Former Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Judge Robert Flanders Jr., did not intend to get the biggest laugh at the recent forum on the possibility of a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) being held in Rhode Island, but he did.
The forum, sponsored by the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant, the Roger Williams University School of Law, Common Cause Rhode Island and the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, was attended by over one hundred participants, most of whom were of the politically savvy sort interested in the possible consequences of a Con-Con.
Flanders got his (unintentional) laugh when he suggested that the Rhode Island House of Representatives, under the leadership of the new Speaker, Nicholas Mattiello, might champion ethics reform.
It should be noted that Representative Joseph Almeida, Speaker Mattiello’s choice for deputy minority whip, has already come under scrutiny from the Board of Elections and the Attorney General’s office for “a campaign-finance case involving Almeida’s “misreporting’’ of contributions and expenditures.” Apparently Mattiello was unaware of Rep. Almeida’s circumstances when he tagged him for his post and it is unknown what action Mattiello intends to take in light of these revelations, though the safe bet is “none.”
You can see the comment Flanders made in the video below. (I’ll have more videos from the forum on RI Future soon.)
“You Laugh,” said Judge Flanders in response to the laughter, “It seems improbable.”
Judge Flanders’ larger point was that without the threat of a Constitutional Convention, Speaker Mattiello will have no reason to tighten ethical standards, but if a Con-Con appears in the offing, and if the convention delegates seem willing to enact real ethics reform from outside the House structure, then Mattiello might be feel compelled to enact his own reform or risk looking weak and ineffectual on ethics.
Oddly, few people present at the forum seemed to think that Speaker Mattiello in particular or the General Assembly as a whole was much interested in doing the right thing and tightening ethical standards on their own. It is partly this lack of faith in the General Assembly that makes people support the panacea of a Con-Con in the first place.