House speaker wields considerable power in RI

Rhode Island House of Representatives

Rhode Island voters have little or nothing to do with the selection of the speaker of the House, who is known to be the most powerful politician in the state.

"State government (is) central to our lives -- from the taxes we pay, to the roads we drive on, to how our kids are educated. Those decisions are being made in the legislature, and the speaker is the gatekeeper of all legislation," said John Marion of Common Cause.

The roots of that power run deep -- back to the Constitution.

"Historically, we have had a very powerful legislature. And in that legislature, the speaker has had very central control," Marion said.

Over the years, the man at the head of the room -- and it's always been a man -- has consolidated his power through the use of the rules.

"Historically, it's been created by the body. Why would the House of Representatives give all of its power to one person, who then doles it out in measured portions to individuals in the body? They have reasons. You'd have to ask individual legislators why they vote for the rules package at the beginning of each session," said Tony Affigne, a Providence College political science professor.