I didn’t vote for him. Chances are you didn’t either. He ran unopposed in his district (won with 1,145 votes). He wasn’t elected to be Speaker of the House by the people. He was elected by a frightened RI House of Representatives. You know who I’m talking about.
Nicholas Mattiello is the Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives for about five minutes. He was “elected” by the other state reps following the abrupt down-in-flames resignation of Gordon Fox. It was a battle fought for about two minutes, with some of the blame going to the Providence Journal for tweet-reporting that the “election” was sewn up before the votes were actually counted.
But Mattiello doesn’t have to be The Speaker. He can become the “Former Speaker.”
Power not derived from the people
Last time I checked, Rhode Island was still considered a democracy. We elect our representatives to serve us at the state capitol.
In the past, sometime prior to the start of the session, they gather in a back room and “elect” a new speaker. There are 75 representatives, so it only takes 38 votes to dominate the state for the next two years. Promises are made. Threats are made. And then the person who’s been called the most powerful politician in the state emerges bathed in glory.
The first order of business is the approving of the Rules of the House, and as soon as that’s done, our duly elected representatives give away all their power to The Speaker, and beg his highness for favors. Then they do what The Speaker says, or else they’re exiled.
Then The Speaker holds a fundraiser and becomes the richest legislator in the state. He controls the calendar. He controls the purse strings. He makes the Governor dance and twitch. He wants something to pass, it passes. He wants a bill to die in committee, it dies. He da man!
This is not democracy. This is an anointed dictatorship.
It doesn’t have to be that way. From now until the opening of the legislative session, there is a brief moment when the way things have always been can change. The rules can change. And The Speaker… can be someone else.
During the brief “race” for the current Speaker, I seem to recall Michael Marcello saying that he felt that The Speaker didn’t actually have to win every vote… GASP!
Yes, it may be comforting for a state rep. to delegate all his or her power to someone else. And yes, all the lobbyists on Smith Street know where to funnel their efforts and cash.
But does it really benefit Rhode Island to have an anointed dictator in charge?
- 38 Studios can be directly attributed to the power of The Speaker.
- Payday Lending? Why is that even legal? Oh, right a former Speaker is the lobbyist.
- Sudden reversal on high stakes testing because The Speaker changes his mind. (I happen to like this outcome, but the process stinks.)
- All those last-minute late night bills that pass can only happen when The Speaker suspends the rules.
- And on and on…
State Reps can change the cycle of abuse
To all the state reps out there. We just elected you.
You were elected to serve the people. The power of The Speaker undermines your power as a Representative. All the plans you have, the things you want to get done… What if they could happen with out having beg and plead or to bend over and give favors in return?
Whatever promises or threats have been made to you, they’re all smoke right now. Whatever promises you’ve made, revoke them.
Un-Speaker Mattiello. Dump him. Make him “Former Speaker.” Elect a new speaker who will listen and work for the citizens rather than the lobbyists. Change the rules of the house.
And then govern well.
P.S. If you’re not a state rep, you can call or email your newly elected or reelected State Rep and say, tell her or him #No Mattiello
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post said “The last three speakers were either indicted, convicted or are currently under investigation.” This is incorrect and has been removed.