A New Year, a new General Assembly session, and the formal/informal start of the 2014 campaign season are upon us. Welcome to another edition of my Friday column. Thanks for reading, and feel free to send me your tips or thoughts at idonnis (at) ripr (org). Here's the rundown:
1. An abiding sense of institutional chumminess and congratulatory festivity are staples of opening day at the General Assembly. Struggling Rhode Islanders might find this odd, given the state's persistently high unemployment rate and the perennial struggle for economic development. Perhaps that's why House Speaker Gordon Fox nodded to the state's woes in his opening day speech, making a few oblique references to 38 Studios and launching some sharp rhetoric at the state Economic Development Corporation. (The latter was all the more striking since Governor Lincoln Chafee, who has embraced a status quo approach at the EDC, was sitting to the side of the rostrum.) Chafee went on to cite "many reasons to be optimistic," including what he called a positive direction on unemployment. While acknowledging challenges, Chafee said, "Our state government and this House have been effective in demonstrating fiscal responsibility, as the speaker said, and discipline to create a business climate of predictability, stability, and certainty." Yes, the state has had some improvements amid its struggles. But what of what many outsiders might consider a surplus of happy talk on Smith Hill? It has to do with the inside game -- how the most typical audience for lawmakers is their own legislative peers; sour notes about the General Assembly would win few friends.
2. Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare points to New York City as an example of how tougher penalties for illegal gun possession can significantly reduce violent crime. In the aftermath of Newtown, Pare says he's more hopeful the General Assembly will take up more stringent legislation. Pare also discusses this and related issues during WPRI/WNAC-TV's Newsmakers this week.
3. Brett Broesder, part of the team that ran Peter Kilmartin's winning campaign for attorney general in 2010, has a new gig: communications director for the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN). It's not that much of a leap since Broesder managed ed reformer Maryellen Butke's losing state Senate campaign for Rhoda Perry's old seat. The job in New Haven positions Broesder not far from Rhode Island and his squeeze in NYC, not to mention where former Kilmartin staffer Chris Farrell hangs his hat these days.
4. As part of an ongoing series of interviews with state leaders, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo recently sat down with me to talk about the pension case, her priorities for 2013 (including a higher focus on payday lending), her timetable for revealing future political plans, and much more.
5. By recently marrying girlfriend Farah Escamilla, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras stepped into the world of wedded bliss. By tying the knot, Taveras also quietly made a non-issue of potential questions in 2014 about having a child outside of wedlock.
6. State Senator Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown) guested this week on RIPR's Political Roundtable and Bonus Q+A. Our topics included legislative efforts to bolster the economy, how Republicans can build their presence in RI politics, and the outlook for same-sex marriage in the Senate.
7. Speaking of same-sex marriage, all eyes remain on Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed's pending appointments to the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee.
8. Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas isn't just a musical star -- he's a big promoter of using science and technology to lift young people out of poverty. Listen to his fascinating interview with the BBC.
9. Andrew Sullivan announced a change this week to a reader-funded blog -- $19.99 per year. Poynter reports Sullivan's aspiration in his own words: "If this model works, we’ll have proof of principle that a small group of writers and editors can be paid directly by readers, and that an independent site, if tended to diligently, can grow an audience large enough to sustain it indefinitely."
10. Ted Nesi might be too young to know the phrase "busman's holiday" (kidding, Ted!), but he's clearly been having a great time reporting out of DC amid the inaugural festivities and fiscal cliff aftermath this week. Check out his stuff.
11. Take a look at our spiffy redesigned Web site for RI Public Radio.
12. Years ago, ago as a newspaper reporter in Massachusetts, I once described how apple growers north of Worcester imported seasonal laborers from Jamaica, because Americans were unwilling to do the demanding work. Now it's come to this: Scialo Brothers Bakery on Federal Hill can't find aspiring bakers.