Moore: Mattiello’s Curious Case of Joe Shekarchi

Monday, November 14, 2016

 

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House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello

Does anybody (ever) know what House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is thinking? The Speaker has to be the most enigmatic politician in the state's modern history. 

Let's take last week's majority leader appointment--talk about a head-scratcher. 

Governor Gina Raimondo is obviously not popular with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s district-15 (western Cranston) constituents. That’s not even in dispute.  

But is Raimondo popular with Speaker Mattiello? To watch Mattiello campaign to desperately hold onto his power, one would have thought she wasn’t. Mattiello bragged on social media, and elsewhere that he was more than willing to stand up against the Governor on issues he thought weren’t in the best interest of his district-15 constituents--citing drivers licenses for illegal immigrants as the main example. (This “rift” was reported here on GoLocal first.) He also claimed that he wasn't a progressive.

Yet so many campaign promises and so much of the rhetoric from any election has to be taken with a grain of salt--or less. There’s a reason that American politics has been referred to as a “game” for more than two centuries.

Just Campaign Rhetoric?

That’s why the question remains, does Mattiello have fierce ideological differences with our Governor? And will he, in the future, serve as the effective check and balance to her that his district-15 constituents want him to be? Or, was his campaign rhetoric was just a ruse, another bait and switch job orchestrated to save his political life?

If I’m forced to say, I would argue that given his selection of K. Joseph Shekarchi as his next Majority Leader, Mattiello sides more with the Governor than the voters he successfully (albeit, excruciatingly narrowly) won over in his district.

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Nicholas Mattiello

Shekarchi is perhaps the state legislature’s biggest supporter of Governor Gina Raimondo. He served as her campaign manager during her successful run for state treasurer in 2010. He has remained a staunch ally of the Governor ever since. Let's not forget: after Raimondo won the election in 2014, Shekarchi was one of 3 people to be named a co-chairman to her “transition team”.

Selecting Raimondo’s Main Man

If Mattiello wanted to fashion himself as this dissenting voice against the Governor, by selecting Shekarchi as his Majority Leader, he could not have contradicted himself more. Is that the way to tell district-15 voters that he stands up to the Governor? Or does that only mean something when he's running for reelection?

None of this is to say that Shekarchi isn’t a tremendously talented individual.

Shekarchi has an almost super-human knack and talent for making it seem like he agrees with everyone--even with people who possess drastically different political ideologies, at the exact same time. He employed ultra-progressive Warwick City Councilman-elect Jeremy Rix at his law office. Yet the business-friendly Democrats will also tell you that Shekarchi sees things the way they do as well. We've got to hand it to him--he's as smooth as a summer lake at dawn.

That skill, the art of formlessness, has served him lucratively in his career. Shekarchi is a lawyer who specializes in zoning. So being a go-along-to-get-along type has served him well in those endeavors. Need an area in Warwick zoned a certain way so you can construct a new building? Call Joe Shekarchi. Need a variance on your property? Call Joe Shekarchi. (You get the idea.)

Who is Joe Shekarchi?

That might be an asset in trying to chart the often treacherous waters that the (pirate) ship that is the Rhode Island state legislature must sail. But is telling everyone whatever they want to hear at a given time leadership? I think not.

Shekarchi may find it much more difficult to refrain from offending anyone now that he’s at the very top of House leadership. Leadership requires making difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. Maybe he can sail this ship. After all, I'm constantly dumbfounded and confounded by Rhode Island politics. That remains to be seen. Yet this we do know, it's much easier to be everyone’s friend when you’re just one of the crowd instead of the boss.

The representative from district-23 in Warwick, working class neighborhoods, also has a serious campaign finance account. It’s worth about a half million dollars. Shekarchi has often mentioned the desire to seek higher office in the future. Given the unpopularity of the Rhode Island state legislature, it should be interesting to see if this move helps, or hurts those aspirations.

Lessons Learned?

In any event, Mattiello won reelection by just 65 votes and in controversial fashion (announcing his victory before the mail ballots were even counted) and raised eyebrows in the process. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. And given his inherent advantage of being incumbent speaker, he had scores of volunteers at his disposal, since so many people relied on him winning to continue feeding themselves and their families. All that, and he prevailed by 65 votes. That means Mattiello has serious problems in his district.

Did Mattiello learn anything? It’s far too early to say definitively. Yet, given his first major decision after surviving by the skin of his teeth, I’d have to say probably not. At the very least, he didn't learn much. And if that’s true, it’s the most shocking result of this election season.

Then again, maybe not. Some people just never learn.

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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. Send him email at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.

 

Related Slideshow: 2016 Raimondo’s Staff Salaries

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Curren, Meredith

Director of Appointments

$5,000

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Rolfe, Catherine

Communications Associate

$36,471

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Pellegrino, Angelika

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Hytinen, Neil

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Abell, Octavia

Special Assistant to Deputy Chief of Staff

$44,271

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Gutierrez, Julia

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$44,271

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Casttriotta, Rebecca

Executive Administrative Asssitant

$47,228

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Gering, Catherine

Appointment Special Assitant

$48,715

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Natareno, Jason

Special Assistant to the Governor

$48,973

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Allard, David

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$52,272

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Manning, Helen

Special Assistant to the Governor

$53,003

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Harris, Kelly

Director of Scheduling

$56,694

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Inman, Bradford

Director of Constituent Services

$56,694

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Poddar, Keshav

Policy Analyst

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Abelow, Hannah

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Greene, Judith

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Fondreur, Jennifer

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Vota, Americo

Community Affairs & Outreach Advisor

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Desiderato, Ronald

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Wison, Dana

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Nevins, Arthur

Education Policy Advisor

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Amol Gabriel

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Aberger, Marie

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$88,798

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Hudson, Heather

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Iannazzi, Andrea

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Moses, Amy

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Bucci, Matthew

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Gallagher, Kevin

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Richards, Claire

Executive Counsel

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Beane, Eric

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Smiley, Brett

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Cruise, R.David

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