R.I. officials elect 1st openly gay speaker

By Ray Henry
Associated Press / February 12, 2010

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PROVIDENCE - Representative Gordon Fox became yesterday the first openly gay lawmaker elected speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

The former House majority leader received votes from 51 of the 75 lawmakers in the House. Fox, 48, a Providence Democrat, defeated fellow Democrat Gregory Schadone of North Providence and Republican Robert Watson.

Fox will replace William Murphy, who will step down from his leadership post but said he will continue to represent his West Warwick district until the General Assembly formally ends its session early next year.

As the new House speaker, Fox will have to address massive state budget deficits and an unemployment rate that has hovered near 13 percent.

“We have an enormous amount of talented people who have lost their jobs, and some are leaving Rhode Island for good because they can’t find work,’’ Fox said in prepared remarks. “It is my top priority to make sure that Rhode Island can attract high-quality jobs and train its workers so they have the skills to succeed.’’

Besides being the first openly gay lawmaker to preside at the speaker’s rostrum, members of the House minority caucus say that Fox, the child of an Irish-American and a mother of Cape Verdean descent, is the first minority lawmaker to hold what is arguably the state’s most powerful political post.

He will preside over a veto-proof Democratic majority and have wide sway over which bills come to a vote and which bills die.

During a closed-door caucus, Democratic lawmakers also picked Nicholas Mattiello of Cranston as their majority leader and J. Patrick O’Neill of Pawtucket as the party whip.