Legislators supporting Speaker Mattiello do so at their peril

Nicholas Mattiello

Supporting Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) may be politically costly to some legislators. Many Rhode Islanders are expressing the opinion that support for the Speaker means that a legislator has expressed at least tacit approval of  Mattiello’s treatment of woman. They point to a long list of issues and actions:

  • The Speaker has refused to move on a series of bills developed by the House Commission to Study Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, led by Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown), tightening the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • The Speaker derailed Representative Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol)’s Fair Pay Act, passed unanimously in the Senate.
  • The Speaker refused to address women’s concerns over the possible overturning of Roe v Wade by passing Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence)’s Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA)(S2163/H7340).
  • The Speaker refused to bring to a vote legislation submitted by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) that would extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse so that adult victim of such reprehensible acts can sue institutions like the Roman Catholic Church, where such abuse has been rampant.
  • The Speaker failed to properly address or resolve sexual harassment complaints made by Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence).
  • The Speaker endorsed a Trump-supporting former Republican over freshman Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) in her re-election bid.
  • The Speaker told WLVI/Channel 12 reporter Kim Kalunian, “I’m going to have a new policy going forward: news media outlets that treat me fairly and are objective, I’m going to converse more with.”

It appears that under Speaker Mattiello, women are ignored, marginalized, sidelined and attacked.

Representative Gregg Amore (Democrat, District 65, East Providence), first elected in 2012, is starting his fourth term. Though he considers himself a progressive on some issues (Amore was a vocal sponsor of the “Fair Shot Agenda,”) Amore was notably not one of the 21 Democratic House members who publicly opposed Mattiello’s bid to retain his speakership at the Chapel Grille House Democratic caucus meeting.

Amore has issued a press release “requesting that the issues brought forth by the House Commission to Study Sexual Harassment in the Workplace be heard in committee immediately following re-introduction.”

Representative Christopher Blazejewski (Democrat, District 2, Providence), first elected in 2010, is a member of Mattiello’s leadership team, serving as Deputy Majority Whip. As a member of the leadership team, it can be assumed that Blazejewski has been intimately involved with all the decisions made by Mattiello as Speaker. When questioned by constituents as to why he continues to support Mattiello, Blazejewski responded with an unconvincing form letter saying that progressives, “need a seat at the table to bring progressive change.”

Two days after UpriseRI published Blazejewski’s form letter, Blazejewski issued a press release announcing that he was working to deal with the sexual harassment issue at the State House by prefiling legislation ahead of the 2019 legislative session that would reform the General Assembly’s policies and procedure relating to sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment by establishing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer and Special Committee on Professional Conduct with broad investigatory and disciplinary powers.”

“It is critical that the General Assembly reform its policies and procedures relating to sexual harassment, discriminatory harassment, and related retaliation,” said Blazejewski. “The legislature must ensure that all people appearing in its chambers and before its committees – members, staff, and the public – are protected from harassment and have a safe, respectful space to engage in the political process and advocate for their legislation.”

It should be noted that Blazjewski’s prefiling of this legislation seems to be a leadership team strategy, not something Blazejewski is doing on his own to challenge or separate himself from the Speaker. In his sit down interview with the Providence Journal‘s editorial page editor Ed Achorn, done right after his Chapel Grille caucus meeting, Mattiello telegraphed Blazejewski’s legislation, saying, “We’re going to put forth some type of specific procedure that takes my office right out of it and puts a professional in charge of it and wherever that goes it goes. I don’t want to be part of the process. I want to take politics completely out of it and have a professional in charge of it.”

Blazejewski’s legislation then, can be seen as an action of the House leadership team, not a solo effort by Blazejewski.

Are these last minute actions by an all-male House leadership team and their supporters, like Amore, enough to provide cover for Mattiello’s long history of ignoring issues important to women? Another point: Where are the women legislators in all this?

Hilary Levey Friedman, president of the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization for Women (RI NOW), writes that, “We thank Representative Chris Blazejewski for reopening the legislative conversation about sexual harassment, especially at the State House, this week. That said, it is imperative that female legislators be involved in this discussion and not just the predominantly male leadership team in the House, which has previously dismissed accusations of sexual harassment.”

During his re-election campaign, Speaker Mattiello dismissed RI NOW (and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence) as “extreme progressive groups.”

In her press release Friedman suggested an approach more in line with that recommended by Amore: “In particular, we call on House leadership to reconvene the Sexual Harassment Task Force with an expanded mission to address State House internal governance on matters related to sexual harassment. As in many other aspects of State House leadership we demand more, rather than less transparency when it comes to these issues. We continue to stand with those who speak out on sexual harassment.”

Despite the rising tide of women’s voices opposing the Speaker, at a meeting on Tuesday night, the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus introduced a resolution opposing the election of Mattiello as Speaker of the House to be considered and possibly voted on on at a later date.

On Saturday, from 11am- 2pm, there will be an “Accountability Canvass in Representative Christopher Blazejewski’s district.” The organizers, representing a group calling itself Rhode Islanders for Reform, will canvass Blazejewski’s district “to let his constituents know that as part of the Speaker’s leadership team he’s tacitly supporting corruption. We will go to the voters and ask his constituents to demand that Representative Blazejeski do better by not supporting the current House leadership.”

You can read Mattiello’s most recent thoughts on women and sexual harassment.

The legislators currently on record as opposing Mattiello are:

Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence)
Representative Joseph Almeida (Democrat, District 12, Providence)
Representative Laufton Ascencao (Democrat, District 68, Bristol)
Representative Justine Caldwell (Democrat, District 30, East Greenwich)
Representative Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport)
Representative-Elect Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence)
Representative-Elect Terri-Denise Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth)
Representative Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol)
Representative Kathleen Fogarty (Democrat, District 35, South Kingstown)
Representative Arthur Handy (Democrat, District 18, Cranston)
Representative Raymond Hull (Democrat, District 6, Providence)
Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence)
Representative-Elect Rebecca Kislak (Democrat, District 4, Providence)
Representative Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Barrington, Warren)
Representative John Lombardi (Democrat, District 8, Providence)
Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett)
Representative Mary Messier (Democrat, District 62, Pawtucket)
Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence)
Representative Deborah Ruggiero (Democrat, District 74, Jamestown)
Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown)
Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence)


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About Steve Ahlquist 671 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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