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Brown Dems ‘excited to see’ Democratic R.I. House Speaker Mattiello ousted from seat

Fenton-Fung completes successful bid for House District 15 seat against current House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello

Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 2020

Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was defeated in an upset win by Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung in the race for Cranston House District 15 on Nov. 3. 

Mattiello, a conservative Democrat long considered to be one of Rhode Island’s most influential political figures, had been in the State House since 2007 and served as its speaker since 2014. 

Fenton-Fung, the wife of Cranston mayor Allan Fung, won the race with 58.8 percent of the District 15 vote following record turnout at the polls this election season. 

Though Mattiello had represented Cranston for over a decade, the area can lean Republican.  

For Sue Cienki, Rhode Island Republican Party chairwoman, the outcome of the race was a sign of time well spent. 

“This was a race that we targeted,” Cienki told The Herald. “We took a very strategic, data-driven process to which races we were going to go after, and that was our number one race — to take out the speaker.”

Before election day, Mattiello had been mired in controversy following a string of scandals that included the money laundering trial of a former aide and a grand jury investigation into whether Mattiello had abused his power in authorizing an audit of the Rhode Island Convention Center. 

“He was very damaged to begin with,” Cienki said in reference to the recent controversies. 

Mattiello declined The Herald’s request for comment.

The wide popularity of Fenton-Fung’s husband — who was also a two-time Republican candidate for R.I. governor — also contributed to Fenton-Fung’s successful campaign against incumbent Mattiello, according to Cienki. 

“Fenton-Fung was very smart when she went out campaigning — she had the mayor by her side,” Cienki said. “She hyphenated her name to Fenton-Fung so that there was name recognition that she was the mayor’s wife.”

Fenton-Fung did not respond to The Herald’s request for comment.

Morgan Awner ’21, vice president of the Brown College Democrats, also noted the importance of name recognition in the race, saying that Fenton-Fung was able to tap into a “very popular base” through her husband’s household name in Cranston.

Despite Mattiello’s party affiliation, Awner said the Brown Dems were encouraged by the election results. 

“We were excited to see this election result. It’s no secret that speaker Mattiello has caused obstruction in the House,” she said. Awner cited disapproval of Mattiello’s opposition to the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019 and his lack of support for gun violence prevention legislation.

The Brown Dems believe Mattiello’s defeat signifies a potential shift toward greater transparency in the Rhode Island State House, a governing body that has historically been an “old boys club,” Awner said. But she added that much still needs to be done in Rhode Island politics “to really make it an equitable place (where) all Rhode Islanders can feel represented in the statehouse.” 

The Brown Dems are hoping that new, more diverse lawmakers will promote a cultural shift in Rhode Island politics and create an opportunity for progressive policies to gain greater traction in the Ocean State. 

“Progressive groups have been doing the work for a long time to try to reform the State House, she said. “A more important step than Mattiello being removed from office is the election of this new wave of younger, working class, diverse people to the State House.”

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  1. Former staff says:

    “gun violence prevention legislation.”

    Now THAT’S funny.

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