As a vote was pushed through inside the chambers of the Rhode Island House to elect Representative Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) to his second full term as Speaker, around 40 protesters chanted and sang outside, letting it be known that they opposed Mattiello and the unlimited power of the position of Speaker to halt or move legislation at will.
The protest was organized by Rhode Islanders for Reform, “a coalition of citizens calling for legislative rules reform and a return to representative democracy. We demand legislative oversight and rules changes to put a check on the Speaker of the House and ensure that every representative’s voice, and hence their constituents’ voices, are heard.”
Some of Rhode Islanders for Reform suggested reforms include:
- Elect committee chairs through votes by committee members instead of appointment by the speaker.
- Adopt a six-year term limit for all House leadership positions and committee chairs.
- Allow a majority vote of the House to bring bills being “held for further study” out of committee and to the floor for action.
- Give committee chairs and the minority leader the power to bring a certain number of bills to the floor each session.
The protesters could be heard in both chambers of the General Assembly, but were focused on the House, where 19 members of the Reform Caucus, made up of progressive, moderate and conservative Democratic lawmakers opposed to Mattiello were determined to vote against his Speakership.
Chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Mattiello’s got to go!” the protesters tracked the discussion inside the House via Twitter and changed their chants to match the action. When Representative Marvin Abney (Democrat, District 73, Newport), who presided over the organization of the House told the members that there could be no debate over who was to be Speaker and that the members of the House were only allowed to vote “yes” or abstain, protesters loudly shouted “Allow Debate!”
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In the end Mattiello received 47 votes, all from Democrats who are apparently fine with the status quo. The nine House Republicans voted for Minority Leader Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly). 19 Democrats voted no or abstained. Not all who voted against Mattiello are members of the Reform Caucus.
The vote became contentious when Representative Joseph Almeida (Democrat, District 12, Providence) rose for a point of order. Abney struggled to shut down any debate.
Some drama in the chamber as Rep. Almeida apparently wants to explain why he’s not voting for Mattiello, but is told no debate allowed during roll call. “I just pledged allegiance to the flag and now I’m told I can’t speak”— Steph Machado (@StephMachado) January 1, 2019
One notable member of the Reform Caucus, Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), voted for the Speaker. The Speaker mentioned McEntee’s legislation to reform the statute of limitations of child sexual abuse in his acceptance speech, giving the indication that a deal had been reached.
“Today’s demonstration went exceedingly well,” said protest organizer Alexander Kithes, a volunteer with Rhode Islanders for Reform. “Many voices came out to rally in support of changes to House leadership, and Rules Reforms that would reduce the power of the Speaker and make all of our Representatives better able to represent their constituents. We let our voices be heard, and the reformers listened. A total of 28 Representatives did not vote to reappoint the Speaker, and they and others have already committed to supporting House Rules Reforms that would fix the problems and potentials for abuse that Nicholas Mattiello’s Speakership has made undeniable. And now, the work continues. The adoption of House Rules will take place in the next month or so, and we will work tirelessly to ensure that those rules create a government that works better for all Rhode Islanders.”
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