Rhode Islanders for Reform plan to continue their fight to change House rules even though their demonstration at the State House on Tuesday did nothing to alter the re-election of Nicholas Mattiello as Speaker of the House.
The group contends House rules give Speaker Mattiello complete control, making legislators almost powerless, and fearful. The group’s focus is on changing these rules so Representatives have a greater share of the power and can better represent their constituents.
The group of protesters consisted of about 40 people.
“Mattiello abuses his power,” volunteer Alex Kithes said. “We’re protesting so no speaker can be as powerful as Mattiello is.”
Kithes explained that Mattiello has the power to manipulate committees and the process of bills reaching the floor for a vote.
According to the Rhode Island House rules for 2017 and 2018, “The Speaker shall appoint all standing committees. The Speaker shall have the authority to appoint the chair, first vice chair, and second vice chair of each committee. At the request of a member any bill or resolution may be removed from those included in the motion if the speaker so orders. The Speaker may direct the transfer of a bill or resolution from one committee to another. The chair may cancel a bill hearing at any time, with the approval of the Speaker if in the chair’s discretion the bill is not ready to be heard in the committee.”
Kithes claims that Mattiello uses these powers to intimidate Representatives into voting the way he wants, and that the power Mattiello has makes it impossible for them to think and act independently.
“If representatives disappoint then their voice won’t be heard,” Kithes said. “If they’re afraid of what the speaker wants, then they can’t do their job.”
Members of the protest held up signs that said, “We need a speaker who speaks for the people,” and “Power to the people not the Speaker.”
During the vote to appoint Mattiello as Speaker protesters chanted “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Mattiello has got to go.”
Kithes described Mattiello’s appointment as “emblematic.” He said that by Mattiello being appointed again and again, he is demonstrating the problem.
“We’re protesting so no Speaker can be as powerful as Maattiello is,” Kithes said. “Our representatives need to be able to represent us.”
Walter Reis, a participant and resident of North Providence also said that he was unhappy with the rules. He would like the process changed so it is more Democratic.
“I’m not happy with the fact that the rules in the House make it difficult for the bills to get voted on,” Reis said.
According to Reis, Representative John Lombardi has created a set of new rules that would allow new bills to reach the floor without letting the Speaker decide what needs to be seen and discussed. He would like to see these rules put into effect.
Lombardi’s proposed rules would place a six-year term limit on all House leadership positions, give committee members the power to select committee leaders, and allow any bill that has been held for “further study” make its way to the floor if there is a majority vote of the representatives.
Mattiello was elected as Speaker of the House in 2014, and was this November elected to serve until at least 2021. Forty-seven representatives voted in favor of his appointment. There are 75 seats in the House.
Kithes explained that the swearing-in ceremony was a logical kicking-off point due to the location. The group has no further protests planned right now, but they are planning to look at the schedule and organize events.
“This fight is not intended to end today,” he said.
During his appointment speech, Mattiello said, “My office will always be open to my colleagues who want to discuss legislative matters.”
Kithes is a Rhode Island native, who was born and raised in Woonsocket. He attended Brown University and graduated with an engineering degree. Kithes became politically active about a year ago through involvement with protests about offshore drilling and net neutrality. As of right now, he has no plans to run for the state office for the next term.