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Fox’s First (Not Quite) 100 Days: More of the Same?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


When Bill Murphy announced in 2009 that he would not seek re-election, the talk of his successor as Speaker of the House started immediately, and nearly as instantly, Gordon Fox was the top contender. 

After seven years as the Majority Leader, the number two-ranked member of the House, it only made sense.  In fact, before Murphy announced he was stepping down, would-be's for the job were already jockeying for the slot in 2011, eyeing Fox as the handpicked heir apparent.  

But then it was leaked, mid-session, that Murphy was planning an exodus from the top spot and while the politicking ramped up, it was not enough. Eventually, Leader Fox secured the votes and Speaker Murphy called a caucus to announce he would step down and a vote was taken to elevate the Majority Leader to Speaker.  Hand off complete.  

The knock on the new Speaker from the onset was that this was just more of the same. 

After all, he had been Murphy's Majority Leader, his floor general, for seven years.  How different could Gordon Fox's leadership be?  The first test Speaker Fox faced was replacing a few of the committee chairs he lost.  Would that be an opportunity for Speaker Fox to demonstrate his differences from Speaker Murphy?  The answer was ultimately no. 

The LGBT community had high hopes for Fox as he is the first openly gay speaker in the United States.  Perhaps this was Rhode Island's chance to advance gay marriage, as all other New England states have in one way.  Fox has been a supporter and sponsor of the legislation in the past.  Alas, soon after his ascension he announced that he would not be focusing on gay marriage.  More status quo.  

Fox has indicated that in these tough economic times he was to focus on the budget. The same problematic issues are again at the forefront of the debate this year – education funding, social service funding, and spending.  He has shuffled the House Finance Committee membership around a little, but the chairman remains the same and the other leaders on the committee remain in their positions.  The most interesting change to the House Finance committee is the addition of former Speaker Bill Murphy.  With the former Speaker on the most important committee in the chamber, a committee that writes the budget, the issue the new Speaker has indicated is his number one priority, does Speaker Fox really want it to be different? 

The bottom line is that, after Speaker Fox's first days, not much has changed in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.  There are some different faces in different positions, but the House seems to be on the same path it was before. Perhaps Speaker Fox, who jumped into this new position about one third of the way into the session, is just trying to get through this year and after the session or this year's election he will implement changes in structure and policy.  If that is the case, it begs the question, why did Murphy and Fox make this change other than to secure Fox's position for the future?  Only time will tell.


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