Harwood Steps Aside

WRNI-November 8, 2002 – Rhode Island House Speaker John Harwood is out. Democrats elected to the house have overwhelmingly endorsed a new leadership team. It includes State Rep. William Murphy as Speaker of the House and State Rep. Gordon Fox as Majority Leader.

The change in one of the most powerful positions in state government appeared smooth and graceful.

John Harwood said he believed he had enough support but chose not to seek another term as speaker for the good of the General Assembly. He said he was proud of helping to cut taxes,expanding T. F. Green Airport, and of helping bring Fidelity Investments to Rhode Island.

Harwood's tenure ends with allegations of sexual harassment that tapped public anger about his management of the General Assembly and alleged abuses of power.

Harwood suggested publicly and privately that Murphy had his endorsement. Murphy said he had to bring Harwood supporters into his camp to cement the party endorsement, but that he didn't make any deals with Harwood

"There was no handoff. We had to walk a difficult line, because we had other groups out there that were getting ready for a speaker leadership fight. We had to wonder what was happening to our Speaker, and unlike most leadership fights, this whole thing lasted the span of one week," said Murphy.

About two weeks ago, according to Fox, a small group met with Harwood. There were no threats or ultimatums and no promises.

Fox and Murphy say they have not decided who will chair committees. They don't plan a clean sweep. Current chairs are in the running. The fact that many faces in the leadership team may
not change is leading some lobbyists and citizen groups to question whether this is much of a change.

"I hope this will result in real change. I'm not convinced at this point that it will," said Common Cause of Rhode Island Executive Director Phil West.

On reforms, Murphy pledged to bring back regular meetings of the Democratic caucus. He and Fox also promised action on separation of powers, economic development, merit based legislative grants, and reforms of Joint Legislative Services Committee, which controls legislative spending.