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

Aug 8, 2014

Thanks for stopping by to welcome TGIF back from its summer vacation. Not much happened while we were gone, other than the sale of the ProJo, David Caprio's resignation as Democratic Party chairman, and the remaking of the Red Sox, among other things. Yet the beat goes on, so feel free to share your tips and thoughts via idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org and to follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Proof positive of a different dynamic in the Democratic gubernatorial primary emerged this week when Angel Taveras went on the attack against Clay Pell. The big question now is the fallout: does Taveras' criticism reverse gains by Pell, or does it detract from the standing of a guy who has mostly polled, for a few years, as the best-approved politician in Rhode Island? Pell has responded (in part with a new ad that makes its point without mentioning Taveras) by dismissing the politics of attack and vowing to remain positive and policy-focused. Not surprisingly, Gina Raimondo's campaign was publicly mute on the back and forth between Taveras and Pell. Instead, her team rolled out another professionally produced message, this one about jobs and the economy. Meanwhile, in a sign of the subtle math that comes with competing in a field with de facto main candidates, it's worth remembering how Raimondo's attacks ads have called Taveras "not a bad guy" (albeit someone who shouldn't be your next governor). Slightly more than four weeks remain until the September 9 primary -- too much time to rule out the possibility of further twists in the Democratic race.

2. The aforementioned political ads in item 1, along with this from Allan Fung, various spots by Ken Block, and various entries in down-ballot races make this a great time to own a television station. (As it happens, both LIN Media, the owner of Channel 12, and Media General, the owner of Channel 10, saw double-digit revenue increases in the last quarter. The amount spent on ads just for congressional races across the US this year is expected to top $2 billion (twice the amount spent on all campaign ads in 2002),  a development greatly aided by the Supreme Court's Citizens United case. So much for the idea put forward by some advocates a dozen years ago, to mandate free air time for candidates, as a way to have a more level playing field.

3. Former GOP governor Don Carcieri, an ardent supporter of the state's ill-fated deal with 38 Studios, has taken a public vow of silence in regard to discussing the imbroglio. (The sole exception was an interview Carcieri recorded with WPRI-TV's Tim White). So it was more than a bit striking to see Carcieri come out with both guns blazing regarding the ProJo's coverage of his deposition in the state's 38 Studios lawsuit. "How much worse does The Journal’s reporting have to become before no one buys the paper?" asked the former two-term governor, in a letter to the editor. Carcieri closed by noting, "The public has a right to expect accurate reporting from the Journal." Some might detect more than a wisp of irony here, given Carcieri's almost total unwillingness to openly discuss a major issue of public interest.

4. Speaking of local TV: A sale or swap to facilitate Virginia-based Media General's $1.6 billion acquisition of Texas-based LIN Media is on the horizon. A trade publication quotes Media General president-CEO George Mahoney in saying, "This will be a third-quarter kind of event for us." 

5. As he heads into the home stretch of his primary battle with Nellie Gorbea, Democratic Secretary of State candidate Guillaume de Ramel is rolling out a new policy initiative meant to improve elections, campaigns and voting. On the voting front, De Ramel's plan includes calling for in-person early voting, same-day voter registration, and online voter registration. He also wants to make the state Board of Elections subject to the administrative procedures act, and -- most notably -- to ban fundraising during the legislative session. Lawmakers seem unlikely to support the latter idea, considering the frequency with which fundraisers are held during the General Assembly session. Asked how he will convince legislators to support the move, de Ramel (who was endorsed by the state Democratic Party), says, "A lot of this stuff, certainly, is going to be challenging, but I know that nobody, nobody likes fundraising, myself included. But at the end of the day, they also realize good government has to take precedence here. So I'm sure at the right time the General Assembly will approve this and look at the merits."

6. Who gives the most to national political campaigns? The Center for Responsive Politics has a list. Koch Industries ranks 36th -- way behind a bunch of unions and Democratic interest groups.

7. Senator Jack Reed this week praised the decision by Walgreens not to move its headquarters off-shore in a move to avoid US corporate taxes. "The average American is right to be deeply upset when U.S. businesses go shopping for new citizenship at tax season," Reed said in a statement. "As we work to close loopholes and restore fairness in the tax code, I hope other American companies take notice of this example and take similar proactive steps to do right by their customers, their employees, and their country just like everyone else should.” Meanwhile, Woonsocket-based CVS has yet to rule out such a move, although it's also downplaying the likelihood of a move.

8. Opponents of convening a constitutional convention, including the RI chapter of the ACLU, call it a heavily politicized process -- the General Assembly on steroids -- with a tendency to take up reactionary ideas. Others hold out hope that a ConCon could be a way to pass reforms, like a line-item veto for the governor, in which the General Assembly has no interest. The conservative-leaning Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, which sides with the latter camp, is out with a series of recommendations for avoiding "insider politics as usual" at a ConCon. The short version includes electing delegates through non-partisan elections; bar elected officials and candidates from becoming delegates; and holding all committee and leadership meetings in public.

9. First Congressional District candidate Stan Tran is running as a Republican, but he seems to have more in common with the David Segal wing of the Democratic Party. Here's one example from the 26-year-old California native's appearances this week on RIPR's Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A. Tran calls American drug policy "the root cause" of the influx of children from Central and South America, and he says legalizing marijuana in the US would improve the situation. "We're underwriting the violence, because the gangs are fighting over turf in Central America, because that's where the cocaine is traveling through," says Tran. The candidate faces a challenge in defeating rival Republican Cormick Lynch, who more closely represents the generally conservative ethos of the RI GOP. Yet Tran, who recently spent $2,000 on a used Toyota Corolla to spread his campaign throughout the First District, says he plans to establish a medical practice in RI if he doesn't win his race.

10. Thanks to Ted Nesi, guest-hosting on WPRI-TV's Newsmakers, who asked me to join him for separate conversations this week with GOP lieutenant governor candidate Catherine Taylor and GOP secretary of state hopeful John Carlevale.

11. Once in a rare while, I come across a Rhode Island politico who has an AOL email address. AOL, it turns out, still has more than 2 million dial-up customers, Quartz reports, "and they're very profitable."