Why the House Speaker is the Most Powerful in Rhode Island

by ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis


It doesn't matter if it's new house speaker Nick Mattiello or former speaker Gordon Fox. The person who sits in this chair is ultimately the most powerful person in Rhode Island. Former house member Ray Rickman says it all comes down to who holds the purse strings. 

“[The Speaker] Controls the budget – eight billion dollar budget. It comes from the House. All money originates in the House. And he can push the Governor around; push the Senate around,” said former Rep. Rickman.

Rhode Island House Speakers also get to nominate a certain number of judges, something only a few other states allow. 

ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis said, “One of the most significant powers any Speaker has is determining which bills get to this floor for a full vote. And essentially if a Speaker doesn't like a bill, it isn't going to happen.” 

And here's another odd quirk about Rhode Island, the Speaker is even more powerful that the Governor. Right now Democrats hold 92 percent of all seats in the General Assembly. The Speaker can overrule the Governor if he wants to. 

“He's in charge of a branch that basically assures a veto proof situation. The split in terms of Democrats versus Republicans is such that he can command and almost control what's going on within the state,” said Dr. Kay Israel, Professor of Political Communication at Rhode Island College. 

The Speaker also gets to appoint the chairmen and chairwomen to all House Committees ultimately putting people loyal to him in charge of those issues. The speaker is essentially a king maker.