TGIF: 12 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Oct 25, 2013

Here we go: after months (years?) of salivating by local political junkies, Rhode Island's 2014 race for governor is about to get real. Sure, most voters won't tune in until some time next year, but an announcement on Monday will mark a new phase in the contest. So thanks for stopping by, and as always, feel free to drop me a line at idonnis (at) dot (org) or to follow me on the twitters. Let's head in.

1. Angel Taveras' call this week for Gina Raimondo to spurn third-party spending by signing a so-called "People's Pledge" got mixed reviews from local political observers. Some consider it a good way to draw a distinction and focus attention on the unfettered spending made possible by the US Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision. Others say voters mostly don't care about how about how candidates get their money and consider the issue a non-starter. (Read the latest response from Raimondo's camp.) John Marion, executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, wrote a grad school paper about the "People's Pledge" used in the 1996 Massachusetts Senate race between William Weld and John F. Kerry. Marion says the pledge between Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Scott Brown last year "really worked. Even though there was a huge loophole, allowing direct mail, the pledge resulted in far less outside, undisclosed spending. The reason that is important is that third-party spending is overwhelmingly negative, can come from donations that are not limited in size (drowning out small donors), and may not be subject to disclosure." Marion points to two reports to bolster his view. He also notes some of the biggest outside spending in the Warren-Brown race was by labor unions and progressive donors -- groups (my observation) that mostly favor Taveras -- and that Brown was the one who raised the subject of a "People's Pledge." Ultimately, Marion says, "All candidates should come to the table and work out an agreement that includes the types of spending they would like to see restricted. The people of Rhode Island would be served best if the candidates can agree to limit the negativity and prevent dark money from taking over our election."

2. Back in 2005, Marion's esteemed predecessor at Common Cause, H. Philip West Jr., helped spearhead an effort to create a financially level playing field among Rhode Island candidates. "It’s a good thing you’re freshman," he told Brown University students assisting in an early phase of the effort, "because we might not get this done in a year." Eight years later, not much has changed. Why? Because money is the mother's milk of politics, and the status quo works best for those already in power.

3. The remaking of the media landscape keeps taking a painful toll at the Providence Journal, even as new approaches sprout elsewhere. In one of the latest, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar -- after skipping a chance to buy the Washington Post -- is reportedly going to sink $250 million into a news startup (featuring Glenn Greenwald of NSA fame).  

4. Treasurer candidate Seth Magaziner outlined his qualifications, along with a few differences from the state's current treasurer, Gina Raimondo, during his appearance this week on RIPR's Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A. When it comes to investments by the state pension fund, Magaziner says "We have to be transparent. This is the people's money. They have a right right to know where it is. So as treasurer I will not go into any contracts that have an unacceptable level of secrecy." That sounds like a rebuke of what critics call a lack of disclosure about the state's current hedge fund investments.

5. NH native Matt Burgess, who worked on Matt Brown's ill-fated Senate campaign in 2006, is running comedian-turned-US Senator Al Franken's re-election campaign.

6. How significant for Angel Taveras is the issue of the closed pool at the Davey Lopes recreation center on Providence's South Side? RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay offered a view this week (at 8:39) on our weekly Political Roundtable: "I've never seen this much sturm und drang over a pool. However, another way to handle this would be to go along with the neighborhood, take the black contractors up on their plan [to restore the pool] and invite Davey Lopes himself, who is now a coach for the Dodgers, in Los Angeles, invite himself back to his home city and have him reopen the pool."

7. Republican Providence mayoral candidate in Providence Daniel Harrop lost a squeaker of an election earlier this year to be state GOP chairman. He could barely contain his glee on Twitter when a Republican gun raffle sparked a wave of negative press for the winner of that election, Mark Smiley. And through the Roosevelt Society, Harrop seems to be promlugating a kind of GOP faction in exile (not that a split in the RI GOP is anything new). The Roosevelt Society's latest focus seems like a smart move: a November 2 event to foster more support from the state's growing Latino community

8. The White House has suffered a self-inflicted wound with the problem plagued rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The ultimate success of the effort may turn on the willingness of healthy young adults -- the so-called Young Invincibles -- to sign up for Obamacare. As it happens, Brown alum Ari Matusiak was a co-founder of the YI group to get that effort going. 

9. Think RI's involvement in a broader effort to put emission-free cars on the road is just for enviros? Then consider how some of the largest pension funds around the US want a study on climate change, due to concerns about how fossil fuel companies could face shrinking profitability

10. Three notes on the move by the State Investment Commission to divest the state pension fund from a stake in a gun distributor: 1) The commission's unanimous vote was in striking contrast to the reluctance of the General Assembly to support more stringent gun measures, perhaps because the latter is a lot more subject to lobbying; 2) Does the legislature's stance change at all with the dissolution of the NRA's RI PAC?; 3) Treasurer Gina Raimondo, chair of the Investment Commission, called the gun divestment a step to fight gun violence. Others, including state GOP chairman Mark Smiley and Moderate Party founder Ken Block detected a whiff of politics to the move. Others might wonder about the end game; I mean, it's not like some part of state government is going to frown on Textron, even though it makes weapons of war

11. Two upcoming appearances of note, both on Tuesday: John L. Allen Jr., senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and a highly respected Vatican expert, talks at 7 p.m., at Salve Regina University on "Behind the Headlines: Pope Francis and His New Vision for the Catholic Church" .... NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who has presided over low crime rates as well as a controversial stop-and-frisk policy, talks at Brown at 4 p.m.

12. Thanks to all who have expressed sympathy on the passing of my mom, Florence Eisman, who died at her New Jersey home last Friday at age 83. Mom was a remarkable woman and sterling role model; she loved to laugh, exemplified a devotion to life-long learning, and found the great love of her life when she was almost 70. She remained physically and professionally active until shortly before her passing, swimming, walking, and serving as the managing editor of a nonprofit literary press. Mom had a huge influence on me, fostering a love of words and writing, and her inspiration will always remain close.