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

Dec 15, 2017

Ah, the intra-party fellowship of the holiday season! That's one of one of our top themes this week, so 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. is House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's re-election outlook in District 15 the tail that's swinging the dog of statewide policy on such issues as the fate of the PawSox and eliminating the car tax? Mattiello vows the PawSox stadium proposal will be assessed on its merits if it lands in the House in January. But: "In this particular case what my constituents are saying is what my colleagues' constituents are saying across the state," the speaker told me in an interview set to air next week on RI Public Radio. "And what I've heard from most folks is, everybody loves the PawSox, everybody wants them to stay in the state of Rhode Island, and they're hoping they stay, but they don't want public monies to go into keeping them in the state." Then again, taking a pass on the PawSox bill in the House would deprive Republican Steven Frias, who came very close to knocking off the speaker in 2016, of a potentially potent campaign issue. It was in the face of Frias' challenge that Mattiello unveiled his pledge to eliminate the car tax -- an initiative that threatens to place more stress on the state budget during an era of persistent deficits. For his part, Mattiello rejects the suggestion that his constituents are having a disproportionate impact on statewide policy. "What I find is that my constituents are pretty reflective of what I'm hearing from all of my colleagues," he said, calling the elimination of the car tax "a universally loved proposal .... We listen to folks from throughout the state and on those two issues, peoples are pretty universally in agreement." Meanwhile, Frias tells me he remains undecided on whether he'll pursue a rematch with Mattiello.

2. Meanwhile, what to make of the conflict between the Women's Caucus of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, on one hand, and party executive director Kevin Olasanoye and communications director Ann Gooding on the other? Gov. Gina Raimondo rallied to support the aggrieved feelings of the Women's Caucus, following a dispute Thursday evening. "This is a problem. It's a problem," Raimondo said. "The party needs to be a big tent and women and the Women's Caucus need to feel welcomed and respected in the party. That's the future of the party. And so the way this was handled was the women felt, justifiably, disrespected. Patronized, too. And that's a problem." But the Women's Caucus was meeting at the state Democratic Party office, so is it really unusual that Olasanoye (who happens to be an African-American who grew up in South Providence) or Gooding (who holds the post of communications director in the the state party apparatus) wanted to be present during interviews for executive committee members for the caucus? Gooding said she thinks it was wrong for the nominating committee to forbid another staffer from sitting in during interviews. She said one of the caucus’ organizers sent her a note of apology Friday morning. “The Democratic Party remains steadfast in believing the process should be open, fair and transparent,” Gooding said in a statement. “It’s our responsibility to ensure that our party – in all its caucuses – remains that way.” And Olasanoye said transparency is particularly important given how some Democrats felt Bernie Sanders got treated unfairly during the 2016 presidential election.

3. Speaker Mattiello and Governor Raimondo make nice when they meet in public, as during a state Democratic Party fundraiser Tuesday at Deepwater Wind. Yet there's a split in their view on the PawSox: Mattiello said it will not represent a failure of leadership if the team winds up leaving Rhode Island. "It just may reflect the will of the people of the state of Rhode Island. Whatever public-private partnerships the state enters into has to be something that is, number 1, good for the taxpayers, and, number 2, something that the taxpayers are interested entering into. And if they're not interested in entering that, it's not a failure -- it's just that their will is being accomplished." But Raimondo said it would be a failure of leadership if the PawSox wind up leaving Rhode Island. "Right now we have a deal before us that I think does protect taxpayers. I believe that if the legislature were to pass this and everyone acts in good faith we can get this done. We have to be a little careful. I don't think we should get in to a bidding war and if we got to a place were Worcester was bidding up the price, and the owners wanted us to pay more, then I would say no .... But at this point, yes, let's make this happen."

4. As I tweeted earlier this week, Jake London has signed on to manage Aaron Regunberg's campaign for lieutenant governor. London was deputy campaign manager in 2016 for New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. A grad of Hamilton College, London previously worked for Rio Strategies and Democracy for America. (Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee has not yet hired a campaign manager, said spokesman Mike Trainor.)

5. Progressive activist Kate Coyne-McCoy said she's undecided about whether she'll revive her American Leadhership PAC for the 2018 election cycle. By Coyne-McCoy's estimate, the PAC spent about $1 million in support of Gov. Raimondo's winning gubernatorial campaign in 2014. For now, the URL for the PAC is home to some kind of Chinese-language web site. Whether she reactivates the PAC depends on "the lay of the land, here and abroad," Coyne-McCoy told me. In 2014, American Leadhership supported a pro-Raimondo ad immediately after the primary, when the Democrat's well-funded campaign briefly went dark and also backed some mail and phone efforts. For now, with Christmas approaching, the former EMILY's List regional director and congressional candidate said she's in no hurry to make a decision. Coyne-McCoy said she founded the PAC to support pro-choice women gubernatorial candidates, and may support others in 2018, although Raimondo was the only candidate backed by American Leadhership in 2014. This time around, Raimondo has already raised more than $3 million for her campaign.

