In seconding the nomination of Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi as Speaker of the House, Rep. Katherine Kazarian characterized the Warwick legislator as “not your average Joe.”
She was right in more ways than one.
Shekarchi, who is known for being inclusive, a consensus builder and a listener, even received kudos from the Republican side of the aisle. But then, it’s going to take something unusual to deal with the challenges ahead.
Before defining those, Shekarchi asked his fellow lawmakers, who have left their chambers in the State House for the more spacious Veterans Auditorium, to be guided by courage, judgment, integrity and dedication as set forth by President John F. Kennedy.
“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,” he said.
Once rumored as a candidate for mayor, Shekarchi earned his stripes in the House of Representatives when he was picked by Speaker Nicholas Mattiello as the House Majority Leader, a job that put him in the position of working with his colleagues. It was a job it appeared he would keep following the 2020 elections had it not been for Rep.-elect Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, wife of now former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who challenged Mattiello for his District 15 seat.
Within hours of Fenton-Fung’s victory, Shekarchi worked on securing the powerful speaker’s job, which he locked up at a meeting of the Democratic caucus. On Tuesday, Democratic members of the House reaffirmed that vote over Republican Minority Leader Rep. Filippi.
Shekarchi spoke in board terms Tuesday.
“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,” he said.
Shekarchi said the pandemic 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.”
House members broke into applause.
“We will listen to and support our first responders, our health care professionals and our teachers.” There was more applause.
“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,” he said.
Shekarchi said he will to look for new ideas, new energy and new perspectives from the members, adding that honest mistakes will be made.
“But I believe that a mistake can be a powerful teacher,” he said.
“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.”