TGIF: 12 things to know about RI politics + media

Jan 18, 2013

Welcome back to my Friday column. Your thoughts and emails are welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org. Let's get to it.

1.  The way in which public officials focus their attention counts for something. So to cop the title of a new report, let's say the needle is pointing in the right direction for the local intersection of politics and the economy this week: the state Senate is pledging a heightened focus on key factors; Governor Lincoln Chafee delivered the best-received budget of his time as governor; and the House held its own discussion on improving the economy. What's more, even the unemployment rate ticked a bit in the right direction. Yet this is all prelude, and it comes some six years after Rhode Island headed into recession. Better late than never, sure. But after decades of futile efforts to reinvent the state's economy, the onus remains on state leaders, as I wrote in 2008, to show they can be effective.

2. David Cicilline was among the 10 Democrats and Republican congressmen signed up for a January 14 event dubbed "The Meeting to Make America Work." The Wall Street Journal calls the group sponsoring the confab, No Labels, an attempt "to shift the political system’s focus away from partisan identities to 'problem-solving.' " This should have wide public appeal, considering how Americans say they're fed up with hyper-partisanship. Cicilline touts the No Labels' approach as a way for liberals and conservatives to collaborate without being asked to surrender their core beliefs. Yet the outlook for overcoming DC gridlock is uncertain at best. Part of the problem is how senators and reps in safe seats need to cater to their red/blue constituencies back home to win re-election. And as Aaron Blake writes at The Fix, the GOP puts a bigger premium on principle than compromise.

3. While public support for more stringent gun control is up (or maybe not), it's open to question whether much will change. Gun sales, which peaked before the presidential elections in 2009 and 2012, are soaring again. Yet as stalwart a support of the president as Rahm Emanuel this week acknowledged how gun control is a tough vote for many Democrats in Congress. From National Journal: "Guns are often one of the ways that red-state Democrats differentiate themselves from national Democrats," said Andy Sere, a Republican political strategist with experience working on Southern congressional campaigns. "I think that some of these guys are dreading the vote. Some of them are probably looking forward to it as a chance to prove their independence from the national party. The ones who are up in 2014 from red states, they'll pay a price for it."

4. Governor Chafee joined us this week on Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A to talk his budget, same-sex marriage, the economy, and whether his administration has been active enough in lobbying the General Assembly. During Bonus Q+A, the governor denied that George Caruolo's decision to step back from the chairmanship of the combined state Board of Education was related to how Caruolo has been an adviser to both Angel Taveras and himself.

5. While Chafee's proposal to cut the corporate tax from 9 percent to 7 percent over three years has drawn a mostly positive reaction from the business community, Chafee acknowledged that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has tossed a curveball with his own tax initiative. Does Rhode Island need to be bolder to stand out from our more prosperous neighbors? Sure, but part of the problem is how Rhode Island's serial economic struggles (as well as the reliance on the property tax deplored by the governor) give it far less flexibility in making changes than Connecticut or Massachusetts.

6. Devin Driscoll, a PC grad and most recently RI director for President Obama's re-election campaign, is keeping busy these days as the communications director for the new Rhode Islanders United for Marriage coalition.

7. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has cut down to size the vast majority of the $110 million deficit that came as a surprise when he took office in January 2011. Moody's puts the blame for Providence's past operating deficits on cuts in state aid; the bond-rating agency also notes how Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter blocked the city's effort to save almost $12 million by moving retirees past 65 into Medicare.  This except from Moody's analysis helps explain why Taveras has more upside in running for governor in 2014, rather than staying pat: "The city did not borrow for cash flow purposes in fiscal 2012 and does not expect to do so in fiscal 2013. Still, the trend of annual operating deficits have dug an accumulated deficit, leaving it with little room for error in the event of future operating pressures."

8. ProJo deputy editorial page editor Edward Achorn offered a terrific read with his book on Old Hoss Radbourn and 19th Century baseball, so I'm looking forward to reading his latest, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game.

9. Speaking of sports, the Hanson brothers made famous as part of the great 1977 hockey movie Slap Shot are set to visit Rhode Island in a benefit for the Kingston-based World War II Foundation. An event featuring a charity hockey game begins at 1 pm, Saturday, January 19, at the Boss Ice Arena at URI.

10. Forgive us one more baseball note: Sports Illustrated this week excerpted Dan Shaughnessy's forthcoming Terry Francona book. This Tito quote closes out the less-than-flattering portrait of the trio of owners who helped bring two World Series championships to Boston: "It's still more of a toy or a hobby for them. It's not their blood. They're going to come in and out of baseball. It's different for me. Baseball is my life."

11. The City of Providence announced an initiative this week to seed vacant city-owned lots with urban farms, in cooperation with Southside Community Land Trust. On Twitter, the sagacious Jason Becker commented, "Urban farms are sexy and all, but why not reform tax and regulation to make housing cheaper to build and afford and get some infill?" It's a great point, considering how some parts of Providence would benefit from more population-density. And what about the prospect of creative pop-uses (an urban forest?) as short-term holdovers on the presently dormant former I-195 land?

12. On Monday, January 21 (MLK Day), the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence (265 Oxford St., Providence) will host a community roundtable from 1-3 pm on how Rhode Island is faring in reducing violence . . . On a related note, RIPR healthcare reporter Kristin Gourlay offered an eye-opening story this week on how there are no Rhode Island records in a national database for checking gun purchases.