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Russell Moore: Mattiello was Correct Choice

Monday, April 07, 2014


Speaker Mattiello

Trust me; the new boss is not the same as the old boss. (My condolences to the fans of The Who.)

At least that's the case here in Little Rhody where Nicholas Mattiello (D-Cranston) completed his meteoric rise in Rhode Island politics where he went from winning a breathtakingly close election in 2006 to becoming House Speaker in 2014. Going from obscurity to Speaker in 8 years is warp speed in government.

A Misconception

There's a serious misconception in Rhode Island that House Speaker Mattiello's meteoric rise to arguably the most powerful position in state government was some sort of win for the establishment or the status quo. It's not.

For passive observers, and by passive observers I mean people who read headlines and aren't avid followers of Rhode Island's professional sport, which is politics, it's quite easy to see the man who held the second highest post in the House become Speaker and to turn the page thinking it's 'same ole, same ole'.

But that's not the case here. The truth is that while Mattiello and former House Speaker Gordon Fox deeply respected one another, they certainly disagreed on much and have different political philosophies.

The Back Story

Here's the back story: Fox's predecessor, William Murphy, is a longtime friend of Mattiello and the two go back to when they were young(er) lawyers. 

When Murphy decided that he wanted to hand over the gavel to Fox, he told him that he would grease the wheels and facilitate Fox's takeover on one major condition--that he install Mattiello as his Majority Leader.

In other words, Fox never had a problem with Mattiello, but he was never really his choice.

The Battle

An evidence bag being carried into Fox's office on the day of the raid

To some extent, that's why a succession battle took place after Fox decided to resign following the news that the FBI had executed a search warrant at his State House office and home. Let's face it: Fox deserves credit for his accomplishments and for legislating largely from the middle--but his heart was always with the progressive movement.

So should it really surprise any of us that when he stepped down, with the exception of Mattiello, most of the Fox leadership team sided with...whomever was challenging Mattiello at a given moment? During that roller coaster weekend two weeks ago, Mattiello's opposition consisted of Stephen Ucci (D-Johnston), Christopher Blazejewski (D-Providence), Michael Marcello (D-Scituate)--and there may have been one or two others at different points in time.

The person that finally appeared as the progressive's choice was Marcello. It was a clever marketing maneuver because Marcello isn't really a progressive--he's just ambitious. By making him the face of the progressives, he made their group seem more moderate than they really were.

Fox Allies Backed Marcello

It was probably as disingenuous as it could get to see the very people who were in powerful positions when Fox was Speaker claiming they represented some sort of change. In case you missed it, Fox's Majority Whip, Ucci, opposed Mattiello and supported Marcello. Fox's Deputy Whip, Blazejewski, opposed Mattiello and ultimately supported Marcello. The powerful House Finance Chairman, Helio Melo (D-East Providence), opposed Mattiello and supported Marcello. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), who chaired the powerful House Judiciary Committee, supported Marcello. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence), who chaired the house Labor Committee, supported Marcello. And Marcello himself was the House Oversight Chairman.

I do realize that when the battle was lost, many of those names ultimately voted for Mattiello, but as much as we may not like it, the real election didn't take place on the House Floor--it took place behind the scenes. We can complain about that all we want, but it's never going to change due to human nature.

Now let's take a look at who helped Mattiello round up the votes he needed to become Speaker. Believe it or not, the critical support that ultimately put him over the top came from people who were at odds with Gordon Fox. 

Fox Critics Sided with Mattiello

Rep Spencer Dickinson

Karen MacBeth (D-Cumberland), who has been an outspoken opponent of paying the 38 studios bonds, supported Mattiello. As did Charlene Lima, (D-Cranston) who has been equally vocal on that, and so many other issues, also supported Mattiello.

Perhaps the biggest Fox critic over the last few years has been Spencer Dickinson (D-South Kingstown). Dickinson also supported Mattiello. Likewise, Scott Guthrie, a backbencher under Fox's leadership--also signed on with Mattiello.

And every single Republican, with the exception of Patricia Morgan, who didn't seem to know what she was doing, supported Mattiello. Which should basically show Rhode Islanders what the fight for House Speaker was really all about.

The far left liberals who backed Marcello made pretend the fight was about restoring power to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, or a 38 Studios investigation, or eliminating the master lever. It wasn't. All those people never spoke out on those issues when they were in their leadership positions to begin with. That alone should show us they were being disingenuous.

What the battle was really about was whether or not Rhode Island's House of Representatives was going to be run by a far left liberal wing of the Democratic Party, or if the moderate Democrats like Mattiello were going to call the shots.

