PROVIDENCE — A new group, the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, promises to challenge the status quo in Rhode Island by presenting a slate of 25 Democratic candidates who will run on a common platform focused on serving the people, not corporations.

The objective is to win enough seats in the 2020 election to form a governing majority and elect a new House speaker and Senate president. Co-chair Jennifer Rourke said in the group's press release last week that the cooperative will provide the support to grassroots candidates who do not have the resources or connections enjoyed by incumbents.

“I can tell you from experience that campaigning for office against the political establishment while trying to run a household and having little in the way of resources is not easy,” Rourke said. “My hope is that this new initiative makes it possible for people like me who want to serve their communities to have the support they need to run winning campaigns.”

Cooperative Co-chair Matt Brown, who served as secretary of state from 2003 to 2007 and challenged Gov. Gina Raimondo in the 2018 Democratic primary, said the response to the initiative has been positive.

“I think that people have been cynical for a long time, because it’s been decades that the same corrupt political establishment has been controlling things,” he said. “This state has never had candidates the caliber of these co-op candidates in these numbers running together.”

Fifteen candidates have joined so far. One of them is Charlestown resident Jennifer Douglas, who ran in 2016 against Elaine Morgan, the Republican incumbent in Senate District 34, which encompasses Hopkinton, Richmond, Charlestown, Exeter and West Greenwich.

“I think being part of this cooperative and getting my name out there and having people really understand what I’m working for and who I’m working for, which is for the people here in this district, to make their lives better, I think that will definitely help me,” Douglas said.

The co-op candidates share a policy agenda that includes a $15 minimum wage, quality education and affordable housing for all Rhode Islanders, Medicare for all, and a total reliance on clean energy by 2030.

“This is not giving people what they want,” Brown said. “This is about making sure people have their basic needs met. Good schools, living wage, health care — you shouldn’t die because you can’t afford health insurance.”

The candidates have pledged to accept no donations from corporate PACs, corporate lobbyists or the fossil fuel industry.

In addition to presenting a unified slate of candidates, the cooperative said it would provide candidate training, a shared website and communications support.

“Part of the goal of the co-op is to make sure that these candidates have what they need to run their elections and win their elections, and there hasn’t been that kind of support in the past for candidates who are challenging the establishment,” Brown said.

Rhode Island campaign finance law requires that candidates pay for the cooperative’s services, otherwise the contributions would count as campaign donations.

Candidates will have access to statewide, grassroots funding through contributions to the cooperative from its members, who pledge to donate $10 per month to the candidate of their choice or to the candidate next on the list for a donation.

“Our cooperative is supported by the people,” Douglas said. “It’s supported by small donations from people who support our plan and those are the people that we’re working for. We’re working for regular, average Rhode Islanders, to make their lives better.”

The cooperative is planning to hold its first convention later in the fall, at which time it will present a full slate of 25 candidates.

“I think it represents real and lasting change,” Brown said. “I think we’re ushering in a new era here with better government.”

More information on the cooperative is available at: http://ripoliticalcoop.com/

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