When Democrats support a new Speaker of the House tomorrow night at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, it’s likely to be an individual who changes the way the House conducts business, ushering in an era that is more open and willing to bring issues to the House floor, one that embraces reform.
Rep. Joseph Shekarchi of Warwick, along with Rep. Chris Blazejewski of Providence, have called for the Democratic caucus. According to several legislators, while Shekarchi is expected to win the Speaker’s role, Blazejewski is slated to assume Shekarchi’s current role as majority leader. Democrats will make their choice tomorrow night, but the actual vote will be by the entire House.
Before it gets to that point, however, Shekarchi, will have to survive a challenge by freshman legislator, Rep. Liana Cassar of Barrington and Riverside. Cassar, a progressive, says she has support of the women’s caucus, but at she’s getting pushback from some women legislators, who are also considered reformers, but point Cassar’s inexperience, and are backing Shekarchi.
“I am supporting Joe Shekarchi for Speaker and Chris Blazejewski for Majority Leader,” said Jamestown and Middletown Representative Deborah Ruggiero. “It’s my hope that this team will change how business is done at the State House.”
Rep. Lauren Carson of Newport said that Shekarchi will be a “breath of fresh air.” She characterized him as a problem solver. “Joe has said he’s going to bring bills to the floor. That’s why I’m supporting him.”
The Speaker’s position, considered by many to be the most powerful position in the state house, became open with the defeat this week of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello of Cranston, who lost his bid for reelection to his Representative seat to Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung.
Mattiello, who had the power to determine what bills were heard in committee and sent to the House floor, often used that power to block legislation. He was viewed, one legislator said, as “hard to get along with … a little vindictive … playing his cards close to his chest.”
“I have no regrets about not voting for Nick Mattiello for Speaker two years ago,” Ruggiero said. “I do what’s in the best interest for my constituents. I follow a moral compass and did not agree with some of Mattiello’s leadership decisions. Sometimes you have to be the raspberry seed under the palette and I’m proud of the work we did in the Reform Caucus.”
In Shekarchi, if elected, legislators will get someone who is described as willing to listen, committed to moving legislation through the process, and as a problem solver. They’ll also get the legislature’s best fundraiser. Shekarchi, who did not have an opponent this year, has a campaign war chest, according to the Board of Elections, of $1,162,583.
Mattiello was also a good fundraiser and apparently confident of victory, had doled out contributions of $1,000 each to about 25 legislators’ campaign funds during the last three months.
Likely filling out the leadership team will be Brian Patrick Kennedy, D- Hopkington, Westerly, who will retain his role as Speaker Pro Tempore and Rep. John Edwards, D-Portsmouth, Tiverton.