TGIF: 10 Things to Know About RI Politics + Media
Welcome back to my weekly column, and a happy St. Patrick's Day weekend to all. Stay safe out there and don't let the green beer get you. As always, your thoughts and tips are welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org. Let's get to it.
1. Most General Assembly votes unfold with all the spontaneity of a Moscow show trial. So it was highly unusual when state Representative J. Patrick O'Neill, who last year left Speaker Gordon Fox's leadership team, was able to lead a House Judiciary Committee vote Tuesday to restore state Ethics Commission oversight of the legislature. With 24 hours, Fox's committee allies nullified the vote, and good government advocates were outraged. “We care about this ethics issue," says Common Cause executive director John Marion, "but if you care about any other issue, you should be concerned that votes can be unilaterally erased this way.” O'Neill says the dispute shows "that any message that this leadership says about being open and transparent is not true. We set ourselves back as a body about 50 years by them doing what they did." House spokesman Larry Berman says the issue is a matter of "upholding the integrity of House rules." He says good government advocates should be concerned about a committee passing a bill held for study earlier in a meeting after some committee members and witnesses had left. "There would be chaos in the committees if bills that were held for further study were continually subject to calls for reconsideration," Berman says.
2. Discussion question: Do the optics of the ethics legislation flap lend a boost to Ken Block's effort to abolish the master lever?
3. Speaking of Block, he was arguably the big winner of the week in Rhode Island news, even if Bob Plain thinks the Moderate Party founder is the P.T. Barnum of local politics. Considering that split, it's worth considering how a Providence convenience store owner got probation (and was ordered to pay hefty restitution) after pleading guilty last year to committing about $650,000 in food stamp fraud; some might argue that such sanctions don't do enough to discourage fraudsters from taking benefits from worthy recipients.
4. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a 1992 graduate of Brown, remains part of the early conversation of GOP candidates in the 2016 presidential race. Based on some edgy humor (for a pol) during a recent turn at Washington's Gridiron Club, Jindal might be comfortable with the Providence Newspaper Guild Follies. Referencing former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who had to quit due to his Argentine mistress, and is now pursuing a congressional seat, Jindal said Sanford was "so comitted to outsourcing, he even shifted his wife's job overseas."
5. Named for a mythical bird, the Boston Phoenix represented a place of journalistic rebirth for more than a few of the talented people who filled its pages over the years. Dan Kennedy says the alt-weekly was the place where he re-invented his career after coming from the Pilot. Charlie Pierce landed at the Phoenix after being fired from Worcester Magazine. As it happens, the (Providence) Phoenix was also a place of resurrection for me, after I spent too many years working at an incurious Massachusetts daily. During our first meeting, Boston Phoenix editor Peter Kadzis and his cramped office -- overtaken by impossibly vertical freestanding stacks of books -- signified a probing interest in subjects far and wide. That's the kind of journalism the Boston Phoenix has offered for almost a half-century. R.I.P., Boston Phoenix.
6. Along with the initiatives being funded by the Rhode Island Foundation to give the economy a jolt, how about an RFP or competition for the best ways to keep more college graduates in Rhode Island while making them economically viable?
7. Speaking of the young, Rhode Island has a large and growing percentage of elderly residents. That raises big policy issues for the state, and that's why RIPR created a series of stories on the subject, The Silver Boom. The individual stories cover everything from remembering Gorham Silver and substance abuse to aging prisoners to the outlook for sustaining Medicare and Social Security. You can hear the whole package here, and don't miss 91-year-old dance instructor Theresa Landry.
8. Congrats to Warwick native Andrea Marcoccio, a 28-year-old alum of Bill Fischer's PR shop, who recently got the nod as the first female executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.
9. Open records play a vital role in the public's right to know. To learn more about that, and how Rhode Island's updated Access to Public Records Act is working out, stop by Rhode Island College next Tuesday, March 19, from 6-8 pm. I'll be moderating a New England First Amendment Coalition panel discussion on the subject with Tim White from WPRI 12; Katherine Gregg and Amanda Milkovits from the ProJo; and Scott Pickering from East Bay Newspapers.