The man in the middle
Fox, who won election as majority leader while Murphy’s predecessor, John B. Harwood, was on his way out in November 2002, has been a loyal lieutenant to the speaker. In a prime demonstration of his willingness to take part in partisan warfare, he accused dissident Democrats of conspiring with Republican Governor Donald L. Caricieri during a particularly tense budget battle in 2004, famously shouting about the placement of “lipstick on a pig.”
A wooden pig puppet perched on a bookcase in his State House office, a gift from Deputy Majority Leader Al Gemma (D-Warwick), references the colorful remark.
For the most part, though, Fox has maintained a relatively low public profile since moving past a 2003 ethics issue that brought a measure of unflattering publicity.
His role as vice chairman of the Providence License Commission, a panel that he served on during the latter part of Buddy Cianci’s second tenure, nonetheless speaks to his connections with a variety of well-placed people, including Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, who asked Fox to rejoin the panel. Committee members are paid about $18,000 a year.
Fox joined the House as part of a large incoming class in 1993, serving on the House Finance Committee and later chairing it before he became majority leader. Among his accomplishments, he cites helping to have passed the statewide smoking ban, the state historic tax credit program, the establishment of an affordable housing fund, a mental health parity law, and enhanced protection for victims of domestic violence. He also points to a focus on mundane, but important, issues, like the future of the state’s water supply, and, as majority leader, running the calendar in the House.
The majority leader draws praise from his Republican counterpart. “While Gordon does speak with, and vote for, a more liberal agenda on the House floor, I give him credit for being able to walk that fine line and negotiate that fine line between the conservative members and the more liberal members,” says House Minority Leader Robert Watson (R-East Greenwich). Fox’s political ability “allows him to speak from a position of credibility,” says Watson, who calls the Democrat “one of the best voices and [someone who can be] one of the most passionate voices on the House floor.”
Murphy — who, like Watson, joined the House in 1993 — praises his deputy as “a super-intelligent person,” and a student of history. “I think he’s able to see issues in the big picture,” Murphy says, balancing compassion with fiscal responsibility. “He’s been a great majority leader. When we took over in 2003, the House of Representatives was in all kinds of turmoil. Through hard work and persistence, he’s been able to right the ship and make sure the House of Representatives was sailing in smoother waters.”
(Fox is also enough of a legislative creature that in 2005, one year after he sponsored a Common Cause-drafted Lobbyist Disclosure Law, he supported a measure to considerably weaken the same law. The effort to water down the law passed the House and Senate, but since it faced a veto threat from Carcieri, it was recommitted and died in a Senate committee.)
Murphy has consolidated his support since beating back a challenge by dissident Democrats in 2005. In another reflection of Fox’s friendly ties with a variety of people — including House Finance Chair Steve Costantino and Providence club owner Alex Tomasso — he gets along with some of the former dissidents, including Representative Rene Menard, the only rep who didn’t vote for Murphy’s reelection as speaker in January.