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

Aug 18, 2017

We'll skip the opening quip this week, because, this week. Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual, your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Democrats accused President Trump of failing a key leadership test with his response to the events last weekend in Charlotte, while Republicans condemned hate and racism while mostly avoiding criticism of the president. That was true in Washington, D.C., and also in Rhode Island, where state Democrats issued a joint statement Wednesday. State Rep. Bobby Nardolillo (R-Coventry), a challenger to U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, continued his practice of demonstrating some distance from Trump. "I am very disappointed in the president's comments on the assigning only partial fault to the white supremacists groups," Nardolillo said in a tweet. "This was nothing more than a one sided act of violence." But most local Republicans -- including Joe Trillo, the honorary chairman of Trump's RI campaign last year, and RI GOP Chairman Brandon Bell -- gave Trump the benefit of the doubt. Bell rejected the view that Trump was trying to shore up his base with his remarks on Charlottesville, saying in part, "I don’t presume that Donald Trump is a racist and I think that if one is predisposed to not like Donald Trump, they’re going to believe that [he is]. I think he just had trouble articulating what he was talking about.” Across the aisle, local Democrats were sharp in their criticism of the president. "The hateful and violent actions of white supremacists and self-identified Nazis this weekend leave no room for equivocation," Governor Gina Raimondo said in a statement. "President Trump responded to the events this weekend with dog whistles and muddled words."

2. "Rhode Island played a leading role in the transatlantic slave trade," noted an exhibition at the John Carter Brown Library. "Not only did Rhode Islanders have slaves—they had more per capita than any other New England state—but they also entered with gusto into the trade. By the close of the eighteenth century, Rhode Islanders had mounted at least a thousand voyages from Africa to the Americas." In 2003, then-Brown University President Ruth Simmons appointed a steering committee on slavery and justice (General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, then a student at Brown, served on the panel), and the group later released a report. In a reflection of the divergent reactions to discussions of race in America, the report included excerpts of letters sent to the steering committee. One called the committee's mission "an effort fraught with potential for conflict, embarrassment, and discord. But few issues in U.S. society are so important, and you deserve great credit for taking on this important work." Another person wrote in part, "You disgust me, as you disgust many other Americans. Slavery was wrong, but at that time it was a legal enterprise. It ended, case closed. You cite slavery’s effects as being the reason that black people are so far behind, but that just illustrates your ignorance." The most recent update on the report's recommendations appears to be from 2011.

3. Former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders tells me he expects to announce his Republican challenge to Sen. Whitehouse "some time this fall." Meanwhile, fellow Republican Bobby Nardolillo, who announced back in May his own challenge to Whitehouse, is rejecting rumors that he might switch to a CD2 run against Jim Langevin (or some other race) instead: "Ignore the rumors" Nardolillo tweeted. "Those who are spreading them have a weak campaign and need lies to strengthen their efforts." Campaign adviser Mark Zaccaria went further, telling me it's a U.S. Senate run or nothing for Nardolillo. Meanwhile, no names have surfaced for challengers in CD1 or CD2 next year other than former independent [update: he's now a Republican] Sal Caiozzo, who plans to kick off a CD2 run on September 14.

4. State GOP Chairman Brandon Bell landed an impressive headliner for an August 28 fundraiser for the RI GOP -- Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who has repeatedly polled as the nation's most popular governor. "Governor Raimondo should take a few notes on how Governor Baker runs the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Bell chirped in one of his releases on the event, pointing to how "MA has created 10x more jobs than RI since 2014; MA joined the top 10 States for business, while RI is stuck near the very bottom; Since Jan. 2015, the rate of job growth has been significantly higher in MA than RI ...." As we've noted before, Raimondo's stewardship of the state -- and especially the economy -- looms as the top debating point in next year's race for governor. So naturally the Democratic governor's communications director, Mike Raia, is highlighting some details from the latest state jobs report: "Top four months in RI job count on record: 1. July 2017 - 499,200 jobs 2. May 2017 - 496,400 3. June 2017 - 496,100 4. Dec 2006 - 495,700 .... Put another way: the three best months for job count in RI's recorded history have happened on @GovRaimondo's watch"

5. The RI House of Representatives goofed this week by posting on its Facebook page the Republican Governors Association's latest critical missive about Governor Raimondo. The post has been taken down, but you can see a screenshot here.

6. State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown) expects a big political mobilization by Rhode Island woman in the year to come, in large part as a response to President Trump. Reproductive rights "is the number one issue that I hear about in my district right now," Tanzi said on RI Public Radio's Bonus Q&A this week. "There's a base that is energized that I have never seen the likes of. And I think that failure to address the needs of individuals that are out asking for acknowledgement of the crisis that's ahead -- whether it be appealing Obamacare to any number of issues. Failure to address those needs, I think, would be the political problem."

7. A slowdown appears afoot after the Valley Breeze's Ethan Shorey reported Tuesday that Senate Finance Chairman Billy Conley "is set to announce a full schedule of hearings on a proposed financing deal for the Pawtucket Red Sox ..." Now, Senate spokesman Greg Pare reports that the specific hearing dates "are still being finalized, but we hope to have them in the near future," with hearings in September. So what's going on? Is Larry Lucchino's putting down of the local political culture cooling support in the Senate? (“We’re in the midst of Rhode Island politics, which is always a challenge,” Lucchino told WEEI this week. “We are waiting to see if there will be a fall session of the legislature, at which time they would pass enabling legislation to allow Pawtucket to build a ballpark.”) However, the special session set for September 19 will not include consideration of the stadium proposal. For now, as we noted last week, the lack of PawSox-related activity in Rhode Island is more conspicuous than what is happening. Worcester has rolled out the red carpet, but the X factor remains whether Wormtown will make a financial pitch competitive with the Pawtucket proposal. As the Worcester T&G reported, "Massachusetts legislators told the Telegram & Gazette this week the Legislature is unlikely to put public dollars toward a stadium for a private team."

8. There were a few skirmishes this week in the ongoing battle over the truck tolls in Governor Raimondo's RhodeWorks initiative. On Tuesday, RI Trucking Association President and CEO Christopher Maxwell pointed to this statement from American Trucking Association head Chris Spear: [The trucking industry's more than $676 billion in revenue in 2016] "highlights exactly what I tell elected officials, regulators and key decision-makers every day: trucking is literally the driving force behind our great economy." Then on Thursday, the state Traffic Commission rebuffed, for now, a move to restrict tractor trailers from 14 roadway around the state. While Raimondo has expressed confidence that the state will win the coming legal battle over truck tolls, some see it otherwise. "The legislative record is full of arguments as to how this plan invites - and will fail - constitutional scrutiny by the federal courts," tweeted ex-Rep Dan Reilly.

9. The strength of the progressive caucus in the Rhode Island House has waxed and waned over the years, depending on the size of its ranks. So can a prog like state Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence) be more effective by staying in the House, or by giving up his seat after two terms (as expected) to run for lieutenant governor? Here's the response from a fellow prog, Rep. Tanzi: "Aaron has amazing energy and there's so much excitement around the talk of him running for lieutenant governor. When Frank Ferri had this very same discussion [three] years ago as to whether or not he should leave the House -- again a very effective and energetic legislator. I have to say they have to pursue what office they think is best for them .... [lieutenant governor is a] difficult position to use it as a platform and that's why I think Aaron would be particularly good at it, because he has a deep bench of ideas and policies that he wants to put forward. So he could very easily take position into relevancy."

10. Republican Mike Smith and Democrat Dawn Euer are pushing hard ahead of the special election next Tuesday, August 22, for the District 13 state Senate seat formerly held by Teresa Paiva Weed. (Independent Kimberly Ripoli and Green Gregory Larson are also running.) Euer rolled out an endorsement this week from Sen. Whitehouse: "Dawn is a smart attorney and has the experience necessary to hit the ground running. She is committed to rooting out corruption in government and taking proper measures to ensure that so-called dark money is brought into the light. Her commitment to the environment and climate change will ensure that her district, completely surrounded by water, has great representation at the RI State House." Smith countered with the backing of Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop: "I am supporting the business oriented, jobs focussed candidate, moderate Mike Smith. Progress in this state can only be achieved when moderates in both parties come together in the middle for reasonable solutions. The extreme progressive agenda that is being supported by his opponent does not even attempt to come back to the center. If enacted, the progressive agenda will cost taxpayers billions of dollars in additional spending." RI Dems are rallying behind Euer, while conservatives, including the Gaspee Project, are urging support for Smith.

11. Cliff Wood, the new executive director of the Providence Foundation, talks with yours truly about the future of Kennedy Plaza.

