TGIF: 11 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Aug 23, 2013

Summer is starting to slip from our grasp, sparking the trail to the hotter political season to come. Thanks for stopping by. As always, feel free to drop me a line at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org and to follow my short missives on Twitter. Let's head in:

1. When Lincoln Chafee squeaked by John Robitaille to win the 2010 gubernatorial election, it seemed clear that Rhode Island's economy would be in somewhat better shape by November 2014. Chafee, not surprisingly, has incorporated a turn-around theme in his messaging over recent months. "When I came into office, the unemployment was at 11.3 percent; we're [now] down below 9," Chafee said this week on RIPR's Political Roundtable. The governor notes positive trends on housing prices and passenger traffic at T.F. Green. Yet he also blames George W. Bush (who left the White House more than four years ago) for sending the US economy into a skid. With economic leadership bound to be a key issue in next year's gubernatorial race, Chafee's steady-at-the-helm self-description will soon face growing challenge. As it stands, Gary Sasse tweeted that new population projections "must create a sense of urgency to take bold steps to confront our econ[nomic] challenges." Meanwhile, Anchor Rising contributor Patrick Laverty says he wonders if Rhode Island has any state-based leadership.

2. The race to succeed Angel Taveras is starting to simmer in Providence. RWU Law professor Jorge Elorza went public with his campaign this week. City Council President Michael Solomon, who is sitting on a war chest of close to $500,000, continues to work energetically to seek support across the East Side-South Side nexus. Brett Smiley has slated his first fundraiser for September 10, at the East Side home of Mark Kaloudis and Rick Champagne (suggested contributions range from $250 to $1000). Republican Daniel Harrop is making his third bid, Victor Capellan is in the hunt, and any number of possible contenders -- including Buddy Cianci -- hover on the sidelines. Watch for Taveras to announce for governor, meanwhile, some time this fall.

3. It's impossible to know how the Ocean State economy might have been different had voters approved the Greenhouse Compact back in 1984, The architect of the plan, Ira Magaziner (the father of possible treasurer candidate Seth Magaziner), wound up working with the Clintons, first in the White House and then for the Clinton Foundation -- which is seen as increasingly important for Hillary Clinton's future. Hillary remains a popular figure in Rhode Island; she smoked the current president in a 2008 primary. Yet there's never a shortage of subplots with the Clintons, as Politico reports this week.

4. Congressman David Cicilline has touted his membership in the No Labels coalition as a way to promote bi-partisanship. Yet some of the reps taking part in the organization have other motivations, according to a BuzzFeed story by Kate Nocera (whose father is Providence native Joe Nocera): "[W]ith record-low approval ratings for Congress and a growing anti-Washington electorate, far right and left members are eagerly lending their names to the No Labels cause and checking the “bipartisan” box on their political resumes."

5. Jack Reed has perhaps the safest seat in the US Senate (not to mention $2.5M in his campaign account). Be that as it may, Ray McKay of the conservative Rhode Island Republican Assembly has been mentioned as a possible GOP opponent for Reed next year. McKay this week told RIPR he's not ready to discuss his plans.

6. Jim Romenesko reports on how a woman invited people to email her to learn about her Greatest Generation father since "he would have rolled in his grave over the exorbitant price of this obituary." Back in Rhode Island, the Providence Journal eliminated "free" obits back in 2004, sparking concerns about newsroom control over editorial content.

7. On a related note, Jack Shafer notes the disinclination of Jeff Bezos' Amazon to public comment -- a matter more freighted with irony since Bezos now owns the Washington Post. Shafer says the "corporate press" has been similarly closemouthed. That's a bit different from my own experience when, for example, editors and execs at the Boston Globe and New York Times commented, even as ProJo managers have traditionally been tightlipped about speaking with reporters over the years.  

8. The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington will be marked this Wednesday. (Listen that morning for an interview by RIPR's Flo Jonic with Cliff Monteiro.) While Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered as the iconic figure from the march, that view came about after MLK's death and the march actually had more radical roots, according to William Jones, a University of Wisconsin professor who has written about the subject.

9. On the climate change front, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse got props this week from former VP Al Gore. Meanwhile, on the extreme weather front, September 21 will mark the 75th anniversary of the famed Hurricane of '38.

10, RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay on URI: "With half the new students from outside our state, URI has the largest percentage of out-of-staters than any New England state university except UVM, which started as a private university and is one of the nation’s oldest colleges. Rhode Island is a tiny state and can’t solve the national student debt crisis. But we could do our economy and younger citizens a lasting favor by investing  more in our state university before it becomes the University in Rhode Island rather than the University of Rhode Island."

11. Longtime RI political communicator Peter Kerwin has a new blog with a great name -- "The Gift of Gab." His first post is about the NCAA, but we suspect the well-spoken Kerwin will delve into politics before long.