TGIF: 14 things to know about RI politics + media
Shake off the post-election week blues and get ready for the weekend. Your tips and email are welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org
1. If you want a sense of why the Rhode Island Republican Party keeps backsliding in the General Assembly, consider House District 71. The district is made of three GOP-leaning towns (Little Compton, Tiverton and Portsmouth), so it shouldn’t have been that challenging to find a Republican candidate to run this year. Yet the Republicans didn’t field a candidate, so the seat held in the last session by Dan Gordon went by default to Democrat Dennis Canario. Republican John Loughlin, who represented House District 71 for three terms before running for Congress in 2010, says finding Republican candidates “is like trying to roud up volunteers for a suicide mission.” As Loughlin explains it, success breeds success for legislative Democrats — and the opposite is true for Republicans: “A lot of people sit down and look at the cost-benefit anaylsis. They say, ‘Okay, it’s going to cost me personally and professionally. I’m going to have to drive up to Providence to do this job; and B, I’m not going to get anything done, because I’m going to be one of six guys up there or six gals up there, so what is the point?’ “
2. Hearing the competing prescriptions for the Rhode Island GOP from Loughlin and outgoing chairman Mark Zaccaria is enough to cause whiplash. Zaccaria blames the sorry state of RI Republicans on institutional advantages enjoyed by Democrats, as well as the donkey party’s more effective messaging. Loughlin, in a blunt assessment this week on RIPR, said the RI GOP needs to be more moderate. That’s striking coming from Loughlin, since he himself is a conservative. Yet he may also be the first Republican to publicly acknowledge how conservative elements are holding back the political prospects of popular Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian.
3. Speaking of the RI GOP: former chairman Ken McKay‘s boss, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, reacted to election of Democratic Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin in the Badger State by offering to explain the federal budget to her. Johnson attributed President Obama‘s win to voters not being “properly informed.”
4. Loughlin, who lost by six points to David Cicilline in 2010, says he wasn’t surprised by Cicilline’s decisive win last week over Brendan Doherty: “I think Brendan’s largest problems was mathematics. When you look at that race, if you look at the 2010 results, David Cicilline got 86,000 votes; I got roughly 71,000 votes, give or take a few votes. So you figure that’s where Brendan starts at. Then you add to that the redistricting, which removed Burrillville, where I did very, very well. and add areas that are, frankly, spring-loaded for the Democratic vote in Providence into the mix. Then you add to that 51,000 new voters that come out every four voters that are 60-40 spring-loaded to vote Democrat. It was a math problem. It was a hill that was insurmountable.”
5. Marty Baron, named this week as the top editor at the Washington Post, has emerged as an exemplar of how a newsroom manager can maintain a culture of excellence (up the street, at the Boston Globe) in a time of diminished resources. Jack Shafer offers one of the best reads on the move, closing with this memorable line: “The era when editors outlasted emperors has passed.” Another smart read via Peter Kadzis, who notes, “[I]n what’s left of the quality [newspaper] trade, editors – like garden-grown tomatoes – don’t often travel well.” Personally, I credit Baron for speaking with me when I wrote some years back about the inter-connected business ties of the Red Sox, the Globe, and the New York Times.
6. David Cicilline has touted his hopes for helping to bolster American manufacturing. But if you want a sense of the hurdles facing small manufacturers, consider this recent New York Times story. In short: an industrial designer in Chicago crafted a better wrench and began selling it to Sears. But Sears is now selling a very similar Chinese-made tool that strikes critics as a knockoff.
7. West Warwick native Paul Tencher, who piloted Democrat Joe Donnelly’s Indiana Senate win over Republican Richard Mourdock, is back in town to relax and ponder his next step. Nothing is lined up so far, Tencher says, but he has some DC trips planned to “talk to folks.” No doubt.
8. Congrats to my amigo Ted Nesi, one of the best journalists in the state, who has signed an extension at WPRI through 2015. (As Ted might be quick to point out, who would want to miss what promises to be a fascinating gubernatorial campaign in 2014?)
9. The venerable Columbus Theatre on Providence’s West Side is being reopened Saturday evening with a cool event featuring Low Anthem and other bands. I got to learn about the place while researching a Phoenix story in 2003. Some of the colorful details: owner Jon Berberian, a former opera singer, stumbled into showing adult films at the venue; The Columbus has 1492 seats; it was designed by Oreste Di Saia, who also created Veterans Memorial Auditorium; Berberian credits adult films with helping to preserve the theatre when the city wanted to take it by eminent domain.
10. ProJo political columnist Ed Fitzpatrick recently offered some thoughts on including or excluding independent candidates in political debates. His concept is to include more candidates in early debates, and fewer as political races move toward the finish line. Rhode Island Future’s Bob Plain is still irked by how Channel 12 kept out Abel Collins. Yet would the CD2 outcome have been significantly different if Collins had been included in thes station’s debate with Jim Langevin and Michael Riley. It’s worth remembering, too, that WPRI was the only statewide media to offer an eye-opening series of debates with legislative candidates. (My obligatory disclaimer is in the post linked in the previous sentence.)
11. The Voter ID cause had its share of setbacks during last week’s election: One of the biggest local proponents, Jon Brien, got walloped in his write-in bid against the Democrat who beat him in the September primary. Meanwhile, in Ohio (where President Obama won a close victory), black voters were motivated to vote because of Voter ID. National Journal reports: “Fueled as much by angst against the ID mandate as enthusiasm for a black president, African-Americans voted at a rate so much higher than 2008 that they may have been the decisive voting bloc.”
12. The Phoenix’s David Scharfenberg has a smartly observed blog post about ProJo columnist’s Bob Kerr‘s emergence as a scene-setter of Rhode Island nightclubs. As Scharfy notes, the additional assignment is 1) a nice use of Kerr’s skill-set; 2) poignant, since Kerr is (partially) filling a void left by music critic Rick Massimo (who took a buyout); 3) even more poignant, since this could be the swan song for the estimable and 67-year-old Kerr.
13. The state Department of Transportation sometimes takes way too long to complete local bridge replacements. Yet DOT deserves props for replacing two Ten Mile River bridges in East Providence about a year ahead of schedule. The fact that this is near my home has nothing to do with my enthusiasm.
14. A world without Twinkies? Say it ain’t so.