Shekarchi elected House Speaker as legislative session begins
STATE HOUSE – Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi was elected Speaker by the Rhode Island House of Representatives as it began the 2021 legislative session today.
House members voted 59-9, with four abstentions, for Speaker Shekarchi, who had previously served as the chamber’s Majority Leader. Prior to being elected Majority Leader in November 2016, he served as Chairman of the House Labor Committee, a position to which he was appointed midway through his freshman term in 2014. He has served the residents of District 23 in Warwick since first being elected in November 2012.
The vote took place in a session held at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence to provide greater social distance than is possible at the State House, which is closed to the public during the pandemic.
In accepting the position from his colleagues, Speaker Shekarchi emphasized his commitment to working cooperatively with them, spoke of the strong values imparted to him by his parents, and invoked the words of President John F. Kennedy in an address he made at the Massachusetts State House before assuming the presidency in 1961.
“As you know, my goal for this office is to facilitate collaboration and consensus in pursuit of the common good. My approach will be different, but it should never be confused with an unwillingness to make difficult, final decisions at the appropriate time … and make them stick. Let us pledge to listen to each other, and always treat each other with respect and kindness,” he told his fellow representatives. “I will continue to be anchored by the values instilled in me by my hardworking parents. I will also be guided by the values so eloquently addressed by President Kennedy sixty years ago: Courage, judgment, integrity and dedication.”
Speaker Shekarchi has been a prolific legislator, sponsoring many successful bills concerning a wide range of issues, from economic development to health care to animal rights.
During his time as chairman of the House Committee on Labor, Speaker Shekarchi sponsored several major economic development initiatives. The Qualified Jobs Incentive Act, which is helping to create more than 3,000 new, well-paying jobs in Rhode Island, provides tax credits to companies that hire new full-time employees with a salary of at least 250 percent of the state’s hourly minimum wage. Jobs created through it have consistently averaged annual salaries above $60,000. He also sponsored the Premium Jobs Initiative, which links Rhode Island’s insurance premium tax rate to the number of jobs created by companies.
He reformed the state’s Workers’ Compensation system, including allowing for the use of electronic fund transfers to deliver weekly workers’ compensation benefits, and managed approval of two successive increases to the state’s minimum wage in 2014 and 2015. He has sponsored several laws streamlining the regulation and review process for development projects and subdivisions to facilitate construction.
Speaker Shekarchi is a graduate of Mount St. Charles Academy, Class of 1980, and graduated from Suffolk University in 1984. He returned to Suffolk to earn his law degree in 1990. In addition to his duties as a legislator, Leader Shekarchi is an attorney at the Shekarchi Law Office. He has been the legal counsel to the Warwick Housing Authority for 16 years and was a former Warwick solicitor.
House Speaker Shekarchi’s remarks follow:
Members of the House, Honored Guests, Family and Friends:
To my colleagues in the House, I offer a most sincere thank you for the faith and confidence that you have placed in me today. I pledge to work every day with all of you to ensure that we are a member-driven, inclusive House of Representatives.
I’d like to extend my deepest appreciation to Chairman Marvin Abney for doing an outstanding job as the presiding officer at this first session and to Representatives Mary Messier and Representative Katherine Kazarian for your kind words in placing my name into nomination – and I know Representative Grace Diaz is watching at home and wanted the opportunity to second my nomination as well.
I’d especially like to thank Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski for lending me great assistance throughout the transition process. Chris will be a terrific Majority Leader.
I’d also like to thank Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg for swearing me in and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea for administering the oath of office to all of us. I’m so pleased that Senate President Ruggerio and Senate Majority Leader McCaffrey are here on this special day.
I would be remiss to not thank former Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for his many years of public service. I am confident that history will look kindly upon his legislative accomplishments.
Thank you all.
Sixty years ago, a short drive up the road from here, at the Massachusetts State House, President Kennedy gave farewell remarks to his home state just before assuming the presidency.
His remarks that day still serve and guide us as public servants. He challenged those of us who have been entrusted with public office to question ourselves in four fundamental ways:
First – the president asked - are we truly people of courage? Do we have the courage to withstand public pressure, as well as private greed?
