Democrats back Mattiello for Speaker despite opposition

Representative Deborah Ruggiero, Representative Moira Walsh, Representative Elect Justine Caldwell, and Representative Susan Donovan voted against Nick Mattiello getting a second term as Speaker. Photo by Tessa Roy, WPRO News.

By Tessa Roy, WPRO News

An official vote on a Speaker of the House won’t take place until January, but after a closed-door Democratic caucus at Cranston’s Chapel Grille, current Speaker Nick Mattiello secured enough votes to keep his post for another term.

The final tally was 44-21. One legislator, Representative Mario Mendez, did not attend the caucus.

Mattiello has consistently defended himself as he’s been criticized for his handling of the legislative process, the PawSox, and recent sexual harassment claims against Representative Cale Keable (who was not re-elected in his district) made by Representative Katherine Kazarian. Lawmakers said Kazarian was one of those who spoke up during the caucus, but she told reporters she was “not yet” ready to discuss her remarks.

Protesters urging their legislators not to approve Mattiello showed up to the Thursday night caucus, chanting and holding signs outside the restaurant as lawmakers were inside. Police dispersed them to the sidewalks, saying they were on private property and that the owner (the Carpionato Group) wanted to press charges if they didn’t leave, but permitted reporters to remain on the property at a distance.

As they exited, some of those who voted against Mattiello told reporters their reasoning lied with the general legislative process, bills being held up, and facing retribution when they disagree with the Speaker. Mattiello has more than once dismissed those who oppose him as “ultra progressives” trying to take over power, but Representative Kathleen Fogarty pushed back on his claim.

“We are conservatives, we are moderates, we are progressive Democrats. We are Rhode Island,” she said, adding that she anticipates “a lot more ‘no’ votes” and “freer” discussion on the floor.

The group lamented last minute changes to bills, namely Representative Susan Donovan’s equal pay bill. Donovan said even she didn’t get to see the changes before it came to a vote on the floor.

“I think it’s very telling that a lot of us here are women, because as a general rule, the Speaker of the House does not listen to the women vote,” said Representative Moira Walsh.

Representative Deborah Ruggiero called the group of dissenters “Twenty one pairs of eyes who will be watching everything.”

“Where people will look the other way, we are going to be the reformists and the watchdogs, and making sure the people’s business gets done properly at the State House,” she said.

Mattiello again defended himself and his leadership, saying he wasn’t sure how some of their claims originated.

“You know, look, I’m planning on listening to everyone. I will tell you that we had 44 solid votes. I mean, the story is I’ve got enough votes to be re-elected Speaker even with a coordinated attack on me,” he said. “I plan on giving everybody a voice as we have, and we’ll… always subject to changes. It’s always important to listen to everybody when you’re in a leadership position, so that’s certainly what we plan on doing.”

The full list of those who voted against Mattiello includes Representative Edith Ajello, Representative Joseph Almeida, Representative Elect Laufton Ascencao, Representative Elect Justine Caldwell, Representative Lauren Carson, Representative Elect Liana Cassar, Representative Elect Terri Cortvriend, Representative Susan Donovan, Representative Kathleen Fogarty, Representative Art Handy, Representative Raymond Hull, Representative Katherine Kazarian, Representative Elect Rebecca Kislak, Representative Jason Knight, Representative John Lombardi, Representative Carol McEntee, Representative Mary Messier, Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Representative Deborah Ruggiero, Representative Teresa Tanzi, and Representative Moira Walsh.