Speaker removes from committee a Republican who asked fellow lawmaker if she is a pedophile

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PROVIDENCE — The GOP lawmaker who asked a Democratic colleague who is one of two openly LGBTQ members in the House if she was a pedophile doubled down on Thursday after he was removed from the legislative committee in which the confrontation took place last week.

In a statement read aloud by the House clerk, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi gave this explanation for removing Rep. Robert Quattrocchi, R-Scituate, from the House Committee on State Government and Elections:

"While asking questions as a member of the committee, Representative Robert Quattrocchi made several references about the applicability of the legislation to 'Satanists' and 'pedophiles' and directly asked Representative Kislak, 'Are you a pedophile?' "

"Representative Quattrocchi’s statements to Representative Kislak during the March 17 hearing are not in keeping with the decorum or the integrity of this body. Use of suggestive and offensive language and the disparagement of an esteemed colleague will not be tolerated in this chamber.

"I hereby direct that Representative Robert Quattrocchi be removed as a member of the House Committee on State Government and Elections, effective immediately."

Rep. Robert J. Quattrocchi, R-Scituate
Rep. Robert J. Quattrocchi, R-Scituate

Quattrocchi: 'I won't bend a knee to a man or a woman. I'll bend my knee to God.'

In response, House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale accused Shekarchi of bowing under pressure from a "mob," and Quattrocchi gave a not-sorry speech on the floor in which he "confess[ed] to my guilt for calling out evil, an evil act against children.

"And because I did that, evil came for me through my answering machine in the most disgusting, vile, I don't even know how to describe it, language, whatever it is. Evil wished the rape of my children, my mother, my death, for me to be shot in the head."

He said some of the emails he received were even more vile.

"All this for asking questions, not making statements, not making accusations, not talking about any groups of people ... [but] doing the job that my constituents sent me here to do, using what I thought was my ... freedom of speech. Excuse me, what was left of it.

"So if God put me here to be a lightning rod, so be it," the Scituate Republican said. "I won't bend a knee to a man or a woman. I'll bend my knee to God, and [when] my time is done, I will accept God's judgment. That's the only judgment I care about."

What was the context of Quattrocchi's remark?

The action came in the wake of Quattrocchi's remarks to Rep. Rebecca Kislak, D-Providence, during the committee's hearing last Friday on Kislak's bill H 5763, which would require that lawmakers take into account the impact of their bills on people of different races, religions and sexual orientations.

"It seems very, very broad," said Quattrocchi, who was then still a member of the committee.

"In my thinking about [bills] that I want to present … do I have to take into account, for instance … how it affects Satanists in Rhode Island?" Quattrocchi asked. "Or do I have to take into account, with 'sexual orientation,' how it affects pedophiles in Rhode Island — anything like that?"

"Pedophile is not a sexual orientation," Kislak responded. And "that was really offensive."

"Oh, I didn't mean to. Are you a pedophile? I'm sorry," Quattrocchi said to Kislak, a Providence Democrat who describes herself as a lesbian.

In the days since, a number of advocacy groups have condemned Quattrocchi for using a hurtful stereotype to mischaracterize LGBTQ people, while Shekarchi himself called the remarks "reprehensible."

"It was insulting to a colleague of the House and it is not the kind of decorum I expect in the House of Representatives," said Shekarchi, who is gay.

Quattrocchi issued a statement on Tuesday attributing the controversy to what he called "a misunderstanding," but he had not publicly apologized as of the start of the Thursday House session.

Shekarchi said Quattrocchi needs to go the next step and publicly apologize "in whatever forum he wants but yes, there should be a public apology ... because the effect of his words were extremely hurtful to the LGBT community."

At that point, Shekarchi said, he was still evaluating his options.

House minority leader calls reaction 'a grave distraction'

Shekarchi's decision to remove Quattrocchi from the committee considering the "equity impact" legislation was described as a "measured and fair" response to uphold decorum by spokesman Larry Berman. It was also the least severe of the actions he could have taken, from censure on up, and was not unprecedented.

The response from House Minority Leader Chippendale, R-Foster:

"The reaction to, and resultant decision from the rostrum regarding the inartful exchange between two of our colleagues in a committee hearing six days ago has unleashed a whirlwind which is both a grave distraction from the important issues this institution is grappling with, and a 180-degree departure from the longstanding practice of the House.

"I fear that we have reached a point where the norms that govern this institution and which have made our debates over the years civil, if occasionally heated, have been irretrievably broken," Chippendale said.

Committee assignments are at the discretion of the House speaker, who has the power to appoint and remove a legislator, as was done as recently as last year. Shekarchi removed then-Rep. Carlos Tobon from the House Finance Committee after a WPRI exposé of his undisclosed financial activities.

Former Speaker Nicholas Mattiello removed several lawmakers from their committees who were unwilling to vote for the truck toll legislation, and replaced chairs who publicly criticized him. And the list goes on.

Quattrocchi remains on two other committees.

The stated goal of the legislation at the heart of the current dispute: "A simple and understandable statement demonstrating that the bill sponsor has taken into account the impact, positive or negative, that the legislation will likely have on Rhode Islanders based on their race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age or country of ancestral origin."

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Speaker removes from House committee a Republican who asked fellow lawmaker if she is a pedophile