consider all testimony submitted at the committee hearing and make a determination on how to proceed.”