TGIF: 18 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Mar 7, 2014

Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can can follow me all week long on the twitters. Let's head in.

1. It's not every week when the politics of meatloaf figure in the race for governor. But that was the case hereabouts as Jeff Britt, Ken Block's campaign manager, took exception to Gina Raimondo's use of social media to highlight her culinary efforts with her family and others. The timing was all the more, uh, meaty since Celinda Lake, a leading Democratic pollster/strategist, came to the ProJo Tuesday for a talk on sexism in politics, and Raimondo had her own woman-centered event while picking up an endorsement Wednesday from Myrth York. Afterwards, Raimondo explained her meatloaf tweet and other food-related messages as part of explaining who she is to voters, and she denied it was driven by consultants. So will we see Block, Angel Taveras, Clay Pell and Allan Fung sending a fusillade of tweets from their kitchens? Probably not, and that tells us something about the double-standards that can still exist in politics; it all also shows how Raimondo appears intent on checking every box, making every effort to reach out -- no matter how fleeting or seemingly ephemeral -- as her campaign works to inflate the size of the primary turnout. For what it's worth, although women remain underrepresented in Rhode Island politics -- with just 29 of 113 seats in the General Assembly -- they (like young candidates of either gender and either party) tend to win when they run. A few examples from the last election cycle: Sandra Cano, Suzy Alba, and Carolyn Mark. (Bonus: For Raimondo's meatloaf recipe, see item 18.)

2. The flip side for candidates without elective experience -- like GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ken Block -- is how they can criticize the record of their opponents. So it won't be completely surprising if Block raps rival Republican Allan Fung for past tax hikes in Cranston, the most recent of which took place in fiscal year 2011 and FY2012. Here's how Fung plans to respond, as he outlined this week on RIPR's Bonus Q&A: "Cranston taxpayers haven't seen a tax raise in the past two fiscal years, and yet we are still holding our own. We've stabilized the finances. In fact, Moody's just upgraded us by removing that negative watch. All three rating agencies have us at an A rating. We're stable, we're doing what we need to do. In fact, that pension reform settlement [in Cranston] was one of the reasons why Moody's lifted that watch, 'cause we're taking care not only of the short term, but long-term problems that Cranston's faced for years." Meanwhile, Fung -- who wants to consider privatizing RIPTA and RI Resource Recovery -- is non-committal about joining Block for a series of debates. "I'm willing to do a debate, I'm not sure how many yet," he said during the Bonus Q&A segment.

3. The Rhode Island Democratic Party is staffing up in advance of legislative and other elections later this year. Blake Collins, who worked for the party as field organizer in 2012, has been hired as the Dems' political director. A URI grad, Collins most recently worked as an analyst for the House Oversight Committee. Collins will work with Democratic candidates with coordination, field operations and data support, the latter of which will include the DNC's rollout this month of its highly touted Project Ivy technology initiative. Meanwhile, the RI GOP has hired a new field director, Justin Haskins, a graduate of Johnston HS who is wrapping up his second graduate degree at Regent University. Haskin, previously an intern with the party, will focus on recruiting legislative candidates, managing the RI GOP GOTV effort, overseeing volunteers and interns, coordinating a precinct captain program, and acting as liaison between campaign staff and party HQ.

4. The latest push for state financial help to revitalize the vacant Superman Building in downtown Providence is set to emerge this coming week. The Massachusetts-based owner of the property continues to work with Buff Chace's Cornish Associates on the redevelopment plan, and has enlisted three -- count 'em -- three separate public relations outfits to bolster the effort: Dyana Koelsch, Bill Fischer, and Frank McMahon's Advocacy Solutions. The arguments remain much as they were last year: supporters say filling the Superman Building with 280 apartments, ranging in price from $1,100 to $2,700, will help to spark the downtown economy. Critics invoke the shadow of 38 Studios in rapping the idea of a public subsidy for a private development project. To which Fischer responded this week via tweet: "There's a real cost to inaction, glad it didn't happen with the Masonic Temple and The Arcade, Foundry."

5. Frank Caprio has picked up two key Latino supporters in his three-way Democratic fight for treasurer with Seth Magaziner and Ernest Almonte.

6. This Sunday marks the six-month point until the September 9 primary.

7. The late Bruce Sundlun remains the prime counter-example for those who argue that Rhode Island suffers from a weak governor's office. We recently heard a Sundlun chestnut that offers a window into the former leaders' take-no-prisoners style. Sundlun was once trying to reach Ed McElroy, the teachers' union leader, while McElroy was off playing a relaxing game golf. Sundlun's two terms as governor came in the early to mid 1990s -- well before the emergence of cell phones. So he dispatched someone to go to the golf course in question, set off on a golf cart, find McElroy, and instruct him to get to a phone to call Sundlun. 

