R.I. House Dems back Shekarchi as new speaker
Rhode Island House Democrats, holding a caucus at the Crown Plaza hotel in Warwick, voted to back Representative Joe Shekarchi of Warwick as the next Speaker of the House.
WARWICK, R.I. (WLNE)– Rhode Island House Democrats, holding a caucus at the Crown Plaza hotel in Warwick, voted to back Representative Joe Shekarchi of Warwick as the next Speaker of the House, and Representative Chris Blazejewski as Majority Leader.
The duo received 54 votes, a clear majority of the 65 representatives in the house.
The official vote won’t be taken until January, when the next legislative session starts.
Until then, current Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, ousted by challenger Barbara Fenton-Fung in Tuesday’s election, remains in the position.
“I am humbled that you have given me the opportunity and you’ve trusted me with the leadership of the house,” said Shekarchi after the vote Thursday.
There will still need to be a formal vote on the speaker in January as Shekarchi has at least one opponent: progressive Representative Liana Cassar, who declined to attend the in-person caucus because of the pandemic, and found the process rushed.
“I think that 48 hours after you figure out your election results, having to be in a room making the most consequential vote of your entire term, is something that should be reconsidered,” said Cassar via Zoom.
With the backing of the caucus, Shekarchi is now turning his attention to the major financial issues ravaging the state due to the pandemic.
“Many different organizations have asked me, don’t cut the social services budget, don’t raise taxes, don’t do layoffs,” said Shekarchi. “Ladies and gentleman we have a $900 million deficit that has to be made up somewhere.”
Caucusing for speaker usually involves making deals with legislators regarding committees and legislation, but Shekarchi said Thursday he hasn’t promised anything.
“He hasn’t had to make any promises to anybody in putting together these 53 votes. I think that’s a testament to Speaker Shekarchi,” said Blazejewski.
As for how he will differ from Speaker Mattiello’s leadership, Shekarchi said: “I consider myself a little bit more of a moderate than the speaker. So I’ll look at things in that type of a lens… If it’s a good policy, I don’t care who it comes from.”
Shekarchi would not become speaker till January which means if the house is called back to work on the budget before then, there’s the possibility of a lame duck speaker presiding over that session.
Shekarchi was asked about possibly having a vote earlier than January so that he would preside over the budget, but he said that he would have to discuss that with Speaker Mattiello.