TGIF: 20 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Sep 23, 2016

Happy Weekend, and thanks for stopping by. As usual, your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. The chance that Curt Schilling will take the stand to offer his version of what happened with 38 Studios faded dramatically when he signed on to a $2.5 million insurance settlement announced earlier this week. True, Schilling could still appear as a witness if the state's case against former financial adviser First Southwest goes to court next month. Yet mediator Francis Darigan has steadily compiled settlements; in keeping with the nature of such things, the retired judge contends the certainty of getting some money back is better than the unpredictability of what could unfold in court. Yet that unpredictability -- with the bombastic Schilling going mano a mano with the likes of super-lawyer Max Wistow -- would have made for a riveting scenario. As it stands, the former Red Sox pitcher says via Twitter that the people of Rhode Island have "earned the right to vent at someone involved here and I'm ok with that being me." Schilling says that when he opens up, "it will be uncut, unedited and live" -- on his own radio show, not in an interview with reporters. With state taxpayers still on the hook for about $28 million due to 38 Studios' demise, the issue continues to divide lawmakers. Some Republicans say the state won't be able to move past the shadow of 38 Studios without an independent investigation. Some Democrats counter by saying it's time to move on while learning from the past. This debate is unlikely to fade at least until the balance clears for the state's most-recent signature screw-up.

2. Kristen Dart has signed on as campaign coordinator for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's re-election run vs. Republican Steven Frias. Dart said she's pursuing that role on her own time, while continuing to serve as director of legislative affairs for the City of Providence. Her previous experience include serving as community organizer for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England; being campaign co-chair for Brett Smiley's 2014 Providence mayoral run; participating on the executive committee of the NAACP's Providence branch, and being a United Methodist pastor in upstate New York. While Frias hopes to leverage dissatisfaction with the status quo into a winning challenge, Mattiello's stockpile of campaign talent includes operative Jeff Britt and spokeswoman Patti Doyle.

3. Speaking of the speaker: when the House resumes action in January, turnover will be seen in the absence of John DeSimone, John Carnevale, and Ray Gallison, among other reps who decided to leave or went down to defeat. GOP Chairman Brandon Bell has made a messaging focal point of the lapses involving Gallison, Carnevale and some other Democratic lawmakers. Yet if Mattiello wins re-election in November, he could benefit from this housecleaning of older legislative elements -- without having to do the housecleaning himself.

4. State Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence) says Rhode Islanders have sent a message in recent election cycles that they support a more progressive brand of government: "We have seen a clear pattern," he said on this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable. "Candidates who run effective campaigns on bold progressive platforms [are] coming out on top, often despite significant institutional advantages of their opponents. To me, that speaks to a very real hunger among a whole lot of voters for political leadership that has the guts to stand up and say, 'we're going to fight for all Rhode Islanders, not just the wealthy or the well-connected few' -- issues like the Fight for 15, for a [$15] living wage for all working families; like earned sick leave so no Rhode Islander has to choose between their kids' health and paying the bills; like bold climate action, so we can get off these fossil fuels while we still have the chance; criminal-justice reform, so we can have a justice system in which black lives really do matter. These issues .... from my perspective, they're not just the smart and effective and morally correct things to do, they're also what voters are demanding -- and it turns out, what voters are rewarding."  

5. How lopsided are the votes in the overwhelmingly Democratically-controlled General Assembly? A new study by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and Ken Block found that more than half of lawmakers voted with either the Senate president or House speaker more than 95 percent of the time in 2016. "In a healthy democracy, there should be a rigorous debate of diverse views," Center's CEO Mike Stenhouse said. "Sadly, and conversely in Rhode Island, it seems that when leadership authorizes bills to move forward, legislators feel compelled to automatically support them. The statistics in this report present a stunning pattern of elected officials blindly following the leader. Voters this November must decide if this is how they want their government to be run." Sam Bell of the RI Progressive Democrats countered by criticizing what he called awful methodology: "Counting missed votes as votes against leadership? And omitting amendments? .... Budget amendments tend to be the most interesting votes. What vaguely competent analyst would exclude them?" Asked for comment, Block said via email, "It is well known that legislators who do not publicly want to vote contrary to leadership’s wishes will ‘take a walk’ instead of voting. We had to pick one consistent way to count votes and that is what we picked."

6. Some business and political leaders have warned for years that improving public education in Rhode Island is closely tied to a better economy. Despite that, improvements have mostly been few and far between over the last 15 or so years. So Governor Gina Raimondo's emphasis on education over the past week seems well-placed. Among other things, she highlighted an initiative that enables high school students to get free college credits. Raimondo also spoke of raising to 70 percent, from less than 45 percent, the number of Rhode Islanders who receive college degrees.

7. Rest in peace, Henry Shelton, who exemplified selflessness in the service of others in need. "He cut a distinctive figure," recalls Scott MacKay. "With his hole-filled wool sweaters, ill-fitting toupee and hand-scrawled news releases, he was an unusual activist, a throw-back in an Internet age to a generation of protestors straight from Dorothy Day and the Catholic worker movement. Shelton’s moral and political views were limned by Day,  Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus Christ. Many community organizers evolve into politics or to working for stable non-profit agencies. Not Shelton. He never sought glory or ran for political office. He never saw himself as a pied piper for the poor. Brian Jones, a retired Providence Journal reporter who covered Shelton for years, says that Shelton truly believed in empowering the poor so they could help themselves."