A New Day for RI

Fortunately for the people of Rhode Island, it was the centrists who carried the day and elected Mattiello Speaker of the House. Here's the thing: the leftists can disagree with me, as someone who has covered politics in government in Rhode Island towns ranging from Richmond, to Bristol, to Warwick--It's my belief that the vast majority of Rhode Islanders don't want to enact a radical far left agenda. (Believe me, they don't want a right wing agenda either, but that goes beyond mentioning.)

Neither political ideology has a monopoly on the truth, and the everyday Rhode Islander realizes this fact. What they want are rational centrists like Mattiello in charge.

Mattiello has a perception problem right now because he was still the bodies number two man at a time the former Speaker's office was raided. But if he lives up to his word, and truly focuses on pro jobs solutions to improve Rhode Island's economy and make our state more competitive to businesses, with lower taxes and less onerous regulations--he should win the support of the people and will make Rhode Island a better state to live, work, and retire in.

Let's hope that's the case. We can't afford it not to be. 

A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story had an error regarding Mattiello participating in the wedding of the Speaker.  This was not correct.


Related Slideshow: Fox Scandal: Winners and Losers

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Peter F, Neronha, U.S. Attorney

The bold action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation coupled with Internal Revenue Service investigators raiding the Speaker of the House's office was a major statement by federal authorities.

The investigation tied to now-former Speaker Fox sets expectations of a far broader probe.

Neronha has also indicted developer Richard Baccari and was key to the http://www.golocalprov.com/news/9949/">Google Settlement that brought $230 million to Rhode Island. 

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Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed


Generally, the Senate President plays second fiddle to the Speaker of the House, but with a new Speaker to be voted on as early as Tuesday, Paiva Weed's influence will shoot up in the transition.


She will be more influential in the budget process.


Look for Paiva Weed to make a move on controlling the Joint Committee on Legislative Services - the proverbial legislative grab bag for jobs and grants.

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Majority Leader Nick Mattiello


As GoLocal Tweeted on Friday, the Cranston Representative and Majority Leader has the edge to take control of the House.


Mattiello (as of Sunday Night) has approximately 40 votes and the momentum necessary to replace Fox.


Mattiello has strong support from former Speaker and lobbyist Bill Murphy. A Mattiello Speakership may cause a big shake up in Committee Chairs and senior staffing.

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Former Speaker Bill Murphy


Murphy and Fox worked together for more than a decade and their relationship had both ups and downs. Nick Mattiello, if elected Speaker, is a close ally to former Speaker Bill Murphy.


Murphy had served as Speaker from 2003 to 2010. The former legislator has a successful criminal defense practice and is a lobbyist for notable clients (2013) for UTGR (Twin River), Advance America Cash Advance, and the Brotherhood of Correction Officers.


Murphy will emerge as an ever greater influencer with Mattiello as Speaker.

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Gina Raimondo


The resignation by Gordon Fox is a political hit to the General Treasurer who went big for Fox in his surprisingly tough re-election against story teller Mark Binder.


Binder hit Fox both for his role in 38 Studios and his legal work for PEDP applicants.


Raimondo decided to publicly support Fox and walk his district with the embattled Speaker.


It should be noted that Providence Mayor Angel Taveras also supported Fox, but Raimondo claims to be the reformer in this race.

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Fox's Committee Chairs (if Mattiello wins)


Fox loyalists who have pledged their support to Michael Marcello will be in trouble as will their agendas if Mattiello is in fact elected Speaker on Tuesday. 


Committee Chairs like Helio Mello, Edith Ajello, and Arthur "Doc" Corvese might all be replaced as they backed Marcello. 

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Providence's Budget


For the past decade, Providence could always count of Gordon Fox to help bail the Providence Budget out of trouble.


From Finance Committee Chair, then-Majority Leader and ultimately-Speaker, Providence Mayors knew that Fox -- the Mount Hope section of Providence Representative -- would increase aid to Providence in one way or another. 


Providence always found an extra few millions from Fox. That access is likely to end in 2014 further impacting the City of Providence's budget issues.

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Legalization of Marijuana


The pieces were falling together for the effort to pass legislation to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island. Speaker Fox was a social progressive. Judiciary Committee Chair Edith Ajello, who may lose her post in the power shift, was the legislation's sponsor and in command of the key committee.


In addition, Governor Lincoln Chafee has voiced support for the idea.


But, a shift to a more conservative Mattiello would throw a barrier in the way to a 2014 passage.


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