Moore: Does Raimondo Want Mattiello to Prevail?

Monday, October 24, 2016


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House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello

Tensions are running high just two weeks out from the election. That’s certainly the case on the national level, but it’s no less true on the state and local level as well.

Here in Little Rhody, there are some signs that the two most powerful people in state government are at odds with one another.

The highest profile race right now in the state is probably House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s attempt to hold onto the District-15 seat that he currently holds in Cranston.

It will be interesting to see if his opponent, Steve Frias, the Republican National Committeeman is able to pull off the colossal upset and unseat Mattiello--the man who many believe is the most powerful man in Rhode Island government.

Yet perhaps even more interesting is the fact that it may be in the best interest of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung for Mattiello to hold onto his post and conversely, Raimondo would likely be better suited if the Speaker was toppled in his own district. Of course, neither public official is going to endorse a candidate outside of their particular party. But that doesn’t mean it’s not in their best interest to see the candidate from the opposing party prevail.

Raimondo vs. Mattiello

When Gordon Fox had a competitive reelection campaign in 2012, Raimondo campaigned publicly on the east side of Providence for him. Up until this point, Raimondo has not been campaigning publicly for Mattiello.

There are several reasons for this.

If Fung does plan on challenging Gina Raimondo again in the 2018 election, it behooves him to have the Speaker of the House to reside in his home city. That’s because Cranston would continue to receive generous portions of state aid, thereby lessening the need for him to raise taxes in the future. That works against Raimondo’s reelection chances.

There are other reasons. It’s not a secret that Mattiello has showered his district and city with copious amounts of legislative grants. Like state aid, that also benefits the mayor and makes his job that much easier.

What’s more, should Mattiello end up losing, it would bring in a new House Speaker, perhaps one that’s much more agreeable to Raimondo’s progressive agenda than Mattiello--a moderate Democrat. Warwick State Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi, who ran Raimondo’s successful campaign for General Treasurer in 2010, is one likely candidate who would take over. Chris Blazejewski, who represents Providence’s East Side in the House of Representatives, and is a progressive style Democrat, is another likely replacement. Both would likely agree with her on many more of the issue than Mattiello.

A Convoluted Situation 

There are several examples. The Raimondo administration was perturbed earlier this Spring when the House Speaker refused to pass a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. That was a priority for Raimondo since she promised to work on the issue during her successful gubernatorial bid.

Just this week, the Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed announced that she would support legislation to create a line item veto for the Governor of Rhode Island. That’s a priority for Raimondo, but something Mattiello opposes. The proposal means that if he is reelected, Mattiello will lose leverage in negotiations on other issues because he will need to give ground in other areas to make sure that the line item veto doesn’t see the light of day.

Another sign that there is bad blood between the Governor and the Speaker is the fact that the House Oversight Commission has been holding aggressive hearings over the botched introduction of the new Unified Health Infrastructure Project. The assertiveness of Chairwoman Patricia Serpa surprised many political observers. Committee chairs do very little without clearing with House Leadership first.

The apparent rift between the Speaker and the Governor is just one more aspect to a fascinating election season. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out as we move into the election and beyond.

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Russell J. Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both for newspapers and on political campaigns. Follow him on twitter @russmoore713. Send him email at [email protected]


Related Slideshow: Raimondo and Mattiello - Friction Going Into the 2016 Session

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Mattiello has long questioned why little Rhode Island has its own health exchange. His questions center around scale, cost and long-term viability.  Raimondo had been defending the Chafee initiative, but the move of Anya Rader Wallack from her leadership position at HealthSource to Medicaid (right when open enrollment started, to boot) is one of the indications of Raimondo’s walk away.

As GoLocal reported in January, Walack’s program in Vermont ended up failing under her leadership

Now the question is, will Raimondo make the policy change in her budget or make Mattiello do the dirty work?

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Raimondo has been the champion of an ever-changing funding scheme to rebuild Rhode Island’s infrastructure.

No one questions the need to rehab Rhode Island’s failed bridges and roads, but most everyone has raised questions about the constantly changing funding structure and the corresponding lack of disclosure. 

Raimondo’s request to legislative leaders has been to pass legislation -  and to trust her and her administration. Last session of the General Assembly the Senate functionally went along with the plan and the House held firm on wanting to see the numbers.

Now, it is six-months later and much of the plan has not been disclosed to legislative leaders, the public or the media.

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Irony of Transparency

For decades, Rhode Island Speakers have been wildly criticized for being all powerful, Machiavellian, and highly secretive, but in this unusual situation it is often that Mattiello is the open, responsive and proactive communicator. 

In contrast, Raimondo less than two months ago came under fire from the media and civil rights groups for secrecy, failing to respond to media inquiries, and non-responsiveness to public information requests. 

As GoLocal reported in October: 

Five organizations, including ACCESS/RI, American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Press Association, New England First Amendment Coalition,and League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, sent sharply wordedletter to Governor Gina Raimondo on Tuesday asking her to issue an executive order which calls on state agencies to "adopt a strong presumption in favor of disclosure in addressing public information requests.

Mattiello, unlike his predecessors, has been the voice of the voter asking for information and requesting greater transparency. 

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Election Year

The Democratic Governor enjoys a four-year term, but she needs the support of a legislature who is up for re-election with an electorate that is wildly dissatisfied with the direction of the country, the direction of the state, the performance of Congress. It is a Presidential election year which will only add to the volatility.

The Governor who only won the Democratic primary with 40% of the vote and then was elected last November with 40% off the vote hardly has the most powerful bully pulpit to speak from.

For many legislators the smart political step maybe to show independence and raise questions rather than to lock step with her.  

For Mattiello, this means he may need to give far greater latitude to legislators to vote freely.

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Raimondo a Lawyer and Venture Capitalist 

Raimondo is trained as an attorney and worked nearly her entire professional career as Venture Capitalist. Lots of Non-Disclosure Agreements, “paper the deal” with agreements and little disclosure.

This training is great for confidentiality as it relates to high stakes venture, but those skills become obstacles to governing in a Democracy during a period when the public demands transparency.

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 “I am better than you”

There is a growing sentiment among Democratic legislators that the Governor has a “I am better than you” attitude. Raimondo who was educated at Yale, Harvard and Oxford seems to intentionally or unintentionally exude superiority.

As one legislator told GoLocal at the request of anonymity, “The only thing worse than her being pompous is when she tries to act like she is ‘just like everyone else.’ It is insulting.”

The ramifications of the Governor and her staff’s tone is not lost on legislators. Top Raimondo confidant Representative Joe Shekarchi can only do “Shuttle-Diplomacy” so much. 

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Raimondo has announced a series of initiatives to restrict gun ownership in Rhode Island. A corresponding pro-gun control campaign is being funded by Democratic heavy weight Mark Weiner and former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld.

Raimondo uses the issue of gun control as a fundraising trigger with her supporters. The initiative may be good political fundraising, but will put her at odds with Mattiello, who is a strong gun rights supporter who has received high scores for his voting record on from the gun rights organization.


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