House Speaker and RI Convention Embroiled in #MeToo Controversy

Editor’s Note: The following statement comes from the Rhode Island Women’s Democratic Caucus, which split off from the Democratic party in Fall 2019.

The Women’s Caucus voices our strongest support for the women who come forward with their own stories of workplace harassment and abuse. It is a vulnerable place, to be brave and tell one’s story in these circumstances. The Women’s Caucus extends its gratitude to all those who do so. We stand in support of all women, and we will fight for a government in which all women will be safe, empowered, and equal.

House Speaker Nick Mattiello (Photo Credit: Upriseri.com)

The Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus believes that no woman should experience harassment in the workplace, and that no one should fear retaliation for speaking truth to power. In a Democratic state such as ours, one would expect the principles of equality, fairness, and integrity to be exemplified by the leaders of our party, especially those with the most political clout. Yet – as revealed this week in stories from WPRI and GoLocalProv – misogyny and moral ambiguity appear to guide the current Democratic state party leadership as it fails to rise to the level of ethics that our party platform demands.

Recently a top female executive at the Rhode Island Convention Center disclosed an alleged abusive and toxic relationship she endured from her co-worker, James Demers. Demers is also a retired Rhode Island State Trooper and, according to reports, a close friend of the current Rhode Island Speaker. It is alleged that this man stalked, harassed, and abused his female co-worker over a period of seven years. He allegedly quipped that he would “ruin [this woman’s] life,” if she continued to distance herself from him. Upon disclosure of Demers alleged abuse, he was placed on leave. Soon after that, the current Speaker ordered an audit of the Convention Center on behalf of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services (JCLS) – circumventing the committee’s authority to issue one – and therefore calling into question the motive of such an order.

The controversy surrounding the Convention Center audit is a familiar trope to seasoned political observers in this state. Privileges given to those closely tied to state party leadership have covertly afforded people prominent appointmentsmillion dollar funding streams, and preferential advancement of legislation. It seems those privileges also extend to shielding alleged abusers from rightful consequences.

The Women’s Caucus voices our strongest support for the women who come forward with their own stories of workplace harassment and abuse. It is a vulnerable place, to be brave and tell one’s story in these circumstances. The Women’s Caucus extends its gratitude to all those who do so. We stand in support of all women, and we will fight for a government in which all women will be safe, empowered, and equal.

As we celebrate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and the suffragette movement, many stories will be told of the heroism of women standing up to the patriarchy over 100 years ago. Here in Rhode Island, the struggle rages on in institutions where it should have long ago been eradicated. We want history to say of the women of 2020 that we fought for the best possible future of our state.

“[I] alone am the majority,” said the current Speaker in a recent interview. In fact, it is women who are 51 percent of the constituency in Rhode Island. It’s time leadership answered to this constituency: they must represent the women of Rhode Island with integrity, resign, or be voted out.

In The News

Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

One thought on “House Speaker and RI Convention Embroiled in #MeToo Controversy”

  1. I encourage temperance in our progression .
    We will not relent on our principles but we must keep in mind that we are a part of a real world.
    I think if women tend to portray themselves as a sort of endangered species, having no faith at all in men, always viewing their male counterparts as insatiable ravenous predators (whilst our population continues to drown that of our male counterparts), we may be seen to be forming a sort of “women’s cult”, and may not be taken serious by any discerning observer.

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