TGIF: 19 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Jul 14, 2017

So much for July being a slow news month. We've got the budget impasse, governors from around the U.S., and even the Sox cutting ties with Pedro Sandoval. So thanks for welcoming back your humble correspondent. As usual, you're welcome to share your tips and comments, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. A glimmer of detente in the state budget impasse emerged Friday: House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello plans to reach out Monday to schedule a meeting with Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. Whether that will lead to anything is impossible to say at the moment. But it represents incremental progress over the legislative leaders' recent tit-for-tat of dueling ProJo op-eds, competing appearances on the Sunday public affairs TV shows, and a crossfire of letters to the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. Baby steps, people. That's what happened Thursday night when Ruggerio and Mattiello said hello to one another, speaking for the first time since the budget flareup, at a Young Democrats of Rhode Island meeting at the Black Sheep tavern in downtown Providence. (Earlier, Mattiello and House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi made a fast break from an NGA event at PPAC, leading some to conclude they were scooting since Ruggerio was on his way. Mattiello spokesman Larry Berman said the exit was merely to get to the Young Dems' event recognizing state Rep. Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket.) Now, the question is whether Mattiello and Ruggerio will agree that quashing their beef sooner is more beneficial than keeping it going. If not, a growing level of upset from municipal officials may lead lawmakers back to Smith Hill, perhaps in September, as some observers theorize. Then again, if this impasse keeps going, it could potentially stretch all the way to next January.

2. Will Vice President Mike Pence's memoir one day include the tale of that time when he played the archetypal vice president's role -- extolling the virtues of the Senate GOP healthcare bill -- as the Russian intrigue involving Donald Trump Jr. intensified in DC?

3. Pence and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were a study in contrasts in their presentations to the National Governors Association meeting in Providence. Pence, a former talk-radio host, raced through more than 10 minutes of niceties before launching into his theme: Obamacare is bad and needs to be replaced, stat. He laid out his case with an overview (costs are up and choices are fewer, Pence said) before drawing on anecdotes involving three people. A day earlier, Governor Gina Raimondo offered a completely contrary view, asserting that the GOP healthcare plan will reduce access to healthcare, particularly for the needy. When his turn came, Trudeau emphasized the importance of US-Canadian economic ties, although his speech was more idiosyncratic and whimsical. He pointed to Wallace Stevens as his favorite U.S. poet and hailed Rhode Island as "the land of perfect sand and surf." While the U.S. is elephant-like in stature, Canada is no mouse, Trudeau said -- more of a moose. As a former governor, Pence got a polite reception from the NGA audience, and his speech was occasionally punctuated by applause. Yet Trudeau was the clear favorite of the crowd and he received a rousing ovation after concluding his remarks.

4. Remember First Southwest, the longtime state financial adviser that was among the defendants sued over the demise of 38 Studios? As I reported this week, First Southwest (now known as Hilltop Securities) has continued to serve since 2014 as the financial adviser for one-third of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns and a number of quasi-public state agencies. The state's lawsuit over 38 Studios was filed in 2012, so by 2014 the litigation was well known. These are the 13 communities that have used Hilltop Securities since 2014: Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Lincoln, Newport, Middletown, Pawtucket, Providence, Warren, Warwick, West Greenwich, West Warwick, and Woonsocket. To state General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who led the move to choose a different state financial adviser in 2015, the situation suggests a certain level of complacency. As he told me, "I don’t know how often that has been the case for financial advisers at the municipal level, but I wouldn’t be shocked if that’s an issue as well – that some of these relationships have existed for decades and just haven’t been put out for a publicly competitive bid in a long time."

5. So why have so many government clients in Rhode Island continued to rely on Hilltop Securities? It comes down mostly to three reasons: 1) inertia; 2) decision-makers don't draw a connection between the company and its role in 38 Studios; 3) these decision-makers appreciate their relationship with Maureen Gurghigian, the head of Hilltop's Rhode Island office in Lincoln (where a receptionist still greets callers with the message, "First Southwest"). As the ProJo reported in 2015, she has a long history in Rhode Island politics, going back to when Joe Garrahy was governor. (Gurghigian declined to speak with me for my story; through an associate, she referred comment to Hilltop's Texas office, where messages seeking comment were not returned.)

6. The glass is half-full or half-empty debate continues in the run-up to the 2018 race for governor. CNBC ranked 45th in its latest score sheet of US states. That's clearly near the bottom of the pack, although the state moved up five slots, and CNBC credit Governor Raimondo for the improvement. The governor offers her take here. On the other hand, the Republican Governors Association points to a series of poor marks for RI's business climate. Yet CNBC ranked Connecticut 33rd, and the Nutmeg State seems like a bigger basket case than RI these days. (Plus, I'm sure 19th ranked North Dakota has its charms, but do you really want to live there?)

