Speaker Mattiello leads the House in bidding goodbye to a beloved, conservative lobbyist“Every important initiative that I have worked on, John Simmons has been at the center of,” said Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. “He has provided valuable information on what’s good in an idea, what’s not so good, why we should move forward with something, why we should not move forward with something. Your input has always been valuable.” Until his recent retirement,
Published on January 11, 2020
By Steve Ahlquist
“Every important initiative that I have worked on, John Simmons has been at the center of,” said Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. “He has provided valuable information on what’s good in an idea, what’s not so good, why we should move forward with something, why we should not move forward with something. Your input has always been valuable.”
Until his recent retirement, lobbyist John Simmons served as President and CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council (RIPEC), which describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan public policy research and education organization dedicated to the advancement of effective, efficient and equitable government in Rhode Island” but is in actuality a right-wing, anti-worker pro-corporatist lobbying group with enormous influence over the Rhode Island General Assembly and Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston).
So great was Simmons’ influence that Speaker Mattiello introduced a House Resolution honoring Simmons “For his years of service to the State of Rhode Island as President and CEO [and chief lobbyist] of RIPEC.”
The Speaker wrote in his resolution that Simmons, “has proven himself to be a multi-talented and highly effective leader. His expertise has earned him the trust of not only the Governors he has served under, but also the state’s legislative leaders, nonprofits, and the business community.”
RIPEC, under Simmons, has opposed every increase in the state’s minimum wage for as long as I have been covering the State House. Last year at a Budget conference held by Speaker Mattiello, Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick) and House Finance Chair Marvin Abney (Democrat, District 73, Newport), insisted that the 2020 budget was “consumer friendly” despite the fact that those making minimum wage would see their buying power decreased, their financial circumstances more perilous.
Shekarchi and Abney were co-sponsors of the House Resolution honoring Simmons.
Simmons sat on Shekarchi’s 2016 special commission on privatization, which sought ways to sell off our public infrastructure to private, profit making businesses.
RIPEC and Simmons convinced the legislature to insert pre-emptions into our labor laws that would prevent local municipalities from expanding sick day coverage or increasing the minimum wage. Pre-emption laws are the product of ALEC, a national, right-wing think tank that pushes anti-worker legislation through state governments, idea that RIPEC and Simmons were happy to enact locally.
RIPEC and Simmons also worked closely with Speaker Mattiello to scuttle a fair pay bill in 2018 that was intended to address gender and racial based pay disparities. Passed unanimously in the Senate, Mattiello destroyed the bill, rewriting it into something that would have made the gap worse, rolling back existing protections.
Simmons testified against the fair pay bill:
Simmons opposed legislation that would have revamped the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), which would have introduced some environmental protections into the legislation and given communities more say about what kind of infrastructure will get built in their communities, but Simmons, representing both RIPEC (Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council) and RIBA (Rhode Island Business Association) opposed the legislation as putting onerous restrictions on fossil fuel companies looking to build power plants in the state.
The Rhode Island Online Data Transparency and Privacy Protection Commission that recently completed its work, was overrun with lobbyists, including John Simmons, who was listed as merely “a member of the general public” and not the CEO of RIPEC. All the members of this commission were chosen by Speaker Mattiello, who loaded the commission with business leaders and lobbyists to ensure that their interests, not the general public’s, would be served by whatever legislation came out of the commission.
These are just a few things Simmons helped to accomplish, based on stories I’ve covered in the last few years.
Rising on the House floor, Majority Leader Shekarchi said, “Mr Speaker, on your behalf, I have a resolution I’ll be submitting for immediate consideration and ask that it be read to honor a very special guest today who’s been instrumental in helping all of us in the House chamber and throughout state government. John Simmons has worked closely with so many of us…”
The Speaker suddenly banged his gavel, interrupting Shekarchi and quieting the room, demanding the House’s attention to this most important matter.
“…as president and CEO of Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council better known as RIPEC for the last 11 years,” continued Shekarchi, “John has given us his expert advice and analysis on many important issues that we deal with in this chamber from tax policies to education reforms. Sadly, John recently retired from RIPEC, but we wanted to honor him today for some well-deserved recognition. John, thank you for all your good at RIPEC and we wish you well in all your future endeavors.”
“Send it up, please,” said Mattiello.
“Mr Speaker, I asked that that be read, please, as well,” said Shekarchi.
“It will,” said Mattiello.
“Mr Simmons, I know you like all this attention,” joked Mattiello, addressing the retiring lobbyist who was seated in the chamber, “So I’m going to make sure that we make it endure as long as possible. But I wanted to personally thank you and let the citizens of Rhode Island know how important and instrumental you have been to RIPEC, this chamber, the General Assembly, the administration in the state of Rhode Island.
“Every important initiative that I have worked on, John Simmons has been at the center of. He has provided valuable information on what’s good in an idea, what’s not so good, why we should move forward with something, why we should not move forward with something. Your input has always been valuable. You have a very perceptive viewpoint and the state is economically much better off because you served as the executive director of RIPEC. I hope you know, and I at least want to convey that to you. This chamber, myself, we have a lot of admiration, affection, and respect for what you have done for the state of Rhode Island. So thank you John.”
The resolution was then read, in its entirety, for the entire House to hear.
“WHEREAS, For the past eleven years, the fortunate citizens of the Ocean State have been the beneficiaries of the focus, wisdom, and abiding dedication to excellence that John C Simmons has always brought to his work as the President and CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC); and
“WHEREAS, During his tenure with RIPEC, Mr Simmons has proven himself to be a multi-talented and highly effective leader. His expertise has earned him the trust of not only the Governors he has served under, but also the state’s legislative leaders, nonprofits, and the business community; and
“WHEREAS, Mr Simmons is credited with addressing and revamping some of the most challenging issues facing the State and its municipalities through data driven analysis, business partnerships, advocating for reforms, and assisting in the drafting of innovative legislation; and
“WHEREAS, Under his direction, Mr Simmons has led RIPEC in shaping important government initiatives including, re-organizing the Commerce Corporation, financing for the school rebuilding and infrastructure programs, tax reform, and developing a model for improving Rhode Island’s education system; and
“WHEREAS, Prior to serving as RIPEC’s President and CEO, Mr Simmons was employed as the Chief of Administration for the City of Providence and had also previously served as the City of Boston’s Chief Finance Officer, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and Deputy General Treasurer for the State of Rhode Island; and
“WHEREAS, Mr Simmons efforts have had a positive and rewarding impact on the fiscal efficiency and prosperity of our State and he is enormously worthy of our emulation and gratitude; now, therefore be it
“RESOLVED, That this House of Representatives of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations hereby honors and thanks John C. Simmons for his service as President and CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. We moreover wish him good health, fulfillment, and much success in all his future endeavors; and be it further
“RESOLVED, That the Secretary of State be and hereby is authorized and directed to transmit a duly certified copy of this resolution to Mr John C Simmons.”
“John, once again, thank you for your friendship,” said Mattiello after the reading of the resolution. “Thank you for your expertise, your input, your hard work. We’re all better off for it. And now that you’ve made the decision to retire, have a long, healthy and happy retirement.”
Speaker Mattiello then invited Simmons up to his office after the rise of the House for a more private goodbye.
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