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

Jun 6, 2014

Welcome back to my Friday column. You know summer isn't far behind when a budget emerges in the General Assembly and gubernatorial candidates increasingly take to the airwaves. Your tips and thoughts are always welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Let's get to it.

1. The latest WPRI/Providence Journal poll had good news for both Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo as we move closer to the September 9 primary. Taveras has the better favorability rating, while Raimondo's support is a bit more firm, even as the two front runners remain in a statistical dead heat. The main takeaway is the same as from the past iterations of this poll: the Democratic side of the race for governor remains very much up for grabs. Clay Pell's support slipped slightly since the last WPRI/ProJo; You have to wonder how Pell's standing might be different had he tapped his campaign account to launch television advertising earlier in the campaign. (Be that as it may, Pell's campaign manager, Devin Driscoll, pledges a robust effort going forward.) Back to the front runners: Taveras and Raimondo have been taking little digs at one another for a while now. So when do they put their attacks before a far wider audience on television, and how they do play? Will Raimondo be able to significantly inflate the turnout among independent voters, and/or will Taveras be able to decisively increase his advantage among Democrats?

2. Halifax Media Group, which this week cut 25 percent of the reporting jobs after buying the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, is mostly owned by Arkansas-based Stephens Capital Partners. If that latter name is familiar, it's because Stephens is handling A.H. Belo's sale of the Providence Journal. Back in 2012, Halifax's use of a non-compete contract for workers at regional newspapers formerly owned by the New York Times led the American Journalism Review to assert: "Halifax's approach makes Bain Capital seem like a socialist collective."

3. Only in Rhode Island: the first campaign commercials by Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras each include a glimpse of the former Bulova factory in Providence. Following up with her bike tour spot, Raimondo goes all in on emphasizing family (with daughter Ceci showing strong on-camera skills), seemingly an effort to project an image of her as an everyday Rhode Islander. Taveras, as we know, has fewer dollars to stretch his ad buy, but his first spot makes a good impression.

4. After less than three months in his powerful post, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has already led a vote to repeal the master lever, and played a considerable role in moves to cut the corporate tax, increase the estate tax exemption, and eliminate Sakonnet River Bridge tolls. This is all good grist for reps on the campaign trail, even if penny-per-gallon increase in the gas tax (which could rise or fall with inflation after its planned inception in 2015) could take a bigger bite without additional legislative votes. Mattiello's speedy start notwithstanding, lawmakers repeatedly touted the Sakonnet toll phaseout as "a bipartisan, bicameral" accomplishment, with Rep Jay Edwards (D-Tiverton), Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, and Senators Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown) and Christopher Ottiano (R-Portsmouth) sharing in the credit.

5. Meanwhile, the legislative move to strengthen the state Ethics Commission, after years of inaction, is getting poor reviews from good government groups and H. Philip West Jr., formerly the longtime director of Common Cause of Rhode Island. In a statement, Common Cause, RI Taxpayers, and the League of Women Voters asked the state Senate to withdraw its ethics bill, calling it "hopelessly compromised." Here's what Common Cause executive director John Marion said in a statement: "The changes made to this important constitutional amendment last week do not serve the interest of the public. It is too late in the legislative session to attempt a hasty fix for such an important issue." Marion says rather than fixing the loophole that allowed legislators to be immune from most of the Code of Ethics, Senate Judiciary made "among other changes, a whole new appeal process that applies to everyone covered by the Code of Ethics, and not just lawmakers. That appeal process would mean anyone found in violation of an ethics violation could wipe the slate clean with a de novo trial; allowing for another bite at the apple."

6. Appearing this week on RIPR's Bonus Q+A, lieutenant governor candidate Frank Ferri said he supports the proposed $15 hourly minimum wage sought by hotel workers in Providence. Ferri, was elusive, though, when asked during RIPR's Political Roundtable, how he would pay to sustain HealthSourceRI. "In our whole healthcare world in Rhode Island, there's $9 billion ...." Ferri said. "The money is there. It's a small investment for a very large return."

7. With the legislative year ticking down, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield) remains a rare exemplar among 113 RI lawmakers in how to use Twitter. He gets his points out there, flashes a sense of humor, and mixes it up with others in the land of 140 characters.

8. The anti-human trafficking Polaris Project, mentioned in part of ProJo scribe Amanda Milkovits' excellent reportage on the underground sex trade in Providence, was co-founded by Brown University alum Derek Ellerman. Back in the day, Ellerman was among those pushing for a more responsive Providence Police Department.

9. While a broader decriminalization of marijuana doesn't seem likely in this election year, finds legal pot hasn't turned Colorado into a criminal wasteland.

10. PR man David Preston touts how interns Amy Belhumeur and Rachael Yeardon completed two noteworthy reports: a breakdown of spending by legislative candidates in 2012 and a look at the effectiveness of the business community in that election cycle.

11. One to watch: Sandra Cano, whose campaign announcement for Pawtucket City Council attracted more than 200 people this week.

12. Thanks to WPRI-TV's Tim White for inviting me to join him and Ted Nesi, along with ProJo political columnist Ed Fitzpatrick and ace pollster Joe Fleming, on Newsmakers this week to talk politics and the state of the race for governor. Tune in this weekend.