12. From Larry Sabato's look at gubernatorial races in 2018: "Further northeast in Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), a weaker 2014 winner than [Pennsylvania Gov. Tom] Wolf, has had an even rockier tenure, and it’s possible she will face a credible primary challenge from former Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) or someone else. The GOP may not be able to capitalize on her weakness, though, both because of the state’s generic Democratic lean and because they may lack a top-tier candidate. Allan Fung (R), the mayor of Cranston and the party’s 2014 nominee, seems likely to run again, although he probably will have primary competition. Both of these races are just Leans Democratic, even though national Republicans are well aware of the difficulties of unseating incumbent governors (about three in four who sought another term in the postwar era have been reelected)."

13. Andres Taborda, a one-time super page in the RI House, is now working as a marketing associate at Regnery Publishing. As NPR's Lynn Neary reported earlier this year, "Regnery books — which marks its 70th anniversary this year — is the grand old dame of conservative publishing. Dinesh d'Souza, Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham have all published with Regnery. 'For many years we would say what was bad for the country was good for Regnery,' says Marji Ross, Regnery's president and publisher. 'And by that we meant that when the opposition was in power that made our job a little easier and our books more successful.' "

14. Rep. Tanzi's ideas on how the General Assembly might avoid another budget impasse: "[Move] the May and November [revenue] estimating conferences a month and a half each earlier, and being able to get the budget out of the way earlier. There's no reason that we have to wait until June to do it. Historically, that was not the case. It's been done quite easily in May in many decades past -- I think that would be the start -- and then we would have weeks to concentrate on effective public policy." Tanzi, a member of the House Finance and Oversight committee, doesn't disagree with the idea that state spending has gotten out of control, with the latest budget topping $9.2 billion. "Stay tunedm" she said, "because the next thing we're looking at is state contracts and our use of consultants."

15. Energy Tomorrow has a compelling read on the intersection of clams and energy in Rhode Island.

16. Statehouse odds and ends: Richard Raspallo, legal counsel to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, was nominated this week to become a Superior Court magistrate, continuing the long tradition of former lawmakers and Statehouse staffers moving into judicial positions (Andrea Iannazzi, a legal advisor to the governor, also got a magistrate's appointment, in Family Court) .... a new anonymously presented web site offers insight on General Assembly attendance and related topics .... Dave Sweeney, newly named CoS to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was a Providence College classmate ('05) of Governor Ramindo's comms director, Mike Raia.

17. north, the wonderful West Side restaurant, is moving into the Dean Hotel on Fountain Street. Meanwhile, north founder James has some thoughts on what he calls embedded racism.

18. For the fourth time in less than five years, the RI ACLU has sued "over Rhode Island law enforcement’s practice of seizing lawfully owned firearms under exigent circumstances but then refusing to return them without court intervention." .... Meanwhile, on Bonus Q&A, Rep. Tanzi said House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to supported her bill to disarm domestic abusers due to the persistence of advocates. "After three years of explaining the impact of allowing domestic abusers to possess guns, understanding that impact on the lives of everyday Rhode Islanders, I think it weighed upon him." Tanzi rejected the idea that Mattiello's support for her bill was a reaction to how the gun lobby came down in the 2016 state rep battle between Mattiello and Republican Steven Frias. "I think it was because of the grassroots effort that was put forth at the General Assembly," Tanzi said. "We had a broad coalition, with domestic violence individuals, we had survivors showing up and sharing their stories, we had gun [anti-]violence advocates coming forward and then we had moms coming out and advocating." (Tanzi's bill and its Senate counterpart remain in limbo due to the state budget impasse, but are expected to get approved in the special legislative session next month.)

19. Rest in peace, Tom Bates, a partner in such Providence watering holes as the Met Cafe and the Hot Club.

20. Via Phil Eil: "Being a Journalist is Terrible for Your Mental Health" Excerpt: "It had been literally years since I had gotten or given myself a vacation, so I bought a bike, started playing golf after a decade away, and filled my days with museums and movies and regularly therapy sessions. I spent time with friends and family members, including my baby niece. I unplugged from social media (sacrilege for a journo) and, at times, I consciously steered clear of listening to the news. Over time, my mood lifted and my energy and mental clarity returned; I stopped scanning local job boards for non-journalism jobs. Eventually, I was ready to ease back into work, albeit with a whole new set of healthy habits and psychological safeguards."