Chris Maxwell: RITA Never Forgot Better Days of Eventually Turbulent Relationship with Nick Mattiello

The Rhode Island Trucking Association (RITA) made a conscious effort to never publicly target recently-ousted Speaker of the Rhode Island House, Nicholas Mattiello.

Perhaps we never forgot his humble visit to our office in May of 2013 when he was serving as Majority Leader and we were just beginning our reemergence as an organization.

Maybe, down deep, we knew that RhodeWorks and its origins were not of his making and, besides stopping the program in its tracks in June of 2015, he attempted to make the final law more protective and palatable for the interests of local business owners.

Most likely, in addition to the aforementioned reasons, we very likely sought to avoid the wrath of the vindictiveness he reigned with. After all, if we sought passage of legislation for the benefit of our industry, it would have little to no chance of passage if we were on his bad side – regardless of its value or merit.

I recall meeting with the Speaker in Spring of 2015. It was the first time since he’d visiting our office and he clearly had morphed into a far more commanding and powerful version of the somewhat soft-spoken Majority Leader I’d hosted at 660 Roosevelt Ave. As we sat alone in his office with his chair back facing me, he swung around, cell phone in hand, relishing in the fact that WPRO’s Dan Yorke was calling him a “thug” during his afternoon drive time radio show. As our conversation advanced, he listened to me. And when I explained to him how furious I was that our industry had been blindsided by the Governor, he shared with me that he similarly knew nothing about it in advance, commenting, “How do you think I feel.” It was a candid moment and a glimpse into the man.

I believe that meeting had much to do with him halting the first version of RhodeWorks. Of course, by the following Winter, the Speaker’s revised version of the legislation passed with much fanfare and the subsequent doling out of punishment to legislators Ray Hull, Joe Solomon and Robert Phillips who were summarily relieved of their powerful committee assignments for failure to vote in line for the Speaker’s legislation.

The Speaker’s legislation, and I refer to it as that because it was his version, was an attempt to grant a cunning and equally power-hungry Governor her signature policy, one she needed as a payback to the interests of labor, while providing trucking and local business with baked in protections such as daily caps and local rebates. Unfortunately, his efforts to craft compromise legislation may, today, be the Achille’s heel of RhodeWorks in court as it flew in the face of interstate commerce protections. In the end, I think he probably meant to do good which is why he took criticism very personally. The mention of tolls trickling down to cars incensed him and RITA and its constituents faced repeated retribution for their opposition ranging from the denial of good legislation to threats to members to unethical if not illegal offers from his surrogates.

Ironically, all of these incidents and the personality he demonstrated throughout our dealings parallel what brought his demise. He ran the speakership with an iron hand, much like a crime boss whose seemingly bullet-proof thirst for power and self-preservation would end his speakership. Legislatively, he brought conservatism to a progressive state government, but through his continued willingness to compromise to the far left to remain in power, he would lose his grip on the chamber over which he powerfully ruled.

So I end where I began. Unlike Gina Raimondo and the interests of labor, we never forgot the better days of what would become a turbulent relationship. That perhaps, is why we never attacked him publicly nor politically and won’t do so now during his darkest days. This is far more than I can say for the others like the Governor and labor leaders who kicked him to the curb after he put his political neck on the line to push through RhodeWorks.

Chris Maxwell is President and CEO of the Rhode Island Trucking Association.  This op-ed first ran yesterday in the association’s weekly newsletter.

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