7. Thanks to WhatsUpNewp for inviting me to be a panelist for a forum this week on the special election in state Senate District 13, the seat formerly held by Teresa Paiva Weed. RI Future's Steve Ahlquist compiled a series of video clips of the candidates answering questions by me, Ted Nesi, and Frank Prosnitz.

8. One noteworthy takeaway from the District 13 forum was the broad opposition among all candidates -- independent, Republican, and Democrat -- to public support for a new PawSox stadium. That reflects the softness of legislative support for the concept outside Pawtucket. Meanwhile, it remains unclear if the budget impasse will undercut planned Finance Committee meetings on the PawSox proposal this fall. FWIW, Providence native Joe Nocera holds up the Pawtucket plan as an example of how "You can pay for a ballpark without fleecing taxpayers."

9. Congrats to Nancy Cook, once a reporter for RIPR (back when we were known as WRNI) on her assignment to the White House beat for Politico. Cook is the significant other of one-time ProJo Statehouse reporter Chris Rowland, now the DC bureau chief for The Boston Globe.

10. State Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, discusses a range of issues on this week's Political Roundtable and Bonus Q&A.

11. Governor Raimondo presented Justin Trudeau ahead of his speech with a present of Allie's Donuts during a private meeting in which they talked economic issues and possible collaborations. Also in on the gathering: Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor; Chief of Staff Brett Smiley; HHS Secretary Eric Beane; Carol Grant, commissioner of the Office of Energy Resources; and Gabe Amo, director of public engagement.

12. Did you hear about the huge iceberg that was various compared to Rhode Island, Delaware, New York City, and a host of other geographic-measuring units? " 'Put any adjective you like on it: a corker, a whopper — it's a really large iceberg,' says Anna Hogg, a researcher with the United Kingdom's Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds ... Hogg says that the breakup, while astounding in size, will not have an effect on global sea levels. That is because this chunk of ice was already floating on water when it broke off. 'This is the same as if you've got an ice cube in your gin and tonic,' she says. 'When the ice cube melts, it doesn't raise the volume of water in that glass.' "

13. The federal rail decision is seen as a win for preservationists: "Residents in Rhode Island’s and Connecticut’s coastal communities are cheering the Federal Railroad Administration's decision to back away from a controversial rail plan that would have re-routed a section of the Northeast Corridor through historic towns and important ecosystems along New England’s southern coast. Communities in the two states were critical of earlier plans to change the railroad, claiming new routes would cut through protected areas."

14. Jennifer Berlin, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, is now associate director of security and strategy at the Brookings Institution.

15. Did you know cappuccino is named for the color of robes worn by Capuchin monks? Go on a tour of Italy's coffee culture with the great Sylivia Poggioli.

16. Three from former RI resident Aaron Renn: 1) "Trouble in Trump Country, USA"; 2) "Diners and the Decline of Shared Social Institutions"; 3) "How Connecticut Ended Up As Odd Man Out"

17. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson decided against signing an anti-LGBT measure under pressure from Wal Mart, and for some that raises the specter of intolerance on part of the gov. But Rob Sullivan, chairman of the RI Young Republicans, who hosted Hutchinson for an event Thursday, said the criticism is off the mark: "I would consider those critics who wish to label Governor Hutchinson as 'intolerant' as 'ill-informed.' " Sullivan said. "I would say to them look back at the actual speeches he gave in in 2015 in regards to AR HB 1228 -- where he called for the General Assembly to look at the bill and craft it in a way that mirrors the Federal Religious Freedoms Restoration Act of 1993 that was signed into law by then Democratic Arkansas governor-turned-president Bill Clinton. In 2015, he asked the General Assembly to recall the legislation because it did not indeed mirror the Federal Act of 1993. [Hutchinson said] "My responsibility is to speak out on my own convictions and to do what I can as governor to make sure this bill reflects the values of the people of Arkansas, protects those of religious conscience, but also minimize the chance of discrimination in the work place and in the public environment." The RI YRs are proud to be hosting Governor Asa Hutchinson who was first made famous for successfully prosecuting the CSA, a white supremacy group founded by James Ellison. Governor Hutchinson (then US Attorney Hutchinson) famously put on a flak jacket and negotiated terms after a three-day armed standoff with local, state and federal law enforcement."

18. "What Did Thoreau Really Eat? You Might Be Surprised."

19. Bourbon backlash: "We'll give it to you straight: If President Trump slaps a tariff on steel, the U.S. bourbon industry might be left reeling."