Secondly, are we truly people of judgment? Can we perceive judgment of the future as well as the past – can we recognize our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others? Do we have enough wisdom to know that we don’t know everything, and do we have the humility to admit it?
Third, are we truly people of integrity – who never run away from the principles we believe or the people who believe in them? Are we people who will never divert from the sacred public trust … not for financial gain or political ambition?
And finally, are we truly people of dedication – with an honor devoted solely to the public good and never compromised for any individual or group, or private obligation?
Courage. Judgment. Integrity. Dedication.
These ideals have guided me as I’ve worked to honor the friendship and trust the constituents of my beloved city of Warwick have blessed me with over the years.
These same ideals will guide me as I honor the confidence you have placed in me, on behalf of your constituents, in this new office.
The desire to honor and serve my constituents has brought me here today, but the unconditional love and support of my family through the years has been my inspiration. I know my late Mother is watching over me with pride today while my Father, who is 94, is watching me at home.
My father came to America as an immigrant in the 1950’s. He became a successful surgeon and always went the extra mile to help others. I learned the power of kindness from the actions of my parents… and I also learned that kindness should never be mistaken for weakness.
The qualities instilled in me by my parents have led to an ethic of hard work, honesty and compassion that I will apply to the difficult tasks before us.
The COVID crisis has dealt a crippling blow to our communities and our state. None of us has escaped its grip. We must adapt to new realities and find new solutions in order to achieve what the Constitution of the United States requires of us all - establish Justice, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty.
The past year has forced us to confront our failings in this regard. As the economic tide went out, it exposed a society where in too many ways justice has not been established equally, the general welfare has not been promoted fairly and the blessings of liberty remain out of reach for far too many of our fellow Rhode Islanders, through absolutely no fault of their own.
We need to do better – much better. And while I am humbled by the confidence that you have put in me, I am extremely confident in all of you. I know that many of the solutions are already present in this room, in you.
So, in the coming months, to honor our oaths of office, we must all collaborate to prioritize some difficult challenges.
In the short term, we will work – every day – to ease the pain and lighten the burden of the pandemic, particularly for those communities who have borne the brunt of it.
We will listen to and support our first responders, our health care professionals and our teachers.
We will find new ways to support and protect our small businesses, lift up the unemployed, and creatively assist our families.
We will work with Governor Raimondo and the Senate to achieve the rapid and effective distribution of the vaccine.
And in the long term, we will roll up our sleeves, clear away the rubble of the pandemic, and build a new and better Rhode Island.
We will strive for a Rhode Island that provides a just, secure and prosperous future for everyone, regardless of our zip code, regardless of the color of our skin, and regardless of how long their family has proudly claimed the title of “American.”
This coming session, I am looking to all of you to continue our “Lively Experiment”. I am looking for your new ideas, new energy and new perspectives. As with all experiments, honest mistakes will be made. But I believe that a mistake can be a powerful teacher.
As you know, my goal for this office is to facilitate collaboration and consensus in pursuit of the common good. My approach will be different, but it should never be confused with an unwillingness to make difficult, final decisions at the appropriate time … and make them stick.
Let us pledge to listen to each other, and always treat each other with respect and kindness.
I will continue to be anchored by the values instilled in me by my hardworking parents. I will also be guided by the values so eloquently addressed by President Kennedy sixty years ago: Courage, judgment, integrity and dedication.
I ask you to join me in committing to these things. To my colleagues in this chamber, I believe in you.
Today, we humbly begin our duty to solve the problems of our day. You have each earned the sacred trust of the voters in your districts. I await your unique perspectives and ideas.
Let us resolve, after an honest discourse, to come together to make our mark on this great state. I am certain that many of the answers are in this room - let us find them together.
I am honored to embark on this new journey with each and every one of you.
Thank you. God Bless you all.
For more information, contact:
Larry Berman, Communications Director for the Office of the Speaker
State House Room 331A
Providence, RI 02903