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Will members of the Reform Caucus be punished by Speaker Mattiello?



The Public’s Radio‘s Ian Donnis asked Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston), “You seemed a little bit surprised when some of the reporters who spoke with you after your caucus last week asked whether any of the 21 Representatives who voted against you would be punished. But we know that during your time as Speaker there have been Representatives who have had their committee assignments changed after doing something that you might have not agreed with. So, will these 21 Reps who voted against you during the caucus last week be punished?”

“No, absolutely not,” replied Mattiello. “Nobody will be punished. I look forward to working with each and every one of them and I’m looking forward to bringing some of them onto the team. So nobody will be punished.

But, you know, I’m going to put together a team that is supportive and I can work with and that shares the same values. [emphasis mine] That’s not punishment. I fully intend to work collaboratively with everybody. If you’ve looked at my policies and my practices long term, it’s always forward looking. You always want to work together with people because you have tomorrow’s work to do, where you have to get things done on the behalf of the public.”

The Speaker has used his power to punish legislators that step out of line since coming to power.

From the Providence Journal in 2014:

“Speaking of contested House seats, Speaker Mattiello is publicly backing incumbent Represenative Maria Cimini’s Democratic primary challenger, Daniel McKiernan, in House District 7 in Providence.

“Mattiello’s explanation: ‘Representative Cimini didn’t support me for Speaker and never came to me to indicate she would support me in the future. She didn’t ask for my support in her race and Dan McKiernan did come and ask. Like me, he is a moderate, and his political viewpoints are more in line with the voters of his district and the state of Rhode Island.’

“Cimini, who abstained during this year’s mid-session vote for a new speaker, sponsored last year’s bill to raise the state’s income-tax rate on all earnings above $250,000 to 7.99 percent. The campaign was led by a coalition calling itself Rhode Islanders for Tax Equity that included the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, the two big teacher unions, and the largest state employee union.”

McKiernan defeated Cimini and holds that seat today. About two years ago a legislator told me that they would not directly challenge the Speaker because they feared being “Ciminied.”

The Speaker’s use of power to punish those he opposes continues up to the present. From the College Hill Independent, 2018:

“The district committees and endorsement process are only two of the avenues through which Speaker Mattiello and the Democratic Party have used their political and administrative power to suppress dissent. According to [State Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence)], those who spoke out or voted against the legislative priorities of the Speaker saw their parking spots or desks moved to inferior locations, a trend that other legislators confirmed. [State Representative John Lombardi (Democrat, District 8, Providence)] told the Independent that leadership “did move [State Representative Raymond Hull (Democrat, District 6, Providence)] and myself to the front of the room, and those are punishment seats. I’m not intimidated. It doesn’t matter.” [Lombardi] believed it was in direct response to his votes or speaking out against the speaker. He told the Independent that “if your chair is gonna be moved or if you get thrown off a committee, that’s proof positive” that the speaker is acting in direct response to dissent from legislators. Hull confirmed the existence of the “punishment seats,” and told the Independent that “everyone in the room” knew about them. He also mentioned that he was removed from a committee shortly after he voted against Speaker Mattiello’s truck toll bill.”

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.