A handful of state representatives have said they will no longer support Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, but a potential successor to Mattiello said Wednesday that he still backs the speaker and expects him to maintain his hold next year on the top position in the House of Representatives.
In an unusual development, state Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) used a news release to announce that Mattiello has lost her vote.
“It is time for a change," Ruggiero said. "After the last session I am convinced we can do better. What we need is a leadership team in the House that is focused on issues, respects women, and will bring bills to the floor in a timely matter. It doesn’t serve the House, my constituents, or the people of Rhode Island to have important policy issues come to the floor on the final days of session."
She added: “I’ll be urging my colleagues to consider a change. I will support a candidate for speaker that stands for values important to many of us -- transparency, accountability and openness with the people’s business. Important bills need to be debated -- gun safety in our schools, sexual harassment and the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases, a woman’s right to make her own healthcare and reproductive choices, and line-item veto.”
Mattiello's perceived strength took a blow when most of the legislative candidates he supported in a primary election last week, including a former Donald Trump backer running against progressive Rep. Moira Walsh (D-Providence), lost their elections. Walsh said she was the first rep to pledge not to support Mattiello.
The Providence Journal's Katherine Gregg has reported that Reps. Mary Duffy Messier (D-Pawtucket), Jason Knight (D-Barrington), and Ray Hull (D-Providence) have said they will not support Mattiello for re-election as speaker in January, if he gets past a challenge by Republican rival Steven Frias in November.
But Rep. Gregg Amore (D-East Providence) -- who could pose a potential threat to Mattiello's hold on what is often called the most powerful post in state government -- said he is standing by the speaker.
"If the speaker were to lose his election [in November], obviously, I think there's a whole host of names that would come to the surface," Amore said, including House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi of Warwick, who holds the second-ranking position in the chamber. "I think if you asked 50 members of the Democratic caucus, I think you'd get 50 of the same answers: yes, I'd be interested" if Mattiello loses his state rep race to Frias.
"But I think this conversation we're having now and have had over the past couple of weeks since the election is premature, because like I said, I think Nick Mattiello holds on," Amore said. "I think by and large he's done a good job and I'm supportive of him at this point. I think he has the support of the majority of the [Democratic] caucus."
Some lawmakers are upset with Mattiello due to his approach on the PawSox stadium issue and other topics. A number of women lawmakers are troubled about how their legislative priorities did not move forward in the 2018 session.
Amore, who was first elected in 2012 and serves as a senior deputy majority leader, said he has no reason to challenge Mattiello in a speaker fight in January, even if Mattiello's support continues to slip from other representatives.
"I've had a great say in the education budget and policy," he said. "I've been heard as a dissenting voice. I think there are some things that have changed or didn't happen based on my voice being heard. I'm a loyal person. I think by and large every leader has issues and there are contentious moments between colleagues, but by and large I think its been a positive experience with the speaker and I'll remain with him going forward."
Meanwhile, Mattiello's campaign spokeswoman, Patti Doyle, fired back at Ruggiero.
"As the speaker noted two days ago, we expect a few more progressives to voice opposition to his speakership primarily because they are not part of the core group of House members who promote jobs and the economy," she said. "Rep. Ruggerio is one such representative, so her opposition is not at all surprising. To suggest as she did, however, that this speaker is not focused on women's issues is disingenuous at best, and politics at its worst. In this last session alone, the speaker fought for complete health insurance coverage for mastectomies. Further, he supported legislation to obtain one year of full birth control as opposed to going back every 30 days, and passed a version of pay equity legislation for women.
"It's unfortunate that Rep. Ruggerio is blatantly misrepresenting the speaker's record of accomplishments for her own self interests and election preservation," Doyle added.
Rep. John Lombardi (D-Providence) appears to be the only rep who is making a current an open challenge to Mattiello.
Lombardi's chances appear slim, although he said he's won the appreciation of some of his colleagues for openly making a stand against Mattiello. He declined to say how many lawmakers in the 75-member House are supporting him. Thirty-eight votes are needed to win the speakership.
Mattiello won a fight for the speakership in 2014 after winning more support than then-Rep. Michael Marcello of Scituate. The post became vacant when Gordon Fox stepped down after his Statehouse office were raided by state and federal investigators. Fox was later convicted of a series of criminal charges and he served time in prison.
This story has been updated.