East Providence Rep. Melo talks Finance resignation, speaker swap

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EAST PROVIDENCE — Having sufficient time to digest the goings-on of the last several days, Representative Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence) earlier this week offered up his first public comments on the happenings that led him to step away from his lofty position as the Rhode Island House Committee on Finance chairman, a move spurred by the surprising raid and subsequent resignation of Gordon Fox as Speaker of the House.

The Rhode Island State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigations seized alleged evidence at the home and State House office of Rep. Fox (D-Dist. 4, Providence) on Friday, March 21. The incident sparked a dizzying few days of political maneuvering, which ultimately led to the rise of House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston) to the speakership by Tuesday, March 25.

“The events of March 21 were a sad day for the State of Rhode Island. On Saturday, March 22, as everyone now knows, the speaker (Rep. Fox) resigned, so we knew a new speaker needed to be put in place. It was a difficult process, but one that needed to be done,” Rep. Melo said.

In between March 21 and 25, several meetings were held among the various Democratic factions from Smith Hill, including those who supported the candidacy of Rep. Michael Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Cranston and Scituate) of which Rep. Melo was one.

It became clear by the end of the weekend, however, that Rep. Marcello did not have the requisite votes to challenge the charge of Leader Mattiello. Rep. Melo refused to comment specifically on what happened to Rep. Marcello’s quest for speaker, though he did say the support of Leader Mattiello by five of the six House Republican members was one of the key contributing factors to its ultimate failure.

On the losing side of the race, Rep. Melo, who eventually joined most of Rep. Marcello’s backers in voting for Leader Mattiello as speaker, opted to resign as House Finance chairman early Tuesday, March 25.

In doing so, Rep. Melo acknowledged it would have been a less than ideal situation for him to remain on the Finance Committee under the circumstances, opting instead to step away from the group he had chaired for the last three-plus years.

Rep. Raymond Gallison (D-Dist. 69, Bristol and Portsmouth), an existing member of the committee, was chosen by Speaker Mattiello as the new chairman of Finance. On a side note, as of the start of the House session this week, Rep. Melo said he had yet to receive a new committee assignment.

“I understand the speaker can and will appoint his own people to certain positions. That’s his prerogative. That’s part of the process,” Rep. Melo said. “But from my perspective there are way too many pressing issues in this state to let politics get in the way.”

From his Finance chair perch Rep. Melo said he knows better than most the difficult financial straits the state still must tread and that he remains committed to working towards finding solutions even though his direct influence on matters is now limited.

“One thing I can say, in my opinion, is that there is no one in that building (the State House) that knows more about the short and long term problems that the State of Rhode Island faces better than I do, and I will not let politics get in the way of us trying to correct those problems,” Rep. Melo added.

Politics, of course, are likely to be part of any maneuvers made in the House, but results will be the key to the future success of the body and specifically the new speaker, who has made the economy, jobs and inclusion of disparate views the cornerstones of his revised leadership plan.

“This is only the beginning,” Rep. Melo said. “Speaker Mattiello now has to prove to be a man of his word, not only to his colleagues but to the people of the State of Rhode Island. He needs to show he can do what he needs to do about the most importance issues we face, which are the economy and jobs. It’s going to be difficult. He has a very small window to do it.”

The House session ends on June 30, meaning Speaker Mattiello will have had a little over three months to initiate and implement his budgetary plans.

As for his own future, Rep. Melo said he remains steadfast in his position and will once again put his name on the November ballot in search of a fifth term as the representative from District 64 in the center section of the city.

“I have every intention to run for re-election. I still consider it an honor to represent the great people of the City of East Providence and District 64. We still have plenty of work to do,” Rep. Melo said.

And beyond the general election, Rep. Melo said he will keep a close eye on what could be another challenge for speaker once the House gathers for its next session in January of 2015.

“Once we have the election in November, there’s going to be a whole new race for speaker,” Rep. Melo added. “Speaker Mattiello has to prove his worth. He has to show he can get things done or else we’ll be doing this again.”

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