TGIF: 13 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Dec 13, 2013

Get ready for the first serious snow of the year, and a storm of a different sorts in Exeter. Welcome back to my weekly column. As always, feel free to drop me a line at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org and to follow me on the twitters. Let's get to it.

1. All eyes will be on Exeter -- on the one-year anniversary of the school shooting that left dead 20 students and six educators  in Newtown, Connecticut -- when voters decide Saturday whether to recall four town councilors. The quartet was targeted after backing an effort to move authority for issuing concealed carry gun permits from the town to the state attorney general's office. As I reported in a feature this week for RIPR, the recall reflects the strong opposition to changing gun laws in Rhode Island. Opponents of the recall, like longtime Exeter resident Frank DiGregorio, say the targeted councilors are getting a bad rap. Recall supporters say the attempt to move permit-issuing authority to the AG's office (a move backed by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association) is an infringement of their rights. During the meeting last March when the four councilors voted on the issue, Martha Stamp of South Kingstown said, “Years ago, in another country they took away the guns and the regular people like you and I didn’t have them, but the elites and the police were the only ones who had guns. Think about it, folks. Our freedoms are going daily." On Friday, recall supporters and opponents made their own separate efforts to get out the vote. The ballots will be cast at three polling places from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; mail-in ballots won't be counted until 5 pm Monday. Meanwhile, the Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense plan to hold an event at different locations across the state Saturday morning to draw attention to the victims of gun violence. For now, gun rights' advocates remain better organized than activists on the other side of the issue, and that helps explain why many states have loosened their gun laws in the year since the Newtown massacre.

2. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts broke gender barriers when they won their respective posts. Yet gubernatorial-candidate-in-waiting Gina Raimondo has made a much more energetic embrace -- publicly at least -- of her role as a gender role model for other girls and women. When Nancy Pelosi earlier this month cited the need for more women in politics Raimondo tweeted the link from Politico, adding, "More women need to run for office. More women need to win ... RETWEET if you agree! #WomenRule" More: Raimondo recently tweeted about how "so many female Democratic elected officials are working hard for working #women;" cheered on a company making engineering toys for girls; tweeted on how her team was going to live-tweet a women #EmpowerRI event Thursday night; and created a video to help raise awareness for the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence. There's certainly merit in being a role model and encouraging more women to get politically active. Yet this is also smart politics for Raimondo since, as WPRI-TV reported last month, fellow Democrat Angel Taveras "has significantly higher job approval than Raimondo among female voters, while she has a slight edge among males."

3. On a related note, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has emerged as another prominent role model for women in politics. Gillibrand took up the issue of sexual assaults in the military after seeing the documentary The Invisible War. The Pentagon in 2012 estimated that cases of sexual assault or wanted sexual contact in the military had increased by more in a year, to 26,000, as the New Yorker's Edward Osnos reports this week in a finely etched profile of Gillibrand. Gillibrand has supported an effort to shift responsibility for prosecuting sexual abuse cases from military commanders to military prosecutors. Opponents of the move, including such veterans as John McCain and Jack Reed, argue that commanders need to retain the responsibility.    

4. A big tout from Curt Schilling notwithstanding, the auction of 38 Studios' leftover intellectual property rights wasn't exactly a barn-burner. Receiver Richard Land, a Providence lawyer, says two lots were sold for a combined $320,000: "a lot consisting of the Rise of Nations and Rise of Legends games and associated intellectual property, a lot consisting of the trademark for Big Huge Games." Land says acceptable offers weren't received for the remaining lots, "including Project Copernicus, 38 Studios' in development Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, and Helios, 38 Studios' integrated social media and gaming platform." Land says he plans to pursue negotiations to sell the remaining assets. Meanwhile, Rhode Island's lawsuit over the failure of 38 Studios is moving ahead, with the deposition of former EDC head Keith Stokes and other former EDC employees.

5. Redistricting in Rhode Island is a bumpy process that invariably sparks gripes about the ruling legislative Democrats exploiting their advantage. So this Daily Show treatment ("American Horrible Story: Gerrymandering") of RI redistricting consultant Kimball Brace is worth a watch

6. Best wishes to Laura Hart, one of the best flacks in state government, who starts a new gig Monday as head of communications and marketing for Rhode Island College.

