TGIF: 15 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Apr 25, 2014

Welcome back to my weekly column. Your tips and thoughts are always welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Let's get to it.

1. GOP attorney general candidate Dawson Hodgson thinks a settlement in the state's lawsuit over 38 Studios will make further revelations about Rhode Island's misadventure with the video game company less likely. "I think that [absence of new information] is looking more and more likely to happen," Hodgson said during an appearance on RIPR's Bonus Q&A this week, "although the timely settlement of that case seems to be less and less likely to happen. I think we're going to see status quo, more of the same, no answers on 38 Studios, at least before this election." Regarding his legislation calling for an independent probe of 38 Studios, a la the Teitz Commission that followed the state banking crisis in the early '90s, Hodgson says, "I haven't really received the type of legislative leadership support that I need to pass that bill." For now, "End Game," Jason Schwartz's 2012 story in Boston Magazine, remains the authoritative account of the failure of 38 Studios.

2. Liz White, the campaign manager for Providence mayoral candidate Michael Solomon, has unexpectedly resigned due to health reasons. Previously the deputy communications director for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, White led Solomon's campaign through strong Q1 fundraising and endorsements from the Ward 5 and Ward Democratic City Committees, the RI Building and Trades Council, and Maryellen Goodwin. Solomon campaign spokesman Peter Baptista says a national search is under way for her successor, and that the Hamilton Group is leading the effort in the interim. (Best wishes to Liz.)

3. With the prospect of Buddy Cianci embarking on a Providence mayoral campaign at age 73, the birthday event next Wednesday, April 30, at Venda Ravioli to raise private funds for a City Hall portrait of Cianci has sold out, according to organizer Paul Campbell. "We attempted to limit the event to 100 people," with tickets going for $100 each, Campbell tells me, "and it looks right now, I'd say about 125 to 130 people show up at the event." In keeping with past habit, Cianci has said he won't make his final decision public much before the June 25 filing deadline.

4. How times change. Back in 2004, ProJo editorial columnist Ed Achorn used this acerbic line to describe Representative John DeSimone's challenge to then-Speaker William Murphy: "It's a little like the Iran-Iraq war. You almost want no one to win." Achorn when on to say that the 15 Republicans then in the House "have concluded that Mr. DeSimone is the skunk who stinks less." Flash forward 10 years: DeSimone is ensconced as Speaker Nick Mattiello's majority leader; Achorn has moved up to become editorial page editor at the ProJo (which editorialized this week in support of payday lending, a practice endorsed by Murphy as Advance America's lobbyist in Rhode Island). Word around the House, meanwhile, is that Mattiello has been making real efforts to improve communication and cooperation among reps. To bring things full circle, the new speaker's approach has lifted the lingering chill associated by some reps with the GOP-supported effort to topple Murphy back in 2005.

5. Pro: Would increasing pay for Rhode Island lawmakers increase competition and thereby bring about a better General Assembly? Here's the view offered by state Senator Dawson Hodgson, who says part of the reason he's running for AG is because he can't afford to remain in the legislature: "I think Rhode Island's General Assembly is structurally conflicted. What private sector employer can afford to subsidize their workers to go work 40 hours a week, 50 hours a week like I put in the Assembly when they have a business to run? The only employers than can do that are public-sector employers; the only other people that can afford to serve are either rich or retired .... Now that I'm leaving, I would probably support some type of full-time General Assembly, down-sized and really professionalize it -- make sure we have policy expertise and support in place."

6. Con: The full-time Massachusetts legislature (where a trio of speakers has gotten jammed up) is among the least productive in passing bills, according to this report by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

7. When David Ead, a key figure in the Plunder Dome case, died this week at age 72, the initial obituary in the Providence Journal failed to note that important fact. That was just the latest example of what can happen when a newspaper switches responsibility for overseeing obits from news to the advertising side. It happened when Raymond DeLeo, a key figure in Buddy Cianci's first departure from City Hall, died last year. Former Brooklyn Dodger Clem Labine, a native of Woonsocket, barely got an initial mention when he died in 2007. Yet late is certainly better than never, and in the case of Ead, Bill Malinowski came through with a terrific recollection of the colorful character.

8. Room 35 in the Statehouse will be the place to be on May 5 and 9, when the semi-annual caseload and revenue estimating conference will take place. The numbers will set the stage for the General Assembly budget and yield some early insight into the outlook for pursuing tax cuts.

9. Is it too much to ask that candidates for the US House and Senate have some previous elective experience? Jack Reed, David Cicilline and Jim Langevin all served in the General Assembly before moving up the political ladder, and Sheldon Whitehouse's resume included stints as US attorney, attorney general, and head of the state Department of Business Regulation. The response from Rhue Reis, the GOP first-time candidate challenging Langevin, is that so-called experts in Washington aren't getting the job done. Still, while contested elections are a good thing for democracy, the sheer volume of first-time congressional candidates (Reis in CD2, and in CD1, Republicans Cormick Lynch, Stan Tran, and Democrat Matt Fecteau) is striking. Might the efforts of these hopefuls be better focused on other offices? 

10. Operation Clean Government has assembled its annual candidates' school on Saturday, April 26, at Rhode Island College. The instructors include such luminaries as Arlene Violet; House Minority Leader Brian Newberry; Representative Maria Cimini; Secretary of State Ralph Mollis; Jason Grammit of the state Ethics Commission; URI prof Scott Molloy; Central Falls Mayor James Diossa; former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders; former state auditor general Ernest Almonte;  consultant Tad Devine;'s Ted Nesi, and your humble correspondent. Walk-ins are welcome. The cost of attending is $75.

11. Yes, Virginia, there is a life coach industry -- and it's booming.

12. The esteemed James Fallows is slated to talk Monday at Brown. The beer enthusiast will likely take on weighter subjects than when he walked back his claim that ex-boss Jimmy Carter was the godfather of the craft-brewing movement.

13. One-time Cranston mayor Steve Laffey loaned himself $350,000 as part of his congressional campaign in Colorado. Yet this campaign spot featuring his kids is getting rapped by some observers (h/t @KathyProJo)

14. This nifty interactive map from the New York Times offers a zip code by zip code breakdown of the loyalty of baseball fans across the US. As expected, the Sox are tops in Rhode Island, even with a sizable minority of Yankee partisans.

15. So Gallup says just 18 percent of Rhode Islanders say our state is tip-top (h/t Ted Nesi). The fizz from the much-hyped Providence renaissance of the 1990s has faded away, replaced by a miasma of inertia, economic hardship, high unemployment, and possible corruption. Better cue up a new effort (newer than this old chestnut) to lift the state's flagging spirits.