TGIF: 10 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Jul 11, 2014

Welcome back to my weekly column, and thanks for stopping by. Your tips and thoughts are always welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can follow me all week long on the twitters. Here we go.

1. With less than two months until the September 9 primary -- and most Rhode Islanders focused on grilled burgers and the beach -- none of the three major Democratic candidates for governor have used television advertising to go on the attack. Although Clay Pell appears averse to going negative, it's probably just a matter of time until Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo deploy their pre-planned attack ads against one another. For now, though, the candidates feel they have more to gain by steering clear of negativity. A case in point was Rhode Island Public Radio's one-hour Roundtable this past Tuesday, when the trio did a little sniping around the edges, but mostly played nice with one another. In fact, one of the more unconventional moments came when Taveras acknowledged it was a mistake to pursue a mass layoff of city teachers early in his tenure. Raimondo, as usual, was very well prepared, and Pell remained critical of the pension overhaul championed by Raimondo in 2011.

2. The start of a hearing Friday into possible lobbying violations by Michael Corso was a bit reminiscent of the best-defense-is-a-strong-offense strategy used by former Senate president William Irons against the state Ethics Commission. One of Corso's lawyers, Anthony Traini, challenged the validity of the hearing being conducted by the office of Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, criticized how the process was set in motion by media reports, and charged Mollis was pursuing the case against Corso to bolster his own prospects for lieutenant governor. (Mollis has not responded to a request for comment.) Hearing Officer Louis DeSimone, the cousin of House Majority Leader John DeSimone, was unpersuaded by the arguments, at least for now, and continued the case until July 29, to allow Corso's lawyers more time to scrutinize the relevant documents.

3. Add Democratic secretary of state candidate Guillaume de Ramel to the Newport residents who take a skeptical view of the idea of turning Newport Grand into a full-fledged casino. "I am personally not necessarily in interest of it, in supporting of it, right now," de Ramel said during an appearance on this week's RIPR Political Roundtable. "I'm certainly open to hearing the pros and cons on both sides. I'm disheartened by the fact that Rhode Island still relies on casino gambling as the third-highest source of state revenues. There's another example of why we have to diversify our economy."

4. Women hold 26.5 percent of legislative seats in Rhode Island, according to an analysis by The Fix. That's slightly better than Massachusetts (24.5 percent), but a smaller percentage of female lawmakers in Maine (29.6 percent), New Hampshire (32.5 percent) and Vermont (40.6 percent).

5. As we noted last week in #9, former RI congressman Patrick J. Kennedy says he's not compensated for his anti-marijuana advocacy. Yet as Lee Fang recently reported in The Nation, Kennedy spoke last February at an anti-drug meeting sponsored by Purdue Pharma, "the manufacturer of Oxy-Contin, the highly addictive painkiller that nearly ruined Kennedy's congressional career and has been linked to thousands of overdose deaths nationwide." Fang suggests the anti-marijuana focus of Kennedy and his allies is misplaced, considering how more than 16,000 annual deaths are linked to prescription opioids.

6. Speaking of Kennedy, his former chief of staff, Adam Brand, is leaving Capitol Hill to become director of public policy and government affairs for Biogen Idec, Brand worked with Kennedy's mentor, former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, before spending eight years as CoS for Kennedy, and then starting in mid-2010, Representative Linda Sanchez of California. Brand also worked on the Rhode Island Democratic Party's coordinated campaign in 2006, the year when Sheldon Whitehouse ousted a still-popular Lincoln Chafee from the US Senate.

7. Agree with him or not, former Rhode Islander Aaron Renn is well worth reading. Here are a few of the pertinent questions he asks in "A Toolkit for Rhode Island Policy Analysis": What does this proposed policy mean for us, considering our competitive context?; Is Rhode Island continuously improving at a rate faster than its competitors on a long-term, sustainable basis?; Is Rhode Island addressing the areas where it is worst in class, or otherwise particularly disadvantaged?.

8. Tune to RIPR at 7 pm next Tuesday, July 15, for what promises to be a spirited one-hour discussion with Republican gubernatorial candidates Ken Block and Allan Fung.

9. A few campaign finance notes: 1) Republican Dawson Hodgson says he brought in a $16,000 in Q2 -- a modest amount that won't make any easier his challenge to the Democratic incumbent, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin; the Mayday PAC launched by Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig raised $6 million since May 1. That amount will be matched for a total of $12 million in spending in mid-term congressional races. Time will reveal the effort's impact, and whether it can help further the cause of more financial parity in elections' 3) Back on June 17, the Green Party of RI was slated to appear at the state Board of Elections to contest a ruling that it could not accept a $75 contribution from the Green Party of the United States. Local Green activist Greg Gerritt offered this observation: "In an age awash with political money, with Citizens United and related rulings giving more and more groups the opportunity to spend unlimited amounts of money and to hide the donors, How can it be that the Green Party of Rhode Island can not accept money that was donated by Rhode Islanders and is being returned to the Green Party in RI for party building activities? If this rule is not unconstitutional, it at least makes no sense in the current context." 

10. The world premier of Above and Beyond: the Incredible Escape of Jewish-American b-17 Pilot Bruce Sundlun from Nazi-Occupied Europe in World War II is coming to the Providence Performing Arts Center on August 21 (7 pm). Sundlun, of course, went on to become the last elected Democratic governor of Rhode Island, serving from 1991-1995.