TGIF: 12 things to know about RI politics + media

Feb 15, 2013

Welcome back to my Friday column. (Sorry to miss you last week; there was a little snow, as you might have heard.) Your thoughts and email are welcome, as always, at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org.

1. While Rhode Island lawmakers have shown a strong disinclination to change the state's gun laws, the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, has galvanized gun control supporters. So it's telling that a DC-based NRA lobbyist, Darin Goens, has already made repeated trips to Rhode Island in the early weeks of the legislative session. Goens says Rhode Island already has strong enough laws, and that contributions by an NRA PAC (more than $120,000 since 2002) haven't really influenced lawmakers. Yet  if you want to get a sense of how dramatically the NRA's stances have shifted in recent years, listen to this On Point segment on The Power of the NRA in America's Gun Debate.

2. Naturally, due to their leadership posts, Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed are among the largest recipients of contributions from the NRA PAC. Since 2002 (a period that includes the time before they took on their current positions), Fox has received $3700 and Paiva Weed $5275. Fox  says he doubts the influence of the NRA in Rhode Island; he attributes support for guns to a significant cohort of gun rights advocates in the House. Paiva Weed spokesman Greg Pare says she has previously backed a federal assault weapon ban. As a working group that includes the AG's office and State Police develop gun-related recommendations for this session, Paiva Weed "would support" what emerges, Pare said.

3. Speaking of guns, I asked US Attorney Peter Neronha, Rhode Island's top federal prosecutor, for his reaction  to a bipartisan US House proposal this week to make gun trafficking a federal crime. Neronha said it's not appropriate for him to comment on whether the concept deserves support. He adds: "For the most part, we have the tools that we need to get the job done [in prosecuting gun cases]." (For more on the federal approach to reducing gun-related crime in RI, listen to my conversation with Neronha next Tuesday morning on RIPR.)

4. The Providence Journal's superb ongoing series on the 10th anniversary of the Station disaster is a reminder of how the paper can play a powerful role as a community watchdog and source of collective memory. Yet it was striking when a central figure in a storied 1983 episode died last week without so much as a news story in the statewide newspaper. The ProJo got up to speed later on the day when it published a paid obituary, with Mike Stanton tapping his deep well of knowledge on the subject.  Still, holes have been developing in the ProJo's institutional memory for years, leading one observer to aptly call the latest initial oversight "surprising and not surprising."

5. State Representative Joe Shekarchi, who managed Gina Raimondo's 2010 campaign for treasurer, dismisses the possibility that she could run into trouble into trouble among rank-and-file Dems in a 2014 primary. "If she runs in a gubernatorial primary as a Democrat, she'll be formidable," Shekarchi said during this week's RIPR Political Roundtable. "Anybody who underestimates her ability is making a grave mistake. She's very tough," as evidenced by her time playing rugby in college, "and she takes no prisoners."

6. ICYMI: Ian Prior, who managed Brendan Doherty's congressional campaign last year, is taking on the reins as the Northeast press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Initially slated to cover the Western region for the NRCC, Prior is returning to more familiar territory due to a colleague's departure. Watch for his bon mots during congressional races in New Hampshire and Massachusetts in 2014.

7. Guillaume de Ramel has a good partner for debate prep as he ramps up his run for secretary of state in 2014. His wife, Molly, was a top competitor on the debate team at Milton Academy, right behind Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

8. Channeling the ProJo's excellent Bill Reynolds: If you want to get mega-attention in the Twitter age , build a snow phallus in your yard, or lunge -- a la Marco Rubio -- for a water bottle on national TV. Is that about it?

9. With Obama using his latest State of the Union address to talk up plans for bringing troops home from Afghanistan, it's easy to forget just how long America has been at war. The distance of most Americans from the military makes this forgetting all the easier. So is an-all volunteer military good for the country? As Jon Meacham wrote last March, "It is difficult to imagine that the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq would have been conducted in the ways they were (and still are) if a large-scale draft had been in effect in America since 2001."

10. Even with the intractability of gridlock in Congress, DC wise man Charlie Cook counts himself optimistic about America's future. Excerpt: "Most Americans would be astonished to learn that North America could be energy independent by 2020, thanks to the technological advances in the exploration and production of natural gas and oil, along with progress in energy efficiency. Because of these advances, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), we are quietly witnessing one of the most important transformational changes in our country’s history. The implications are significant for our national security, our balance of trade, the restoration of our economy, and the creation of jobs, in what is now being called the coming manufacturing renaissance."

11. Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader for highlighting this bit in the New York Times obit of Ronald Dworkin, a Providence native and leading legal scholar, who died this week at age 81:  "He went to Harvard on a scholarship reserved for graduates of Providence’s public schools. 'There were rarely any takers,' Professor Dworkin recalled." 

12. First, Dogfish Head pulled its beer out of Rhode Island due to rising demand (?). Now, Maker's Mark is adding water to its bourbon for the same ostensible reason. Is nothing sacred?