TG1F: 10 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Nov 1, 2013

The Red Sox win big, politics never takes a holiday, and the calendar turns to November, marking the one-year mark until Rhode Island's next general election. Thanks for stopping by. As always, feel free to send me tips and feedback at idonnis (at) ripr (org) and to follow my short takes via Twitter. Let's head in.

1. Head-scratching continues in Rhode Island's liberal/labor sector about the impending departure of Matt Jerzyk and Arianne Lynch from Angel Taveras' administration in Providence. "Arianne is one of the brightest political, policy and PR thinkers in the game," tweeted NEARI executive director Robert A. Walsh Jr. PR man and longtime Democratic strategist Bill Fischer invoked Edward R. Murrow ("We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty") and Abraham Lincoln ("It is best not to swap horses while crossing the river"). For his part, Taveras denies there was anything unusual about the seemingly abrupt exit plan of two top aides, telling my colleague Elisabeth Harrison, "Change is one thing that's always constant. Change is constant, and that's something that people need to recognize -- that there will always be change. But the most important thing is that you have a continuity of leadership and continuity of a vision, and I believe we have that." Some observers in labor and liberal politics, however, question if Taveras is tacking right. There's a long way to go until the Democratic primary next September, of course. Yet Gina Raimondo keeps plugging away and Clay Pell looms as a potentially appealing challenger from the left. Could there be a sequel of sorts to RI's three-way Democratic primary in 1990, with Pell emerging in the breath of fresh air role originally played by Bruce Sundlun?

2. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is defending how the names of aspiring judges aren't made public unless they're chosen for interviews with the Judicial Nominating Commission. During an appearance this week on RIPR's Bonus Q+A (at 9:06), Kilmartin called the existing approach a good way to take into account "real human factors," such as negative effects for unsuccessful applicants who want to stay in their current job. John Marion, executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, says the names of applicants should be made public. “There’s no way to access the quality of who emerges out of the pool unless you see who’s in the whole pool," Marion says. "These people are applying for a lifetime position without regular review. Certainly if you’re going to step and ask for such an important position, we think your name should be public.”

3. Amid continued debate about Rhode Island's sales tax -- not to mention a newly erected barrier to Uber's presence hereabouts -- there's been scant talk lately about the "clunker tax" passed by the General Assembly in 2011. The legislative move wiped out a previous exemption on the first $6000 of a car's value, instituting new payments for people with older cars, and critics say, overstating the value of cars. Warwick car tax activist Rob Cote says via email he doesn't expect changes when the state Vehicle Value Commission meets Tuesday (2 pm, state administration building, conference room B on the second floor). But Cote is calling for a large turnout in hopes of encouraging changes.

4. My colleague Scott MacKay writes this week about the lessons offered by the 2013 Red Sox .... Yours truly was surprised to find a number of empty quality seats during a September 3 game at Fenway when Jon Lester helped defeat Max Scherzer and the Tigers in an exciting 2-1 victory. Yet the downside of the World Series win is how ticket prices are likely to go up next year at John Updike's lyric little bandbox; nothing succeeds like success .... Despite spotty offense for much of the post-season, the Sox demonstrated the value of grinding at-bats and accepting strikeouts. Not for nothing, but punch-outs are at an all time high in MLB. 

5. AG Kilmartin says he's amazed that cities and towns, and other parts of government in Rhode Island, aren't doing a better job of complying with the state's Access to Public Records Act (APRA) and Open Meetings Act (OMA). "We do the August seminar every year" to inform local and state officials on compliance with the acts, he says on Bonus Q+A. "We have 500, 600, 700 people attending. We put it online for the first time so people can watch it live-stream and can access it, and yet we still have simple violations. I simply don't understand ... how hard is it to say, ok, you have 10 days to respond, governmental agency?" Kilmartin has filed a recent flurry of series of lawsuits related to APRA and OMA violations. Yet he's reluctant to call for stiffer fines since, he says, government agencies use tax dollars to pay their penalties. Kilmartin says the pressure should come from citizens calling on public officials to be more diligent (but how much attention to the public pay to issue of open records?). WPRI-TV investigative reporter Tim White, a board member of the New England First Amendment Coalition, praises Kilmartin for championing the first change to APRA in 14 years. White believes stiffer fines for OMA and APRA violations would send a stronger message. He also counters Kilmartin's argument against stronger sanctions by noting the potentially significant heavy legal costs for repeated APRA violations.

6. The cancelation of New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly's appearance at Brown University this week drew a variety of responses. Some argued that Kelly's support for his department's controversial stop-and-frisk policy made him unworthy. Others were appalled by the shutting down of Kelly's speech by students and other protesters. Regardless, this isn't the first time certain ideas have been unwelcome at Brown (see here and here). To some, there's a double-standard in how the bombastic Christopher Young was arrested a few years ago when he disrupted a talk by Patrick Kennedy, and yet Kelly's disrupters were unsanctioned. Asked about this, Brown spokeswoman Marisa Quinn says the two incidents involved different circumstances. She adds that the Kelly episode may lead to changes aimed at retaining broad access "while ensuring that invited speakers have the opportunity to speak and engage in civil discourse." 

7. The emergence of Clay Pell shows how an apparently settled field of candidates can be subject to unexpected changes. For now, though, state Rep J. Patrick O'Neill's decision to seek re-election, rather than pursuing a ran for lieutenant governor, leaves a Democratic LG field for next year of Secretary of State Ralph Mollis and Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee (who is announcing his run November 13). Don't look for one of Mollis' potential successors, Nellie Gorbea, to shift gears away from a race for SoS that has already seen the departure of Ed Pacheco. Gorbea's team says she's in the fight to stay against Guillaume de Ramel.

8. John Henry cemented his Master of the Universe status this week, what with the Sox winning their third World Series title in under 10 years and his purchase going through of the Boston Globe. Old friend Dan Kennedy has four takeaways on a lengthy message that Henry penned to Globe readers. You should read the whole thing, but Dan's observations include how: 1) Henry will be an activist owner of New England's top daily; and 4) He wants the Globe to act as a guide to the larger conversation.

9. Get ready for debate season. Next Tuesday, at 7 p.m., Rebecca Mears, president of the College Democrats of Rhode Island, and Justin Braga, chairman of the College Republicans Federation of Rhode Island, will take part in an hour-long debate at Brown University's Salomon Center. The moderator will be an obscure local reporter

10. Can cemeteries offer a potential boost in Rhode Island's decades-long struggle with economic relevance? Yes, if the place in question is the North Burial Ground, according to Rhode Island College. RIC says it's pursuing a project with several nonprofits and government agencies "to make the property more of an education and economic asset for the city." In a statement, RIC notes those buried at the North Burial Ground "include Horace Mann, Moses Brown, Annie Smith Peck (a RIC alumna and American mountaineer), and Sarah Helen Whitman (a poet, essayist and romantic interest of Edgar Allen [sic] Poe)."