TGIF: 12 things to know about RI politics + media

Jan 11, 2013

Time for my my weekly column. Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to share thoughts via email at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org and stay abreast of stuff during the week with my Twitter feed.

1. Should same-sex marriage supporters rethink their opposition to putting an issue they consider a civil right to a statewide vote? Maine voters passed same-sex marriage last year, on a 54 percent-46 percent margin, and public attitudes have been shifting fairly rapidly in support of same-sex marriage. It remains anathema to people who oppose such referendums, but same-sex marriage supporters seem likely to find more victories at the ballot box in the years to come.

2. Moderate Party founder Ken Block may be making the best freelance use of the bully pulpit in recent years with his quest to eliminate the master lever. Block says the lever sows confusion and distorts down-ballot election outcomes. He's lined up some considerable support, but not the two top legislative leaders, so where this is headed remains unclear. Even if the master lever seems a vestige of a bygone era, doing away with it won't single-handedly bring to life a more robust opposition. Yet Block offers an example of how citizens can try to use the glare of public attention as their own lever for improving government.

3. One possible wild card in the legislative fight over same-sex marriage is the level of advocacy by elected officials beyond Governor Lincoln Chafee -- who made it a prominent part of his inaugural address in 2011. Do Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras -- both with a reason to seek favor among liberal voters -- issue a statement here and there or advocate frequently and forcefully on the subject?

4. Speaking of Taveras, House Speaker Gordon Fox this week offered a stock non-answer when asked whether there's any way he wouldn't support a gubernatorial run by his friend and ally in 2014. But Fox burst into laughter after hearing the question -- which probably offers a bit more insight into what he was really thinking.

5. For many  of us future reporters who grew up when Richard Nixon was president, he was Tricky Dick, the guy who set the standard for making the cover-up worse than the crime. To some, Nixon -- who was born 100 years ago on January 9 -- was a crypto-fascist. Yet Nixon also had a progressive side, launching the EPA, OSHA, and practicing a more rational drug policy for part of his tenure. The Atlantic considered his legacy for contemporary Republicans.

6. Proposed legislation: mail ballot for any reason.

7. Who knew? Ambrose Burnside, whose name is associated with sideburns, was also the first president of the National Rifle Association. Yet the NRA of that time was a very different organization from the one that now wields a powerful political operation.

8. Backbenchers is a term for legislators who lack pull with the leadership. So how did Representative Spencer Dickinson, a critic of Speaker Fox, land a front-row seat in the House of Representatives? Seating a thorn close to the rostrum is something of a tradition, since Dickinson's new real estate was formerly occupied by Rene Menard. Meanwhile, the tiny House GOP caucus is also arrayed near the rostrum. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?

9. Friend of the blog Tim White gives mixed grades to Governor Chafee's new transparency initiative. As Tim notes, just the act of placing a higher priority on openness in government is a good thing, and there are other merits. But the content is a bit sparse and the government contracts aren't searchable. "That's frustrating and silly in 2013," says White.

10. Here's a state-by-state ranking we can get behind. The Fix rates Rhode Island as the sixth-most interesting state for politics. But behind New Hampshire -- and South Carolina?

11.  The high-water mark on Dorrance Street from a decades-ago hurricane has fresh relevance given the spike in extreme weather. For a look at how some cities have grappled with persistent flooding, consider this Eric Klinenberg story in the New Yorker. He finds that social connections are as important as physical barriers in protecting people from climate change.

12. Scott Avedisian joined us this week for Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A to talk his political future, the outlook for RI Republicans and other subjects.