PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s most vocal critics in the chamber says Wite-Out was used to scratch her name off a bill at the speaker’s orders, a move Mattiello is defending as “totally appropriate.”
In an open letter to Mattiello released to the media Wednesday night, Rep. Kathy Fogarty said she signed onto the legislation — a bill sponsored by Mattiello that would change the governance of the University of Rhode Island, which is located in Fogarty’s South Kingstown district — when Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi announced its introduction on May 30.
“Much to my dismay,” she wrote, this past Tuesday “I was informed by a visibly shaken Leader Shekarchi that my name was being removed from the bill by order of Speaker Mattiello.”
Fogarty’s husband tweeted a photo that appears to show her name being blotted out on the bill sponsor sign-up sheet using Wite-Out or a similar product:
Fogarty went on to tell Mattiello in her letter, “When I confronted you on the House floor, you responded that it was your bill and you could do whatever you wanted with it.” However, she said she saw no provision in the House rules that allows the speaker or any other lawmaker to unilaterally remove a fellow legislator’s name from co-sponsorship of a bill.
“You may point to some arcane or obscure rule that allows you to remove someone’s name from a bill to justify your actions, but I am sure the people will see right through that,” Fogarty, a Democrat, wrote. “I am here to tell you that this is not leadership. It is outrageous. It is unethical. It is yet another example of retribution. It is childish behavior in a situation that demands maturity, honesty and integrity.”
Mattiello, D-Cranston, responded in a letter to Fogarty and a statement to reporters that acknowledged he ordered Fogarty’s removal but put the blame on Shekarchi for the specific decision to white her signature out, though he said the majority leader’s move was “totally appropriate.”
“Neither I, nor URI, asked Representative Fogarty to work on the bill,” Mattiello said. “I wanted the bill to reflect the work of the House leadership and URI graduates.”
The speaker alleged that on the day the bill was introduced Fogarty had, “in a bullying and belligerent manner, grabbed the bill from [Shekarchi] and affixed her signature to it. At no time did she work on this draft bill, which was my work product. Because she has been antagonistic to me, other House members and my legal staff, I chose not to have her name on the bill.”
He added that it would be “unfair to those members who have worked on the bill to list her as a sponsor,” saying her “tone and attitude is not collaborative.”
The bill in question would remove URI from the jurisdiction of the Council on Postsecondary Education and give it its own board of trustees, which university leaders have longed argued would give the flagship state school more autonomy and enhance its programs. The House Finance Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing on the measure.
In his letter to Fogarty, Mattiello accused her of “pettiness” that could harm the URI bill, and said until the legislation was officially introduced as a bill it remained his own “work product,” giving him discretion over its cosponsors. He also said Fogarty was “granted permission” to become a co-sponsor of the bill at a committee hearing Wednesday.
John Marion, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, pointed out on Twitter: “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the bill is question is going to make a major change to education governance for the state and that will all happen in the next ~3 weeks.”
Fogarty is a member of the Reform Caucus, an ad hoc group originally made up of roughly 20 House members who came together last fall to criticize Mattiello’s leadership and demand changes in the chamber’s operation.
The speaker has made some efforts to assuage their concerns — including adopting a sexual harassment policy, allowing an abortion-rights bill to pass and posting amended bills in advance of votes — which has placated some of the members but not all of them.
Former R.I. Republican Party Chair Brandon Bell, who is now the GOP’s special counsel, teased Mattiello over the incident on Thursday by referencing a bizarre decades-old incident that came to light last fall when future gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo had a physical altercation with the future speaker, then a teenager.
Alluding to the weapon Trillo reportedly used, Bell quipped, “Anybody have a caulking gun to teach somebody a lesson?”
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook