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

Jul 28, 2017

The calendar keeps zipping along, with August coming up fast. So thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. Your tips and comments are welcome and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Think again if you consider President Donald Trump -- with his 37 percent approval rating in RI -- a negative factor in Ocean State politics. A POTUS visit to Rhode Island could be a decisive source of support for former state Rep. Joe Trillo of Warwick (who served as Trump's honorary campaign chairman last year) in a GOP primary next year. Trillo declined to share the details of a conversation he had earlier this year with former DJT campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Yet during an appearance on RI Public Radio's Political Roundtable this week, Trillo made it clear that he doesn't view his identification with Trump as a liability: "Happy to wear the millstone, happy," he said. The 16-year former lawmaker echoes other Trump devotees who remain staunch in their support of the bombastic president, endorsing his agenda, if not his communication style. Being aligned with Trump could be problematic in a general election. But RI's GOP faction is so small that Trump could have an outsized influence in a primary. Meanwhile, Trillo said he has no fears that the Republican Governors Association will try to tip the primary scales in favor of 2014 candidate Allan Fung. "I've met with the RGA," Trillo told me. "They've assured me that they will be giving no support until the primary is over, to the winner." (Update: RGA spokesman Jon Thompson echoed Trillo's view that the RGA won't take sides in the primary.) Trillo has not publicly set a date for a campaign announcement, but he continues to move ahead with his gubernatorial run and plans to stage fundraisers in August and September. (Besides Fung, other potential GOP candidates include House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, entrepreneur Giovanni Feroce and businessman Ken Block.)

2. How much have norms changed during the era of Trump? So much that U.S. Sen. Jack Reed can disparage the president as "crazy" in an unintentionally recorded hot mic conversation, and it mostly plays to Reed's benefit in Rhode Island. "This was a conversation between two friends, and that’s not usually what you hear on formal statements from people in public office,” Reed told RIPR. That's especially true for Reed, someone who has been known for his carefully measured public statements. But in a reflection of changing times in DC, RI's senior senator has sharpened his rhetoric in recent months. And Reed seemingly won more points by taking ownership of his unscripted remarks, rather than disavowing them. As Reed said, "The other thing, too, is that it tapped into the sense of frustration that a lot of Rhode Islanders have."

3. Rhode Island Senate Democrats plan to stage a closed caucus Monday, setting the stage for a possible end to the month-long budget impasse. That follows a series of meetings between Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and an uptick in Governor Gina Raimondo's public focus on the issue.

4. State Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence) continues to aggressively outreach to fellow Democrats ahead of an expected primary challenge next year to Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee. TGIF detailed Regunberg's prospective campaign back in February (#4), and all signs indicate that he's charging ahead, even if he remains demure. "2018 is a long way off, and my primary focus right now is getting paid sick days across the legislative finish line for over 100,000 Rhode Islanders who need it," the two-term rep said in response to a request for comment. "I am also trying to gather input from community members around our state on how I can be most effective in elevating the issues I've always fought for -- putting government on the side of working people, taking bold climate action [and] standing up for reproductive rights. That's a deliberative conversation I look forward to continuing." 

5. Like other Rhode Islanders, Joe Trillo wonders why Scott Avedisian, the popular mayor in perpetuity of Warwick, isn't part of the conversation about GOP gubernatorial candidates in 2018. As Scott MacKay noted on Roundtable, Avedisian is not just the head of the state's second-largest city, but one of the most electorally successful GOP mayors in Ocean State history. "I don't disagree," Trillo said, that Avedisian could be a formidable statewide candidate. "As a matter of fact I have had that conversation over the years with Mayor Avedisian. I have told him that I think he needs to run for governor. So what his reasons are at this point, I can't guess. He may feel as though he's not conservative enough to come out of a Republican primary, and that may be the case. But Scott Avedisian is a relatively young man, I would hope that at some point he would consider a run for governor." (Back in 2012, John Loughlin said, "Scott Avedisian can’t win a Rhode Island Republican primary, because of the ring-wing elements that have kind of co-opted the party. So I think the party really needs to reassess who it is, where it’s going, and include more moderate voices, frankly.”) For the record, Mayor Avedisian tells me he hasn't ruled anything out for 2018 and will make a decision by year's end.)

6. During his National Governors Association appearance in Providence, Vice President Mike Pence deployed the Trump administration line that Obamacare is "imploding." Then again, the administration hasn't exactly been hands off in its approach to Obamacare, as the New York Times reported, working to weaken the individual mandate, impose work requirements for Medicaid recipients and not pursuing advertising or outreach. Meanwhile, some Republican voters in mid-America remains surprised that GOP officials in DC haven't had a suitable replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Closer to home, some smart observations from Sam Howard: "One of the reasons I think the ACA was unpopular is that it forced a lot of people to deal w/ the complexity of the healthcare system ... when they had avoided it before. No previous experience to compare it against. So debacles were really annoying ... same reasons people hate the DMV and the IRS. Confusing bureaucratic systems. But people hate Verizon (for example) for the same reason."

7. House Finance Chairman Marvin Abney gets a cameo (two!) in this video promoting pedestrian safety in Newport.

8. From remarks Friday by Sen. Reed on the ACA: "The proposal my Republican colleagues proposed last evening would have dropped 16 million Americans from coverage, increased cost, and plunged our entire health insurance marketplace into chaos.  Governor Raimondo estimates that if it passed, the Republican proposal would have cost Rhode Island about $2 billion over six years, threatened coverage for 100,000 Rhode Islanders and could have cost the state thousands of jobs. So this is really a victory of the American people. It was the thousands of Americans all across this land in Rhode Island and in Arkansas and in Oklahoma and in Oregon who came out and made it clear that, they needed health care, that their families depended upon it, that their ability to compete and contribute to the country depended upon it, and so for them this is a moment that is important and significant. It was not shocking last night, frankly, when this measure was defeated because the bill was hastily put together ... Now it’s not just an issue of opposing something, it’s now an issue of coming together, Democrats and Republicans, state leaders, national leaders, doctors, patients, everyone coming together to try to craft improvements to the existing health care system. We’ve made progress with the Affordable Care Act. We’ve had millions of people covered in this country. We’ve had a situation where men and women were without access to any health care now have it. We’ve done a lot of good things. We can do better things, but that requires cooperation across the aisle, and Sheldon and I stand ready to work across the aisle from state level to federal level to community level to improve our system. And now, I think it’s up to the President to join this great effort. It would be really unfortunate if the president decided that his response is to undercut the current health care system, to try to upset and disrupt the delivery of health care millions of people as a result of this effort, rather than to join with us, work with us, improve the system so that we all and more importantly American people can look forward to much better health care in the days ahead. So that is my hope."

9. Jason Fane's proposed 46-story residential tower got an initial approval from the I-195 District Commission this week. The structure raises concerns for some due to its height and potential impact on nearby uses. Yet the development would boost the residential density near downtown Providence and, supporters say, send a message that the city is open for business. As Kate Bramson reported in the ProJo, "Fane insisted at the meeting he’s only seeking the maximum $15 million allowed under the state’s Rebuild Rhode Island tax-credit project; the sales-tax exemption that program allows developers to take on construction materials; and the tax-stabilization agreement in place for all projects on the former highway land controlled by the 195 Commission."

10. GateHouse Media, owner of The Providence Journal, "now operates more newspaper titles than any other company in the U.S., or the globe," writes media critic Ken Doctor, in a story on how GateHouse and two other companies, Digital First and Gannett, own a quarter of the nation's newspapers. Doctor goes on to ask, "Is megaclustering just a phase in the seemingly eternal downturn of daily newspapers or a point of stability? Will it be like a supernova, burning brightly for a short time -- before the light goes out completely? A lot will depend on old-fashioned business execution. Clustering, or megaclustering, requires smart management, with even attention to cost reduction and product value, though too many newspaper companies have focused disproportionately on the former and seen their customer rolls dwindle. Certainly, smarter reorganization of newsroom resources is a demand of the time."

