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

Aug 30, 2013

Welcome back to my weekly column. The news doldrums of summer are getting left behind (see item 1), So hang on to your hat, it's going to be quite a ride, Rhode Island. Your tips and thoughts are always welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can follow me throughout the week on Twitter. Let's head in.

1. Stuff is getting real, as the kids say. The online attack piece by Kate Coyne-McCoy's pro-Gina Raimondo super PAC seems mostly to be about trying to raise the negatives of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras (who has edged or tied Raimondo in a string of Brown polls). No matter that the piece initially misspelled the governor's name, used the wrong year for a Lincoln Chafee tax proposal, or anointed Taveras (who grew up poor on Providence's South Side and has been unable to match Raimondo's far-flung fundraising network) as part of "the good old-boy network." Coyne-McCoy says there's no contradiction in her creation of a super PAC (because, she says, the contributors will be disclosed) even though Coyne-McCoy campaigned in the past against a runaway campaign finance system -- of which super PACs are part and parcel. Mark your calendars. The Democratic battle for 2014 is on. A lot more stuff will be thrown before it's over, because, to cite another time-honored observation, "Politics ain't beanbag."

2. Word is that Congressman David Cicilline has repeatedly sat down to chat with Raimondo on the East Side, outside of work hours and official functions. Cicilline denies repeat meetings have taken place at his for-sale home on Elmgrove Avenue. Rather, he offers boilerplate about how Raimondo, Chafee, and Taveras are "all, I think, very qualified and we're going to be in a position to have some very good choices in the Democratic primary, and I look forward to enthusiastically supporting the Democratic nominee." Taveras, who inherited what he called a Category 5 financial hurricane upon taking office in January 2011, has steered clear of public criticizing his predecessor at City Hall. Yet Cicilline, who stuck with Hillary Clinton after being told to stay away from one of her RI campaign events in 2008, is reportedly piqued that Taveras hasn't been more of a supporter.

3. Ray Sullivan isn't the only part of the successful campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island who has moved on to a new gig. Many of his former Rhode Islanders United for Marriage colleagues are continuing to fight elsewhere on the same issue: Devin "Short Pants" Driscoll, who left RI to head the Northeast office of Obama for America, has taken on responsibility for OFA's LGBT organizing efforts; Amy Mello, field director for RI United, is now consulting with Freedom to Marry and Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a bipartisan effort to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate; RI United's deputy field director, Molly Gifford, has become field director for New Jersey United for Marriage; Kyle Megrath, who worked on the same-sex marriage issue with state Senator Lou Raptakis, is now field director at Freedom Indiana, a coalition seeking to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment; Amelia Nugent, faith organizer for RI United, is reprising that role for NJ United, joined by Vashti Selix, who was campus organizer for RI United; and Ryan Brown, canvas director for RI United, now lead petition efforts for Oregon United for Marriage, which is trying to overturn that state's constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage. (Apologies if I've missed other RI United alums; let me know what you're up to.)

4. The US war in Iraq that began in 2003 hasn't just made British lawmakers skittish about military action against Syria. According to US Senator Jack Reed, the conflict ushered in a volatile era in the Middle East that he expects to last for a long time: "I think we're in for a period of great instability and I think the real factor was the initial invasion in Iraq, which destroyed a fairly stable arrangement between Sunnis and Shias in the region," Reed said in an interview to be broadcast Tuesday morning on RIPR. Sectarian violence is now a daily occurrence in Iraq, the senator notes, adding, "Syria is a sectarian battleground; it;'s Shia, Sunnis and Kurd. You're seeing these ramifications across the region and it flows, quite directly, from our operations to open up and eliminate Saddam." 

5. Listen during Morning Edition next week for a series of RIPR Q+A with RI's congressional delegation, covering issues from the Ocean State economy and Wall Street reform to Syria and NSA surveillance. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is up first, on Monday. Jack Reed is on Tuesday, followed by David Cicilline on Wednesday, and Congressman Jim Langevin on Thursday.

6. With scrap metal remaining one of Rhode Island's top exports, the General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year meant to reduce metal thefts. For evidence that this isn't just small potatoes, consider how Sims Metal Management, which also does business in RI, recently agreed to pay $4.1 million in penalties to settle a case in California.

7. East Side psychiatrist Daniel Harrop says he's waging his fight to win election as a Republican mayor in Providence to add a GOP voice to politics in the capital city. Good luck with that; the last elected GOP official in Providence was Malcolm Farmer III, whose City Council tenure ended in 1991. Here's Harrop -- who guested this week on RIPR Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A -- on why it's such a slog for Republicans in Providence: "It has to do with the national Republican Party and being far more conservative west of the Connecticut River than east of the Connecticut River. It has to do with the state Rhode Island GOP following the national trend which I think is a problem; I think we are different and should be on different." (UPDATE: Providence GOP activist Dave Talan wrote in to note that the last elected Republican in Providence was actually state Rep, Mary Ross, who represented the West End, Reservoir Triangle and south Elmwood from 1993-1995.)

8. The Saylesville Massacre in Central Falls of 1934 will be remembered on Labor Day.

9. No official confirmation, but we're hearing that Cranston Mayor Allan Fung's announcement for governor is likely for October.

10. The new thing for former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown? #BlockedbyScotto

11.  Did you know that the fifth-ranking office of the Rhode Island Republican Party is a URI student from Tennessee? Sarah De La Cerda won an uncontested election in May to become secretary of the RIGOP. De La Cerda is also the campaign manager for Dan Harrop's Providence mayoral run, showing how the party's perennial struggles also offer an opportunity to gain experience and move up quickly.