8. The face of drug overdoses in Rhode Island is mostly small town and suburban residents, a growing number of them women. That's one of the key findings of a one-hour audio documentary, produced by RIPR health care reporter Kristin Gourlay, airing at 6 pm this Sunday on RIPR. Kristin began delving into the subject months ago, ahead of broader media attention, after realizing overdoses are the largest accidental cause of death in Rhode Island. "It’s grim stuff to cover," she tells me, "but it’s also a fascinating story because it’s about more than overdose deaths. That’s the tragic end of someone’s story. Before that there’s probably a history of addiction, which is better understood by scientists and doctors but there’s still so much about it we don’t understand. This story is also at the nexus of so many other issues: law enforcement, the pharmaceutical business, politics. I focus on a few of those in my documentary."

9. Huffington Post: Five questions about legalizing marijuana (that should be asked even by supporters of doing that).

10. The unsurprising news emerged this week that Rhode Islanders give poor marks for leadership to their elected officials. Perhaps it's because of a "reality gap" between what politicians talk about and what typical people are concerned about. As noted by Ted Nesi, the percentage of working Rhode Islanders has hit a 30-year low. So even if the state unemployment rate got a tiny bit better in January, it grates on some people when Governor Lincoln Chafee says things are trending up, and House Speaker Gordon Fox, seven years after Rhode Island went into recession, says in part (via the ProJo), “[W]e have to come up with a plan and stick to that plan.”

11. Tomorrow at Brown University (10 am): "Bridging the Great Divide: Politics, Polarization & Progress in the 21st Century," with Wendy Schiller, Governor Chafee and Governors Jack Markell of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Peter Shumlin of Vermont,

12. Meanwhile, with time ticking down on Chafee's time as governor, the Republican-turned independent-turned Democrat says he's not any closer to deciding what he'll be doing after leaving office. "No, no, I am focused on the job at hand," Chafee told me this week, "and we've got the mediated settlement-pension issue, we've got a budget before the House and Senate. That's some big issues here still to resolved in Rhode Island. That's where my energy and focus is." He calls the possibility of his taking an Obama administration post before the end of his term "very unlikely."

13. This week's Friday staff change in the governor's office: former DEM director Jan Rietsma starts Monday as Chafee's special advisor for policy and legislative affairs.

14. Providence loss is Albany's gain, as AP reporter David Klepper prepares to decamp for the wire service's statehouse beat in the Empire State. We're sorry to see him go because David is an all-around good guy and excellent reporter (and long-suffering Chicago Cubs' fan) who makes a mean rhubarb pie. Fortunately, with New York being dubbed one of the most corrupt states (sound familiar?), he'll still have a target-rich environment. Albany is also an interesting media laboratory since the folks behind Politico launched a new online news publication, Capital New York, in December. David will be appropriately feted before his departure, and we wish him the best in his new adventure.

15. Environmental issues are highly impactful -- and largely absent from the center of political discourse. That's why it's noteworthy that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is traveling to Iowa later this month in an effort to raise the profile of climate change. Via statement, Whitehouse says, “To advance serious climate change legislation in Congress, we need to make climate change a major topic in the 2016 presidential race.  Iowa, with its first-in-the-nation caucuses, is in a unique position to drive the debates in that race.  While I myself will not be running for president – and fully expect to support Hillary Clinton if she chooses to run – I do hope that by visiting Iowa now and meeting with local activists and journalists, I can help to put the issue of climate change at the front of their minds as the 2016 race takes shape.”

16. A good read from Wired: "Facebook's Plan to Conquer the World -- with Crappy Phones and Bad Networks."

17. State Rep Mia Ackerman of Cumberland has a new show on Capitol TV -- "Mornings with Mia." In this episode, she chats at a local diner with Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, Warwick Rep Joseph McNamara, and Deputy Majority Whip Chris Blazejewski, a Cumberland native.

18. Upon request from the media, Gina Raimondo's campaign manager, Eric Hyers, presented her meatloaf recipe Thursday evening, two and a half days after she was asked for it during her event with Myrth York and Elizabeth Roberts. Here it is, and as the great Julia Child said, "Bon Appetit"

In a bowl, combine by hand and/or lightly with a wooden spoon:

  • 1 pound ground pork & 1 pound ground beef
  • 3-4 garlic cloves- minced
  • 1 large onion- minced
  • 1-2 fresh tomatoes-- diced
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley-- minced
  • at least 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs 
  • 1 teaspoon each of oregano, basil, salt & pepper
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese- grated
  • 2-3 eggs

Shape mixture into a roll, rubbing olive oil over all its sides    

Then place in a bread pan (covered with Olive Oil cooking spray) and bake for 35 mins at 350 degrees.   Serves whole family for dinner (w/leftovers)