Lawmaker shocked by ‘insane’ boozing at Rhode Island capitol
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A new state lawmaker said she’s surprised by the “insane amount of drinking” that goes on in the State House.
Providence Democratic Rep. Moira Walsh told WPRO-AM on Tuesday that lawmakers have “file cabinets full of booze.” She described how they recently took shots on the floor of the House of Representatives to celebrate Dominican Republic Independence Day.
Walsh took office in January after ousting a longtime incumbent in last year’s Democratic primary and is known for being blunt. She was fired from her job as a waitress in January after her employer said her liberal political views hurt the restaurant’s reputation.
“It is the drinking that blows my mind,” she told talk show host Matt Allen. “You cannot operate a motor vehicle when you’ve had two beers, but you can make laws that affect people’s lives forever when you’re half in the bag? That’s outrageous.”
Legislative leaders late Tuesday sought to dismiss her claims of rampant drinking, with Democratic House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi telling the Providence Journal he has never seen anyone intoxicated on the floor or impaired while voting.
But it’s not uncommon for Rhode Island legislators to have toasts of alcohol during celebratory occasions. One of the biggest is next week ahead of St. Patrick’s Day. Nor are Rhode Island lawmakers alone in drinking on the job, though some other states have sought to curb the practice.
In Massachusetts, late-night antics ultimately forced a rules change essentially banning the House of Representatives from meeting past midnight. A Missouri lawmaker last year proposed legislation banning smoking and alcohol in the Statehouse. And a pattern of drunken-driving arrests of California lawmakers led the legislature to provide them free after-hours transportation, though the free rides were ended in 2015 in an attempt to restore public trust.
Alcohol is prohibited in some capitols, including Oklahoma and Idaho. In Oklahoma, it’s also a violation of House and Senate rules for a member to be intoxicated on the floor.
Walsh has criticized Rhode Island’s political culture before.
She said last year that “one of the things I’m personally very concerned about is I’ve heard rumors that there’s drinking during sessions. I don’t imagine that’s going to go over well with me.” She also said as “a low-income single mother” she was bothered that too much is decided at late-night dinner meetings where some legislators commiserate.
Joking with WPRO’s host Tuesday about the possibility of a police checkpoint outside the legislators’ parking lot, Walsh said, “I’m going to be the person who ruined drinking at the State House. They’ll love me forever.”