Lawmaker Floored By 'Insane' Drinking At Rhode Island State House

By Paul Gaita 03/10/17

"You cannot operate a motor vehicle when you've had two beers, but you can make laws that affect people's lives when you're half in the bag?"

Rep. Moira Walsh
Rep. Moira Walsh Photo via YouTube

A newly minted state representative in Rhode Island has expressed dismay over what she described as an "insane amount of drinking" by legislators at the State House. In an interview with local radio station WPRO-AM, Providence Democratic Representative Moira Walsh said that she has allegedly seen "file cabinets full of booze" in lawmakers' desks and reportedly witnessed others imbibing shots on the floor of the House of Representatives to celebrate Dominican Republic Independence Day. 

"I'm probably going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but it is the drinking that blows my mind," said Walsh in the interview with 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 when you're half in the bag? That's outrageous."

Walsh, a former waitress turned labor organizer who replaced seven-term incumbent Thomas Palangio as state representative from Providence's third district January 2017, acknowledged that her statements may earn her a reputation as "the person who ruined drinking at the State House"—but it's a label she can live with.

"The reason the booze surprised me so much is because I'm a single mom and a regular person," Walsh told CBS affiliate WPRI-TV. A self-described "low-income single mother" and longtime resident of the city's Smith Hill neighborhood, Walsh noted that the drinking went hand-in-hand with a tradition of late-night meetings and functions where important decisions that affected voters were made under less than ideal circumstances.

"We have fundraisers every single night," she commented. "It is no wonder regular people don't run for office, because what family could sustain that lifestyle of being out for four to five nights a week drinking?"

Several of Walsh's fellow legislators were quick to dampen her claims, including Democratic House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi, who told the Providence Journal that "if there was anything wrong, I'm sure the [press], the radio people and the TV people would have reported it." But reports of drinking among representatives in other states have surfaced at various times, including California lawmakers who hired part-time employees to provide free rides for members who were too inebriated to operate a vehicle.

Walsh has earned headlines for her comments prior to the interview on WPRO. She described the alleged drinking at the State House in 2016 as something she was "personally very concerned about," and didn't imagine that it would "go over well with me."

And in December of 2016, Walsh was criticized for a tweet in which she said wrote that she was "DONE giving you men my good will. You don't do anything good with it … You boys can kick rocks." She defended the statement by saying, "I knew that not including men in one specific social media status would enrage men across the state, but I'm still not sure why."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.