8. Governor Raimondo's approval rating came in at a less-than-stellar 38 percent in a poll released this week by Morning Consult. An aggregate over a longer time period is more favorable for the governor, with a three-point divide (44 percent/47 percent) between her approval and disapproval. The findings are not all that surprising, given how she got barely more than 40 percent of the vote in 2014, and how Rhode Island's economy remains less than robust. Yet Raimondo has an impressive war chest, and she still has time to build her approval numbers in the run-up to the state's next gubernatorial election. More to the point, it remains unclear who might challenge Raimondo in 2018, from either the right or the left.

9. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Donald Trump's running mate, is coming to Rhode Island for a Newport fundraiser on October 8. The location is yet to be announced, and contribution levels range from $1,000 to $25,000.

10. While the country of Timor-Lester remains obscure for Ocean Staters, Rhode Island had a role in how the country gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. "Brown University was once the campus activism capital of the movement to end the Indonesian occupation and restore democracy to a tiny Southeast Asian country now known as Timor-Leste," according to information related to a visit next Tuesday, September 27, by one of the country's founding fathers, Xanana Gusmao, and Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo. Timor-Leste was a Portuguese colony for more than 400 years. The Portuguese connection prompted RI politicos like Clairborne Pell, Jack Reed, Patrick Kennedy, and Paul Tavares to play a role in raising awareness about the country's pre-independence plight. The two visitors also have an appearance at RIC on Monday, September 26.

11. Representative Regunberg, a staunch supporter of Bernie Sanders during Rhode Island's presidential primary earlier this year, said he plans to introduce a bill that would create free tuition for the state's public higher education institutions. "To me, this cuts really deep," he said on Roundtable. "Rhode Island is one of 10 states that invests more in the Department of Corrections, in our prison system, than we invest in public higher education. That is shameful. It is a sin, and it's one that has very real consequences both when it comes to academic attainment and achievement -- you know, it's a lot harder to finish school when you're mortgaging your future to do it, it's harder to get to class on time when you're working two jobs to pay for that class. But also it has some devastating economic consequences: my generation is drowning under student loan debt right now. I can't tell you many of my friends are unable to move forward on that new business idea, to buy a home, to invest in our local economy, because so much money is getting extracted every month to pay for their debt."     

12. Four on the ProJo: 1) Congrats to the paper on its new web site, which appears cleaner and easier to navigate; 2) Katherine Gregg has been named to a new political reporting role at the statewide daily; 3) Congrats to former features staffer Jenna Pelletier, who is taking on the food editor's job at Boston Magazine; 4) best wishes to political columnist Ed Fitzpatrick as he heads off for his new job at Roger Williams University.

13. Sav Rebecchi, the independent running against Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed in Newport, is trying to turn her fundraising prowess into a liability. As he notes on his web site, Paiva Weed has raised steadily more as she climbed the legislative ladder, with a large part of it coming from outside her district. Yet it remains to be seen if voters are moved by this type of issue, when eschewing fundraising would be self-defeating for many candidates. (Btw, remember when Michael Bloomberg spent $102 million to win his third term as mayor of New York City?)

14. Is segregation the biggest factor impeding the quality of public education in the US?

15. RIPR's Ambar Espinoza on the Burrillville Town Council's vote against Invenergy's proposed power plant. As she notes, the council holds another meeting on Monday to approve or reject a related tax treaty, and ultimate authority rests with the state Energy Facility Siting Board. 

16. How Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are preparing for their upcoming debates. Plus, some thoughts from Jim Lehrer on what it takes to moderate a successful debate.

17. "Gateway Cities" is the term used in neighboring Massachusetts for communities with population of between 35,000 and 250,000 residents; and where median household income and educational attainment are below the state average. This criteria includes places like Attleboro, Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford -- which arguably have more in common with Rhode Island and its economic challenges than Boston or the affluent suburbs ringing the Hub. That's why Shannon Dooling's look at the efforts of two other Gateway Cities to carve new identities -- Lawrence and Fitchburg -- is a worth a read/listen.

18. A 2016 Brown University graduate, Solomon Goldstein-Rose, has won a state rep seat, from western Massachusetts, in the Bay State legislature. He triumphed in a six-way primary field and doesn't have a general election opponent. “I’ve been an environmental activist my whole life,” Goldstein-Rose told the Brown Daily Herald. “My parents have always been involved with politics, and they talked about politics at home.” While he entered the University intending to study chemical engineering, Goldstein-Rose shifted his focus over the course of his education. “Instead of inventing something amazing, I decided to work on the policies that would govern those inventions."

19. Jack Shafer: "Was the Terror Coverage More Explosive Than the Bombs?"

20. Even with the Red Sox sweeping two consecutive four-game series (something that hasn't happened since 1958), amid a somewhat tight AL East race, baseball fever seems absent in southern New England. Perhaps that's not surprising considering the cost of the game, not to mention how the Red Sox broke an 86-year drought back in 2004 and have suffered from sub-par performance more recently. Yet baseball has a long track record, with the sport outlasting the popularity of horse racing and boxing. For now, the fever burns hot for Cubs fans -- and a Cubs-Sox World Series would certainly steal back some of the attention from football.