TGIF: 16 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics + Media

Nov 15, 2013

Welcome back to my Friday column on this lovely Friday in mid-November. As always, your feedback and thoughts are welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you're invited to follow me on the twitters. Let's get to it.

1. In the latest development in Providence Mayor Angel Taveras' campaign for governor, Peter Baptista announced Friday he's leaving as finance director. In a statement, Baptista says, "I want to thank Angel for the opportunity to work with him this past year. Going forward, my focus will be to build my campaign management and fundraising consulting company for the 2014 election cycle." The move follows plans for the exit of two of Taveras' top aides, Matt Jerzyk and Arianne Lynch, labor/liberal head-scratching about the direction of the Providence mayor's campaign for governor, and the emergence of an old-school cohort (item 7 here) as Taveras' closest advisers.

2. Eric Hyers, who managed two winning congressional campaigns for David Cicilline, used Twitter to announce this week how he's becoming part of Gina Raimondo's team. This attracted attention, on multiple levels: 1) Raimondo hired a proven campaign manager, Andrew Roos, earlier this year. Hyers' rather limited remark about his role (to "get her and her team ready as we approach the end of the year") suggests he might be a placeholder, allowing Roos more time as chief of staff before transitioning to the campaign. 2) Rhode Island's a small place, and a number of staffers have worked at different times for some combination of Cicilline, Raimondo, Taveras and/or other candidates. Still, many observers assume Hyers wouldn't go to work for Raimondo without clearing it with Cicilline. The congressman's spokesman, Rich Luchette, offers this comment: “Congressman Cicilline is friends will all three prospective candidates for governor, and as he’s said before, he will not be getting involved in the Democratic primary. Congressman Cicilline looks forward to supporting the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014 and electing a strong statewide Democratic ticket for Rhode Island.” 3) Yes, Team Raimondo may now be a bit top heavy with campaign managers. But having two guys who've worked on statewide campaigns in Rhode Island might not be such a bad thing as Raimondo faces her biggest challenge -- winning a Democratic primary in which she needs to elevate the vote.

3. House Speaker Gordon Fox married longtime partner Marcus LaFond this week (10 years after he disclosed his orientation during a Statehouse same-sex marriage rally), and Hawaii became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Yet  moving forward in other states is expected to be more difficult, as Juliet Eilperin noted on The Fix: "Any future change in state marriage laws rests almost entirely on either the reversal of  gay wedding bans through ballot initiatives or court challenges, both of which represent a steeper climb." Yet Ray Sulllivan, who led the successful grassroots drive to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island this year, is more sanguine. "Today, a majority of Americans support same-sex couples having the freedom to marry, and that momentum will only increase as we continue to talk about why marriage matters for people in loving, committed relationships," Sullivan says via email. "As we've seen in Rhode Island and across the country, marriage equality is an issue with wide support across diverse social, political and theological spectrums. It may have taken nearly two decades to win here, but I don't expect it will be nearly as long before a majority of Americans are living in a freedom to marry state."

4. House Minority Leader Brian Newberry says the six-member House GOP caucus is developing a legislative agenda meant to offer realistic steps in the coming General Assembly session for improving Rhode Island's economy. The details are still in the works and will be unveiled in the months ahead, he says. Newberry says the House GOP caucus wants to do more than knock the ideas of the ruling Democrats. If you want to be in charge, he says, "You also have to offer an alternative if you make the argument that we should be in charge."

5. While speculation continues about the possible judicial aspirations of Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, she says she intends to seek re-election in 2014.

6. Lorne Adrain could make a bigger than expected impact in Providence's race for mayor. Many Latinos view him favorably because of his support for in-state tuition for undocumented students, and Adrain boasts strong business and civic credentials. His wife, the novelist Ann Hood, bridges her native West Warwick with the world of arts and letters. Adrain elaborated on his thinking in a letter to supporters this week. Excerpt: "We have unmatched resources. Our people come from hundreds of countries, armed with imagination, energy and determination. We are a city that is the perfect size to explore and test possibilities, to challenge the status quo, to make things happen. This is the history of Providence we all know and love.  This is the history that, working together, can be our future as well. I’d like to lead Providence, to unleash our vast potential.  I’m prepared to make tough decisions to break through the barriers that slow us down. I’d like your ideas, your support and your partnership in shaping a powerful new direction for this great city." The presence of another Democratic East Sider in the race, Brett Smiley, looms as a key challenge for Adrain in the complicated math of a steadily larger candidate field. Jorge Elorza, meanwhile, makes his formal announcement on Monday; Michael Solomon and John Lombardi loom as other contenders.

7. Victor Capellan is throwing his support to Elorza. Capellan, a deputy superintendent in Central Falls and longtime political activist who made a brief run for mayor, says he's known Elorza since the RWU Law professor was a student at URI. "I know and trust that he will be able to move forward the important issues that we both believe in and care about," Capellan tells me.

8. Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena says Clay Pell's possible candidacy "is interesting," which makes it sound as if Polisena (who has yet to make a formal endorsement) may be moving into Pell's camp.

9. It was foolhardy to think that the move to close a longstanding loophole in 2009 would end prostitution in Rhode Island. Yet a string of recent incidents involving underage girls shows just how ugly things remain. FWIW: One local, Matthew Lawrence, recently took to the pages of the Guardian to argue that criminalizing prostitution makes things worse.

10. State Senator Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown), who has indicated his interest in running for attorney general next year, is calling on his Smith Hill colleagues to create an independent commission to investigate the 38 Studios debacle.

11. One-time Providence Journal intern Matt Bai made a seemingly surprising move this week, from being the chief political correspondent of the New York Times Magazine to a new gig with Yahoo News. In another loss for the Times, the skilled media writer Brian Stelter is departing for CNN. This smart take from Politco's Dylan Byers, who grouped the exits with some others: "The departures have brought the Times face to face with a harsh reality: In the new media landscape, some journalists have become their own brands with followings and reputations that are not dependent on the 'aura' of the paper of record."

12. A well-deserved shout-out to Elisabeth Harrison, our superb Morning Edition host here at RIPR, who also holds down the station's education beat. She scored a scoop this week with the story about an Asa Messer student was allowed to leave with a man accused of sexually assaulting her. Being a host is a full-time job in itself. So it's particularly impressive that Elisabeth does exceptional reporting on a regular basis, whether chronicling the story of a transgender student in Pawtucket or digging into policy details with Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and other top officials. Not bad for a Lakers' fan.

13. Kelly McEvers went on to become a star Middle East correspondent for NPR after spending some time in Rhode Island. She returned to the US this year and found her Illinois hometown overrun by drugs and a lack of jobs, with a big squeeze on the middle class. Give a listen to her compelling story, which could resonate locally given RI's decades-long search for a better economy.

14. The constitutional convention issue is starting to warm up. Operation Clean Government is presenting a public forum on the evening of Thursday, November 21, and Bryant's Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership has a related symposium -- entitled Should Education be a Constitutional Right? -- on the morning of Friday, November 22.

15. A Happy 35th birthday to The Providence Phoenix, Rhode Island's scrappy alternative weekly, which is holding a celebration Thursday, November 21, at Lupo's.

16. The Red Sox World Series trophy is coming to the RI Convention Center on Wednesday, November 20, from 3:30-7 pm. Speaker Fox, Senate President Paiva Weed, and Wally the Green Monster will join in the festivity. So does Wally get a pench?