TGIF: 12 Things to Know About RI Politics + Media

May 17, 2013

Welcome back to my Friday column. Your thoughts and tips are always welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (org), and don't forget to follow me on Twitter. Here we go:

1. Brendan Doherty's decision not to run for governor next year is completely unsurprising. Doherty has some obvious attributes and he's well-respected from his lengthy tenure with the state police. Yet predicting the winner of next year's race for governor is a fool's gambit, and Doherty -- during a recent stop on Buddy Cianci's ABC6 Sunday show -- showed few signs of getting into campaign form. The former colonel's decision only solidifies close observers' earlier expectation that Cranston Mayor Allan Fung will carry the GOP banner next year.

2. Fung tells me Friday afternoon he still has no timetable for deciding on a run: "All I can tell you that [governor is]  the only office that I'm taking a look at .... We're doing all the right things right now" to prepare should he decide to move forward.

3. Are old habits hard to shake at the Statehouse? Sure. But the General Assembly continues to offer some useful innovations, joining two dozen other states in offering bill-tracking through email notification.

4. House Speaker Gordon Fox says he's taking a wait-and-see approach on attempts to reduce the interest charged by payday lenders. That's different from the message he offered during a January interview when he called payday loans "a valid tool" for people with nowhere else to go. Asked if he still views it that way prior to Wednesday's House Finance Committee hearing on the subject, Fox said, "I'm not prepared to say I'd look at it as a valid tool or not .... I've not made my mind up. I've not heard from enough people ...."

5. Pointing to state revenues coming in $50 million below estimates, Fox poured cold water this week on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity's bold proposal to eliminate the state sales tax. The center responded by calling it "extremely disappointing that no political leader or major business group or chamber had the courage to stand with us .... The silence is deafening." Regardless of whether you support or oppose the "zero zero" concept, the center's outrage about Rhode Island's decades-long economic struggle is worthy of note: "As a tax-exempt organization, we are not allowed to 'lobby' in any large way. We have tried to educate dozens of statewide leaders and business organizations on this topic, yet none had the fortitude to show up at the hearing to support this major tax relief package. Where are the leaders or warriors who have the fortitude to fight a major battle like this?"

6. The attorney general office's in Rhode Island has a well-deserved reputation as a political land mine, because of the controversial issues that invariably wash up on the AG's desk. Patrick Lynch presided during the Station fire disaster, and Sheldon Whitehouse faced backlash over the deaths of Cornel Young Jr. and Jennifer Rivera. Yet Peter Kilmartin's tenure has been marked by the absence of a high-profile controversy. Asked during a taping Friday of WPRI/WNAC-TV's Newsmakers (airing May 26) about his greatest challenge in office, Kilmartin pointed to the more typical stuff of heavy caseloads and grisly criminal prosecutions.

7. Kilmartin has an important regulatory role in Rhode Island's shifting healthcare landscape. Asked about the status of Prime Healthcare Service's application to buy Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, Kilmartin told me after the show his office is "still awaiting more information so we can either deem the application complete or incomplete. It will happen as quickly as they provide us the information."

8. Rhode Island didn't even merit a mention in New York Times' columnist Gail Collins' recent inquiry into whether New York's legislature is the most corrupt in the nation. Yet her prescription for better government will resonate with local political observers: "What does make a difference? I think it’s just that some states have a good political culture. Generally, the good ones are places where the lawmakers have serious work to do beyond passing thick mystery bills that come thonking down from the governor’s office minutes before the voting begins. States with two real, functioning political parties that feel at least a modest obligation to work together."

9. The Times, btw, had a fine story last week on how the death of Carl Yastrzemski's son has brought the Red Sox legend closer with his grandson, Mike, now a baseball prospect at Vanderbilt.

10. Long before revelations about the US Justice Department's snooping on The Associated Press, President Obama's administration was making surprisingly unprecedented use of the Espionage Act to target reporters and whistle blowers.

11. Congrats to my former colleague David Bernstein, ex of the Boston Phoenix, who has landed as a contributing editor at Boston Magazine. He's super-smart and an excellent source for political news from the Bay State.

12. If you missed this week's RIPR Political Roundtable, give it a listen. We talk the race for treasurer (prior to the news about Seth Magaziner); the good and bad of judicial appointments in RI; shrinking state revenues; and Obama's woes.