Gordon Fox always struck me as a sincere guy who somewhat struggled with the onus of power in a game that many believe is won through fear rather than love. Whatever he may or may not be in trouble for, I wish him the best.
But Gordon Fox in no way, shape or form represented the progressive – or even the liberal – wing of the Democratic Party and I also sincerely hope his political demise leads to less conservative leadership in the state legislature.
This would not be the case if Nick Mattiello is the next speaker of the house. He’d be the fourth-consecutive conservative Democrat to lead the House and was put in place to inherit the gavel from Fox by speaker-turned-lobbyist Bill Murphy.
Progressives would much prefer Pawtucket’s Paddy O’Neill replace Gordon Fox as the most powerful politician in the Ocean State. O’Neill is more liberal, he’s more open-minded, he’s more liked and he’s more respected. And perhaps most importantly, he isn’t connected to the current leadership team that has effectively been in place since John Harwood made a deal with Republicans to become the speaker.
Mattiello, a Cranston lawmaker, is one of the more conservative members of the House, a legislative chamber dominated by fiscal conservatives and social moderates whose party affiliation often belies their political leanings. Philosophically speaking, Mattiello seems no more or less liberal than his GOP counterpart Brian Newberry, and Newberry has surely been more open-minded to progressive ideas than Mattiello.
Often conservatives (and even sometimes liberals!) will rail against “70 years of Democrats in control” in the state legislature. But it’s hard to argue that the Gordon Fox era hasn’t been defined by conservative policy. During his tenure as speaker and majority leader before that, he backed tax cuts to the rich, financial cuts to struggling cities and programs for the developmentally disabled as well as nearly across the board austerity except when it came to corporate interests and Curt Schilling. Nationally, Fox is known as the openly gay legislator who pushed for civil unions before same sex marriage and/or as the Democrat who sponsored a Voter ID bill.
But progressive ideology aside, I think it’s high time Rhode Islanders demand a change to the leadership team in the House of Representatives.
Any and all Rhode Island political insiders will happily proclaim the speaker of the House to be “the most powerful person” in the Ocean State. But ever since self-proclaimed conservative Democrat John Harwood captured the speaker’s gavel by striking a deal with Republicans, the most powerful position in state politics has been awarded based more on loyalty than ability.
As Scott MacKay of RINPR reported yesterday, “Longtime Speaker John Harwood seamlessly passed the leadership to William Murphy, D- West Warwick. Harwood and Murphy later had a falling out, but it occurred only after the speaker’s gavel had changed hands without a battle royal. Then in 2010, when Murphy thought it was time to leave, the transfer of power to Fox was greased.”
Indeed, MacKay says Mattiello was set up to inherit the speaker’s gavel from Fox when Murphy handed it off to him. “The only thing that some House observers noticed that Murphy made taking Mattiello as majority leader a condition of support for Fox,” he wrote. “Fox may be a bit rueful about that arrangement after yesterday’s events.”
Fox may well be rueful. But Murphy, now a lobbyist who represents the NRA and payday lenders, probably is not.
Neither may be Frank Anzeveno, who has served as chief of staff to the speaker since Harwood, and he would likely retain this job if Mattiello gets his way. Anzeveno infamously has a small placard on his State House desk that reads, “No better friend, no worse enemy.” And more than anything I just think the next speaker of the house would do well to be a little less Machiavellian.