2014-03-27 / Front Page

Martin Has Close View of History

By Tom Walsh

After a succession of meetings on Monday that ranged from concerns about homelessness, to a Civil War memorial ceremony, and then the warden’s office at the state prison in Cranston, Newport state Rep. Peter F. Martin was finally in his car headed for home.

It was after 9 p.m. and it was the day’s last meeting–a dinner session at Camille’s on Federal Hill with other House Democrats who, like Martin, were behind Rep. Nicholas A. Mattiello of Cranston to succeed Gordon D. Fox as speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives– that was top of mind.

“My assignments won’t change that I know of,” Martin was saying now. “I’ve offered my services. I would take on more responsibility if they feel it’s appropriate.”

Martin, serving his third two-year term in the House, is the ranking Newport Democrat in that chamber. He serves on the high-profile House Judiciary Committee in addition to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Among other things, his longevity affords him the opportunity to formally preside over the opening of the House session in January–an honor that by tradition goes to the ranking House member from Newport.

But ceremonies were the farthest thing from Martin’s mind during his late-evening drive home on Monday.

“I was completely blind-sided by it,” he said of the FBI and State Police investigation of Fox that turned the previous Friday into anything but ordinary at the State House. A day earlier Martin had met with then-Speaker Fox. The talk turned to Martin’s controversial embrace of tolls on the Sakonnet Bridge in a House speech earlier last week. “The speaker congratulated me on my position,” Martin said. “He said my arguments were well-thoughtout and that it was a tough issue that they really needed to work hard to solve.”

With the political upheaval that came so quickly thereafter, Martin was asked where the issue now stands.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I might have lost 10 yards on that one but I think I’ve gained ground in other areas.”

How could that be?

Martin said he had already had a private conversation with Representative Mattiello. “I had an opportunity to give the new speaker some advice that he’s listened to,” Martin said.

On what topic, he was asked?

“I can’t tell you that now,” he said. "But I will be able to in the not too distant future. I told him some things he needed to know.”

Martin said Monday night that Mattiello, most recently the House majority leader, had signed commitments of support for his speakership candidacy from 45 House members. Thirty-eight votes are needed from the 75 members to win what many people call the most powerful political position in Rhode Island—more so even than the governor.

As it would turn out, Mattiello was elected speaker on Tuesday over Democratic Rep. Michael. J. Marcello of Scituate.

How might any of this impact Newport and the rest of Aquidneck Island?

“I think in the long run we could be better off,” Martin said. “That’s because of the different personalities of the two guys. I have a good feeling about Nick’s willingness to listen to what we have to say and his desire to solve problems. I think he’s a good guy, a decent human being.”

Meanwhile, Martin said, he’s been trying to “mend some fences” among the members—these leadership wrangles do tend fray relationships. He also said that the public tends to paint all members with the same brush whenever one member’s name becomes tarnished.

“When one member makes a mistake, we all hear the cry to ‘throw them all out’” said Martin, who at 72 is the oldest House member. “We all get caught in the same net. These are people without information who don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Once a businessman himself, Martin declared as he neared his Newport home that, “I’ve worked in corporate America and in elected office and I would any day pick working with the people I work with now. This experience has brought me a lot closer to some of the people I’ve been working with since I’ve been up at the State House, including some Republicans.”

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