Back in 2014 when Nicholas Mattiello became the speaker of the RI House I made a rather cheeky prediction. I noted that it would not end well for the speaker as corruption would do him in. It turned out that while he was not indicted, the spectacle of his campaign aide on trial for illegal campaign financing shenanigans, more than likely contributed to his loss. Admittedly I thought Mattiello’s corruption would be more along the lines of real estate deals, as real estate is inherently a corrupt industry, with tax breaks, sweet heart deals, and permitting all contributing to big money corruption in a variety of ways. But it is reasonable to infer that the ethics involved in the real estate industry bled over to the campaign ethics in Mattiello’s tight 2016 race.
I am sure there are other factors that played a role in his loss, including the campaign by Ms. Fung-Fenton. Conservatives did not like him just because he was not a Republican, and the partisan divide in the USA is getting more and more hardened around race, climate, and democracy. Many Democrats dramatically disagreed with him about the need for action on climate, his obsession with lowering the car tax and income taxes on the rich, and his anti choice and anti justice positions. And then you have to consider the Worcester Sox. Personally the only thing Speaker Mattiello ever did that I liked was scuttle the Pawsox stadium deal. He took lots of heat for his actions, and he never would admit that the data says quite clearly that subsidizing the rich to do anything with real estate is an economic loser and baseball stadiums are an even more egregious example. If he had been really willing to make that fact clear, and applied it to all of his work in RI, he would have a much different legacy. But it would have taken a very different Speaker to actually understand that.
The odds on favorite to be the next speaker is Mattiello’s Majority Leader Representative Joseph Shekarchi. While Shekarchi is slightly more willing to consider climate action, there is nothing in his public record to show any signs that he understands that real estate development as an economic development strategy is a failure contributing to growing inequality, harsher pandemics, and ecological collapse. And until such time as we actually apply facts to economic development policy in Rhode Island, and everywhere else, we are likely to continue tosee Neoliberal fantasies dominate the policy debate, and nightmares for those of us who know we need to change if the planet is to stay inhabitable, and our communities strong and resilient.