On the surface, the Rhode Island business community looks like a big winner in new House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello’s ascension to what many regard as the most powerful political office in the state.
Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat and former majority leader, emerged from a line of House leadership going back to former Speaker William J. Murphy that’s battled to make the state more attractive to corporate America.
Former Speaker Gordon D. Fox, who made Mattiello his top deputy, was seen by business leaders as a reliable ally to many Rhode Island industries and is more conservative fiscally than his reputation on social issues would indicate.
If his first speech as speaker on March 25 is any indication, Mattiello, who called “jobs and the economy” his top priority and represents a mostly conservative district, could be even more attentive to business interests than Fox. The latter quickly resigned from the leadership post last week after being targeted by federal investigators in an ongoing probe that included visits to his home and Statehouse office.
In accepting the speaker’s chair, Mattiello said he would review the state’s tax structure, including unemployment insurance, to find ways to reduce the burden on employers.
“At our [February] legislative luncheon I noticed he was particularly vocal, more so than in the past, and I would say he threw down the gauntlet with a more aggressive pro-business stance,” said Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White about Mattiello.
For most, Mattiello represents a continuation of the status quo in House leadership, steering the state slowly toward a more competitive business climate, while at the same time keeping good relations with unions.
That the establishment candidate for speaker was able to triumph despite the state’s continued economic struggles and the air of scandal surrounding Fox surprised many hoping for a change.
The push for a new direction in House leadership came from a self-described “reform” coalition headed by Rep. Michael Marcello, D-Scituate.
Marcello, if made speaker, promised to hold votes on bills that never made it to the floor under Fox.