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Calls mount for Sen. Kettle to resign amid criminal charges

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democrats and Republicans alike are calling for the resignation of Senator Nicholas Kettle, a Republican from Coventry who is charged in two criminal cases including one involving alleged misconduct with a Senate page.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has threatened to hold a vote to expel Kettle if he doesn’t resign – a move that has led the ACLU to urge caution.

Kettle was charged Monday with two counts of extortion, after an unsealed secret grand jury indictment revealed accusations that he extorted a Senate page for sex back in 2011. The indictment said he threatened and attempted to compel the teenager to commit a sexual act.

“I am furious that Senator Kettle has not already resigned,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence. “If he does not do so, I will certainly vote in favor of his expulsion.”

“It’s beyond the pale,” said Sen. Jim Seveney, D-Portsmouth. “It’s just not to be tolerated.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere joined Ruggerio in calling for Kettle to resign, as did Republican Senator Thomas Paolino. The other two Republicans in the chamber, Mark Gee and Elaine Morgan, have not yet responded to requests for comment.

“If the allegations are true, those alone would require Senator Kettle to resign,” Paolino said.

The Coventry Town Republican Committee, which has about 30 members, also said it would vote to expel Kettle from its membership if he does not resign voluntarily.

“As a representative of Coventry and a constituent of the senator, I am deeply disappointed,” said GOP Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, who is also a candidate for U.S. Senate. “I feel strongly it’s in the best interests of Senate District 21 for Mr. Kettle to resign his position.”

Kettle declined to say if he would resign while leaving his court arraignment Monday.

The Senate is on break this week, but a spokesperson said a vote to expel the senator could be held as early as next week.

Eyewitness News reached out to each of the 36 sitting senators – Kettle is the 37th, and one seat is vacant – to ask how they would vote if expulsion is on the table. Twenty senators said they would vote “yes,” one senator said she was undecided, and 15 senators have not yet replied to inquiries. None of the senators who responded to Eyewitness News said they would vote against expulsion.

The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote to expel a senator. A spokesperson said the Senate’s legal counsel was determining the procedure, including whether Kettle would be included in the tally. If so, 25 senators would need to vote in favor of expulsion.

The ACLU of Rhode Island entered the conversation Tuesday, sending a letter to Ruggerio urging the leadership to take a slow approach to an expulsion vote.

“As serious as the criminal charges are, so too is the act of expelling a democratically elected legislator from the seat he earned from the voters of his district,” executive director Steven Brown wrote in the letter.

State Librarian Megan Hamlin-Black said her office could find no records of any Senate or House member being expelled from their chambers, although the state constitution clearly allows the practice. She said the R.I. State Archives also had no record of the expulsion article being used.

In an interview with Eyewitness News, Brown said the ACLU does not have a position on whether Kettle should be expelled, but they believe the Senate should adopt rules before using the provision for the first time.

“There may be a very principled reason why the Senate is acting now to try to initiate these expulsion proceedings.” Brown said. “But if you don’t have standards in place ahead of time, the door is open for all sorts of mischief down the road.”

He said examples of procedures that could be adopted include holding a hearing, presenting evidence and allowing a member to defend him or herself before a vote takes place.

Kettle was first arrested on Friday on the video voyeurism charge, in which state police allege he sent nude photos of his girlfriend to a friend without her consent. The grand jury indictment on the two extortion charges involving the former Senate page also came down on Friday. He pleaded not guilty to the extortion charges, and his attorneys claimed the allegations were part of a “political witch hunt,” because the young man later ran against Kettle for his Senate seat.

Ruggerio ordered a review of the page program in light of the allegations. The program employs students aged 15 and up to assist lawmakers with paperwork and other duties at the State House.

Caroline Goggin contributed to this report.