The 2014 political year kicks off in earnest with the start of a new legislative session Tuesday (and the lingering shadow of the unresolved closed-door pension mediation). Thanks for stopping by for my (slightly delinquent, slightly abbreviated) weekly column. Feel free to drop me a line at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and to follow me on the twitters. Let's get to it.
1. House Minority Leader Brian Newberry views House Speaker Gordon Fox's plan to seek another term with a dose of skepticism. "This doesn't just apply to Rhode Island or the House," Newberry said during an appearance on RIPR's Bonus Q+A (at about 6:05), "If you are a legislative leader of any kind, the instant you say you're not running for re-election, your power evaporates. I don't know what Gordon's plans are -- I'm not going to ask him, I can't read his mind. However, even if he does plan to retire at the end of his term, he's never going to say that until he's gotten through whatever legislation he has to get through." For the record, here's how Fox -- in an interview set for broadcast Monday morning on RIPR -- describes his plans: "At this point, I plan to seek re-election in 2014." And assuming he wins, Fox said with a laugh, "why would I seek re-election and not seek speaker?"
2. A host of thorny issues await the General Assembly -- a big deficit, the growing tab of 38 Studios, the controversial Sakonnet River Bridge toll, and a possible settlement in the lawsuit filed by a series of public-employee unions over the 2011 overhaul of the state pension system. So what's the mood among state reps? Here's Newberry's view: "There's a lot of splits among the Democratic majority -- as there always is -- but they seem to get more personal, more nasty these days ... My feeling, my sense is that the Democratic leadership wants to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. That does not necessarily bode well for the state. It doesn't mean we're going to accomplish anything. But you're asking about political realities."
3. With Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter due on Monday to get another update on pension mediation, Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed continue to stand behind the overhaul spearheaded by Gina Raimondo that passed in 2011. Fox, in part, emphasizes how the overhaul made possible choices that couldn't have happened otherwise: "We saved 250 million, for instance, this year. That’s money that’s available not only to forestall a larger structural deficit, but also to make investments. We were able to put investments into education, public higher education."
4. The Providence Phoenix's Phil Eil has a sharp take on why he considers it past time to overhaul the ProJo's opinion pages.
5. Ezra, say it ain't so. The talented Ezra Klein may be taking his show on the road from the Washington Post. Tom Shevlin's reaction: ".@Washpost denying an @ezraklein microsite doesn't sit well.Newspapers need to cultivate not alienate branded journos."
6. Senator Jack Reed has perhaps the safest seat in the Senate. So does it make sense for Rhode Island Republicans to set their sights on Reed -- or even Congressman Jim Langevin and David Cicilline -- just to make a quixotic fight? Should the GOP instead narrow its focus to governor, a few other general offices, and General Assembly? During our Q+A, Brian Newberry said he understands those who consider it a setback to not contest major offices. "[But] If you are the size we are and the position we're in, you have limited resources and limited quality candidates, I think it's better to focus on those issues that you have a better chance of winning. You have to start somewhere and build up."