7. The women's fundraising organization EMILY's List aptly takes its name from how Early Money Is Like Yeast. In that respect, Providence City Council President Michael Solomon, the beneficiary of another packed fundraiser this week at Roger Williams Park Casino, will only add to his early money advantage over fellow candidates in the race for mayor. Still, the effort to succeed Angel Taveras at City Hall is a marathon, not a sprint (even if all of the candidates are steadily dialing for dollars and hustling to close out the year). Brett Smiley, for example, held his own event this week. As a somewhat recent entry to the race, Lorne Adrain is downplaying expectations for his first campaign finance filing. "Modest expectations would be in order," due in part, he says, to a quarter that includes a few major holidays. Jorge Elorza, meanwhile, says he's on track to hit his target and will have more than enough to compete.

8. During her appearance this week on RIPR's Political Roundtable, Democratic Secretary of State candidate Nellie Gobea previewed part of the message she'll use against primary rival Guillaume de Ramel: "I think that when you look at our experience, I come with 20 years-plus of experience of rolling up my sleeves and working with community organizations, government agencies, with just regular folks out in the community on making Rhode Island a better place." Gorbea says she wants to repeal Voter ID, while de Ramel backs a "balanced approach." For more policy positions from Gorbea, including her view on lobbyist disclosure and legislative transparency, listen to our Bonus Q+A with her. De Ramel joins us next week; he picked up an endorsement this week from former state Democratic Party chairman Edwin Pacheco, who cited, in part, their mutual support for allowing teens to pre-register to vote.   

9. With Secretary of State Ralph Mollis pledging to put before voters in 2014 the question of whether to hold a constitutional convention, the idea of staging a convention attracts mixed views. The ACLU of Rhode Island is opposed to a ConCon, says executive director Steve Brown, who calls it "a direct threat to civil rights and civil liberties." Brown points to an anti-abortion proposal during the state's last constitutional convention, in 1986, in describing such forums as a "condensed mini-voter initiative process" that tend to attract hot-button social issues. Brown, who says ConCons are as political as any legislative session, cites how the delegates during the last one included two relatives of then-speaker Matthew Smith and 17 future legislative candidates. "This fantasy of having this wonderful opportunity to decide issues for the people is just that -- a fantasy," says Brown. Common Cause of RI head John Marion offers this reaction: "There is validity to the concern that a simple majority of delegates can put social issues on the ballot, but then again, so can a simple majority of the legislature and we haven't seen that happen.  Same-sex marriage did not end up on the ballot here as some influential lawmakers wanted, but restoring voting rights for felons upon release did in 2006, and it passed." 

10. As predicted last week (in item 6), the backlash against John DePetro continues to gather steam, with the RI Republican Party joining Governor Lincoln Chafee and a host of other elected Democrats in calling for the talk-show host's ouster. In a statement, RI GOP chairman Mark Smiley says, “The RIGOP recognizes that free speech is important for all our citizens however that is not a green light to Cumulus Media Inc under all circumstances.  Although we don’t always agree politically and ideologically with Democrats in Rhode Island we fully agree on this matter. The John DePetro Show is demeaning to women and minorities and this kind of behavior can’t be tolerated." If a labor-backed coalition can help rally such disparate elements as the state GOP and the legislative leadership, the meta-question becomes, what's next for this show of force? 

11. This dispatch from RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay: Ed Fogarty, longtime legal counsel to the state Senate, is retiring December 28, after 27 years at the Statehouse. Fogarty is the brother of former state rep Ray Fogarty and a cousin of former lieutenant governor Charles J. Fogarty, now head of the state Department of Labor and Training. Fogarty will be replaced for the new legislative session by Richard Sahagian, a lawyer with legislative counsel since 1983.

12. Four candidates have filed for the state rep seat vacated by Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, according to the secretary of state's office: Douglas T. Brown, Mark L. Chenot, Stuart Gitlow, and Michael A. Morin. They have until December 24 to obtain the required 50 signatures.

13. Governor Chafee can't be blamed for this: a beer-can "Festivus" pole at the Florida capitol.