Dem Women’s Caucus mulls resolution opposing Mattiello as speaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Members of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus decided to table a vote Tuesday night on a resolution opposing the reappointment of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to his leadership post.

The resolution was introduced by state Sen. Jeanine Calkin and was not listed on the caucus’s meeting agenda. While some members pushed for the group of female elected officials and activists to vote on the resolution, others said it was improper to do so.

One woman called the resolution a personal attack; another questioned who would be a viable alternative to Mattiello. A third said everything noted in the resolution is true.

Ultimately, the group decided to post the resolution online and allow members to vote on it digitally.

The debate comes just a week after Mattiello was re-elected to his House seat in Cranston’s House District 15, where he defeated Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias for a second time.

Just two days later, Mattiello was backed to lead the House of Representatives again, with 44 Democratic members backing him as speaker. But 21 other Democratic state reps voiced their opposition to his leadership; one was absent.

The official vote for speaker will take place on Jan. 1, the first day of the legislation session.

Some members of the legislature are pushing for changes to House leadership due in part to questions about Mattiello’s handling of sexual harassment claims against former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Cale Keable. Keable was accused of sexual harassment by Rep. Katherine Kazarian, who shared her concerns with Mattiello in an email earlier this year. Keable, who lost his re-election bid last week, denies the harassment claims. 

“There are a lot of women who are unhappy with the way the speaker has conducted business at the State House,” said Sen.-elect Bridget Valverde, D-East Greenwich, vice-chair of the Women’s Caucus. “So I do agree with the general sentiment [of the resolution], but I have not had time to review in detail what it says.”

State Rep. Edith Ajello, a Providence Democrat who was one of the 21 House lawmakers to vote against reappointing Mattiello last week, said she too wasn’t sure whether she will support the resolution.

“I’ll read it over,” Ajello said. “I really want to concentrate on policy – the importance of policy, the importance of process – and stay away from individuals.”

Spokespersons for Mattiello did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday night, but when asked about dissent within the party and chamber last Thursday, Mattiello said he has plenty of support.

“The overwhelming majority of the representatives solidly support me,” he said, adding that he’s open to feedback.

“It’s always important to listen to everybody when you’re in a leadership position,” Mattiello said. “So that’s certainly what we plan on doing.”

The Women’s Caucus was created following President Trump’s election in November 2016, and has at times served as a counterpoint to the rest of the statewide party, which is controlled by the speaker.

Two local Democratic town committees, in Portsmouth and Little Compton, have both passed resolutions calling on the House to choose a new speaker in January.

Separately on Tuesday, state Rep. Gregg Amore called on House leadership to pass a package of bills proposed earlier this year by the House Commission to Study Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Mattiello appointed state Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narragansett, to lead the commission after she said last year she’d been harassed by a senior lawmaker. But none of the panel’s proposals passed the House.

“I supported this package of bills in 2018 and, in all candor, should have spoken out more forcefully at that time,” Amore, D-East Providence, said in a statement. “These matters need to be addressed in some of the first pieces of legislation passed in the 2019 session.”

A spokesman for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said the upper chamber plans to prioritize bills on sexual harassment in the new session, noting that unlike the House, the Senate approved legislation on the matter earlier this year.

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