11. Joe Trillo had a run-in with the East Greenwich Yacht Club when he was still in office, so I asked him on Bonus Q&A whether some related bills he filed as a rep had a vindictive motivation. Here's Trillo's response: "I was booted from the club because I had an argument with one of the people that worked there that was towing my boat at the time. And we're in a windstorm and he threatened to untie the boat when I criticized the manner in which he was tying it. So I used a few unchoicely words and he got upset and reported me like a little child back to the board. But the club is made up of people that wanted to get me out of the club. Because I had waited 13 years for a slip and I was at the top of list to get a slip. But they don't like power boaters because 90 percent of the club are sail boaters, and there's a different mentality between the power boaters and the sail boaters. So what they did was they offered me an ultimatum, I had to apologize to him. I'm not going to apologize to anybody when I think I'm right. And I'm right and I was within my rights to criticize him and I stand on that."

12, Is Providence still Crimetown? A good read from Dan McGowan in East Side Monthly. The story illustrates the point that the architecture of government is part of what's needed to discourage corruption: "Ward 2 Councilman Sam Zurier has been pushing for an amendment to the city’s code of ethics that would force members of the City Council to step away from any leadership positions and committee assignments if they’re charged with a felony. He wants councilors who have failed to file campaign finance reports to be suspended from leadership posts and committees until they file the reports. Zurier also wants all councilors to have their campaign finance reports and annual financial disclosures posted on the city’s website, but his colleagues haven’t shown much of an appetite for the proposals."

13. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, routinely polls a lot better than Rhode Island counterpart Gina Raimondo, a Democrat in a very blue state. So what's the explanation? Is it mostly due to the red-hot Boston economy and how RI has been a longtime economic laggard? Are women in executive office still held to a tougher standard than men? (Brown political science professor Wendy Schiller believes that's part of the answer, as she tells Scott MacKay in his column looking at this subject.) Yet as Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell tells Chris Cillizza, Baker's personality and management style is also part of his appeal: "When he ran in 2014 he did so as basically a non-partisan manager. He said he would watch the state's pocketbook after eight years of a Democratic governor who proposed a lot of new spending. At the same time Baker is for abortion rights and featured his brother's coming-out story in a legendary campaign ad. After becoming governor Baker has avoided national politics. He didn't even vote for president. Right after he took office the state faced huge blizzards that crippled an aging public transportation infrastructure. He got good grades for his emergency management and has since made fixing the MBTA a top priority. So in other words, Massachusetts voters have no problem with a Republican governor, things are going well, and Baker hasn't done anything so horrible to give people reason not give him high job approval ratings."

14. Don't miss Dan Shaughnessy's column calling out Red Sox pitcher David Price.

15. Meanwhile, former ProJo sportswriter Sean McAdam has signed on as the Red Sox beat writer for a new media outlet, BostonSportsJournal.com.

16. Can harvesting young blood help the aging process? Via Marketplace: "Are we on the path to achieving immortality? Eh, not quite. But there is a potentially promising new medical procedure that could help alleviate the effects of aging, and it involves harvesting young blood. The practice of parabiosis — which involves stitching two animals together so that their circulatory systems are intertwined  — has been shown to have some rejuvenating effects on mice. While testing on humans hasn't gone that far, some companies are taking on this concept by offering people blood transfusions."

17. Exeter native Seth Larson, former communications director for U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, is changing jobs, moving from a comms job at the U.S. Department of Energy to become a senior specialist for media and external affairs at the World Wildlife Fund. "It’s an incredible organization doing some really exciting work," Larson said via email, "and I couldn’t be happier to be joining their team."

18. Boston's booming economy is increasingly taking a toll on the city's roads and public transportation, as Jon Chesto reports in the Globe.

19. "The Ongoing Battle Between Science Teachers And Fake News"

20. Mary Anderson got bragging rights for inventing windshield wipers in 1903, even if she wasn't able to cash in on her idea.

This post has been updated.