PROVIDENCE — On the Rhode Island Report podcast, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi weighed the pros and cons of running for Congress and detailed the 14-bill package he recently unveiled to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis.
Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, said US Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo, a former Rhode Island governor, encouraged him to run for the First Congressional District seat that US Representative David N. Cicilline plans to vacate by June 1 to become president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.
“She has encouraged me to run and she thought it would be a good opportunity,” Shekarchi said. “But she also said follow your heart and whatever your decision is, she will support. And she said to me that I’m doing a good job as speaker. She said it’s a ‘no lose’ scenario for you.”
Shekarchi acknowledged the congressional vacancy presents a rare opportunity. “Some people say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I can’t remember having an opportunity presented like this where you can run in an effort and if you don’t win, you’re still the speaker of the House.”
But Shekarchi also acknowledged he’d probably have less power as a rookie legislator in Washington than as the top legislator at the State House. “You would be number 435 out of 435,” he said, noting US Representative Seth Magaziner, who took office in January, would be the senior House member from Rhode Island.
Shekarchi also talked about the provisions and goals of the package of housing bills he unveiled last week. “We have a crisis at every level of the housing spectrum,” he said. “We are dead last in the country on housing permits.”
None of the bills would override local zoning, he said. “I challenge anybody in the media and the elected official world or anywhere to tell me what is oppressive about any one of these bills,” he said.
But if that’s true, will the legislation change the fact that just seven of the state’s 39 cities and towns meet the requirement that 10 percent of their housing stock qualifies as “affordable” housing? “My hope is that they get the picture, they see what’s happening,” Shekarchi replied. “I think I’ve raised their consciousness, and if they don’t act, then there are things that we as a General Assembly can do.”
For example, he said, “If the population of school-age children is declining, then maybe we need to adjust our formula and maybe we need to adjust the city and town aid to other communities that are bearing the burden of this.”
To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.