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General Assembly Horse Trading: ‘Woodmansee’ Bill for Gay Marriage

Monday, March 28, 2011


A state rep is being accused of trading a spot as a co-sponsor on a major prison reform bill in exchange for a favorable vote on gay marriage.

The bill’s main sponsor, state Rep Teresa Tanzi last week asked Doreen Costa if she wanted one of the five coveted spots as an official co-sponsor. The legislation is meant to prevent people like Michael Woodmansee—who killed a 5-year-old boy in the 1970s—from leaving prison early. Tanzi, a Democrat, represents South Kingstown, where the boy lived.

‘I have to horse trade’

Costa said Tanzi approached her on the House floor last Wednesday. “She goes, ‘I have the Woodmansee bill that you wanted to sign,’” said Costa, whose district encompasses Exeter and North Kingstown.

Costa, who had been working on a similar bill, told her that would be “terrific.”

However, Tanzi was expecting something in return from Costa, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

“I have to horse trade,” Tanzi replied, according to Costa. “She said, ‘You have to vote gay marriage out of committee.’”

“I just looked at her and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Costa recalled.

She said Tanzi threw her arms up in the air, declared that the House needed to get the gay-marriage bill out of committee, and walked away.

Tanzi confirmed the conversation yesterday. Although she did not actually recall saying “horse trade,” she said she does use the phrase at home, where her 5-year-old daughter rides horses. She and her husband also use it in conversations about his work on fixing and selling vintage motorcycles.

‘I thought you were different—I thought wrong’

Costa confronted Tanzi about her offer in an e-mail Sunday. “I thought you were different,” Costa wrote. “I thought wrong.” (See below for the full text.)

“I’m not going to play any games to get my name on any bill whatsoever. … I’m extremely, extremely disappointed,” Costa told GoLocalProv. “People need to know what’s going on up there. I ran on transparency and I’m not going to deal with this.”

Costa said she has no intention of voting the gay marriage bill out of her committee. But she says she still will vote for the Woodmansee bill—without her name appearing on it. (Click here to read the identical Senate version. The House version had not been posted online as of this writing.)

In an interview, Tanzi said she had indeed offered Costa a spot as an official co-sponsor in exchange for the gay marriage vote. “We were having a definite conversation about the bills and what I think the legislative process is, which is the art of compromise,” Tanzi told GoLocalProv.

‘Maybe I’m learning my lesson’

Tanzi is a prominent progressive Democrat who ousted the conservative-leaning David Caprio from office last year. Costa is a Tea Party leader and a first-term Republican. Although they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Tanzi said she has made a point of reaching across the aisle to garner GOP support for her bills—against the advice of veteran Democratic lawmakers, she added.

“I felt it was important for me to be as inclusive as possible as a freshman,” Tanzi said. “That was my M.O.”

But now, after Costa decided to go public with their conversation, Tanzi is having second thoughts about her commitment to bipartisanship. “Maybe I’m learning my lesson,” she said. “If I’m going to be accused of something, then so be it.”

READ Doreen Costa’s e-mail to Teresa Tanzi:


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