Many Assembly leaders to retain positions

Paiva Weed in line for reelection as R.I. Senate president, Mattiello likely to stay House speaker

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 13, 2014

Though Democrats lost six seats Nov. 4 in the R.I. House of Representatives, they still hold a strong majority in both chambers of the General Assembly.

While statewide elections Nov. 4 yielded new leaders in multiple top offices, party leadership seems to remain stagnant in the General Assembly. 

At a Democratic caucus held Friday in the Senate Lounge at the State House, Sen. Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, was reelected Senate Majority Leader and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, was unanimously endorsed as the Democratic nominee for reelection to her position.

Though Paiva Weed won’t be officially elected until Jan. 6, the first day of the new legislative session, the Democratic supermajority in the state Senate remains, with 32 Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent. This partisan configuration means Paiva Weed will enter her fourth legislative session as president of the Senate. She is the first woman to hold the job and was the first female Senate majority leader.

The upcoming session will be Ruggiero’s third as majority leader.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, also called a Democratic caucus at the Cranston Country Club for House Democrats Nov. 6, during which he and fellow party leaders — House Majority Leader John DeSimone, D-Providence, House Majority Whip John Edwards, D-Tiverton, and Deputy House Majority Whip Joseph Almeida, D-Providence  — were unanimously endorsed for reelection to their posts.

Mattiello, who previously served as House majority leader, was elected House speaker in March after former Speaker Gordon Fox resigned from the legislature as a result of a federal investigation. Like Paiva Weed, Mattiello also won’t be officially elected until the first day of the legislative session. But despite the two-fold increase in the number of Republican seats after the election Nov. 4 — from six seats to 11 in the 75-member chamber — Democrats in the House hold a large enough majority to elect a leader without Republican support.

The entire leadership team appointed by Mattiello was reelected, with the exception of Senior Deputy Majority Leader Lisa Tomasso, D-Coventry, who was not present at the caucus because she lost in the general election to Republican challenger Sherry Roberts by a slim 248 votes. Because this position is among those appointed by the speaker of the House, Mattiello won’t need to decide who will replace her until Jan. 6, said Larry Berman, Mattiello’s communications director.

Reps. Peter Palumbo, D-Cranston, Scott Guthrie, D-Coventry, Tomasso, Larry Valencia, D-Richmond, and Linda Finn, D-Portsmouth, lost to their Republican challengers last week. Rep. Donna Walsh, D-Charlestown, also lost to Independent Blake Filippi.

“I think that we were extremely productive last session,” Tomasso said. She pointed to Mattiello and other party leaders as the reason for the session’s productivity, and added that she thinks this trend will continue in the upcoming session.

“My experience working with Nick Mattiello has been pretty good,” said Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, who was reelected to the position of House minority leader at the House Republican caucus Wednesday night. “I think he genuinely wants to work with us where we have common ground.”

Mattiello and House Republicans “have a good relationship,” Berman said. Mattiello is “pretty moderate,” he said, adding that five of the six Republicans in the House during the last legislative session voted for him as speaker of the House.

Newberry said he thought the larger faction of Republican seats will aid bipartisanship in the House. “The larger the block of the minority party is, the more leverage you have,” he said.

The current minority leadership in the House may be on the rocks: Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, told the Providence Journal, “Wouldn’t it be great … to have a female governor, a female Senate president and a female leader in the House?” Morgan said she hadn’t decided whether to challenge Newberry for House minority leader ­— a position he has held since 2001 — or Rep. Joseph Trillo, R-Warwick, for House deputy minority leader.

While no decisions about Republican leadership in the House have been made yet, the next caucus is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, the Providence Journal reported.

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