6. The backlash from conservatives was swift and sharp after I tweeted a pic earlier this week of a progressive values pledge devised by the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats. Mike Stenhouse tweeted this: "If we didn't know what Progressive-Democrats stood for before, there can be no doubt now. I do not believe that many mainstream Democrats or RIers would knowingly support this radical agenda." The Gaspee Project offered this: "2018 elections will be an interesting referendum on progressivism in RI. Do sane-thinking Democrats recognize the threat, and will they openly work to purge progressives from their party and from power?" Nathan Carpenter, secretary of the RI Progressive Democrats, offered this explanation of the pledge and its purpose: "We'll have the values pledge returned [starting in the spring], put it to a vote with the executive board and then proceed from there. We find these questions to be in line with where the party is trending and that they're fair to anyone running in the current political climate. There has been some conservative backlash on the pledge, but I find it ironic when our first ask is to not vote for House Majority Leader Nicholas Matiello and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio. [Note: Ruggerio is president of the Senate] These are two men that are given an A+ rating from the NRA and are both endorsed by RI Right to Life. In 2013 Senator Ruggerio filed legislation to define marriage as being between a man and a woman and House Speaker Matiello has voted for stricter voting ID laws. So the question is not are these democratic leaders, but are they Democrats at all? We have received several of these questionnaires from potential candidates and we're hoping for a few dozen more from people running for school committee all the way up to governor. None of these questionnaires will be released to the public, but since Bernie Sanders won the Rhode Island primary back in April and since Trump won the presidency in November we have seen a ton of people that are looking to make a difference and we'd love to hear from all of them. This Monday I'm actually hoping to meet several more candidates at a coat drive we're hosting and entrance is free of charge with the donation of a warm article of clothing." 

7. Although he filed a notice of campaign organization with the state Board of Elections in late November, Providence lawyer Jose Batista said he's still exploring a possible Democratic run for AG in 2018. Former US Attorney Peter Neronha's perceived strength has so far cleared the field of other candidates for AG. But Batista, a former president of the Rhode Island Latino Politcal Action Committee, said he's been considering such a run for a long time, due to his interest in the criminal justice system. He said he plans to make his decision on a possible run after the holidays.

8. RIPR's Lynn Arditi reports on how the UHIP debacle is still leaving some Rhode Islanders out in the cold.

9. CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo recently spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep about CVS' move to acquire Aetna. Here are some excerpts from what Merlo said: "Imagine a world where that patient can walk into a CVS pharmacist, they can engage with a nutritionist about their diet. They can talk to a nurse practitioner, perhaps have their blood glucose level checked, talk to their pharmacist about medication .... You think about the capabilities that Aetna has in terms of its ability to utilize information, and you combine that with the convenience and the human touch of CVS, and it gives us the opportunity to be more proactive in terms of how we engage patients, and you'll help them achieve the best health possible for them .... This combination is about reducing overall health care costs. And the ability to do that will allow us to bring products to market with, you know, lower premiums, perhaps lower deductibles. And that's how the system works."

10. In the aftermath of the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, you owe it to yourself to listen to this story by Anthony Brooks, a former news director here at RIPR. Powerful stuff.

11. Back in 2006, the ProJo colleagues of Arthur Gregg Sulzberger overflowed with superlatives in describing him for a profile I wrote in The Providene Phoenix (no longer online, sadly): "For a scion of a family, he's not a playboy driving a Ferrari around Newport," Scott MacKay said at the time. The late Peter Lord, who had been working as the paper's city editor at the time, recalled how Sulzberger walked downtown after his car got stuck near his East Side apartment during a 2005 blizzard. "I was just really impressed that he would show up, sick and wet, and cheerfully help turn out two page-one stories, when a lot of people never made it to the office that day," Lord said. Now, Sulzberger, 37, has gotten the nod as publisher of The New York Times, a destiny we could detect even when he was an understated 25-year-old.

12. By the measure of one study, the fishing port in New Bedford accounts for 2 percent of GDP in Massachusetts. The city's mayor, Jon Mitchell, talked about that and other issues during this week's RIPR Political Roundtable and Bonus Q&A.

13. Media notes: Ken Doctor on the three fault lines remaking the media landscape .... Check out The Boston Globe's multi-faceted deep dive on whether Boston deserves a reputation for racism ..... With Gatehouse moving to acquire The Boston Herald, it's worth remembering a 1983 Herald front page, with the blaring headline: "White Will Run" Background: "It was a scoop that Peter Lucas, then a Herald columnist, thought the mayor had given him a night earlier, only to learn 24 hours later that White would not seek a fifth term. For a brief time, the Herald seemed to have beaten all of its competitors among the Boston news media in the feeding frenzy to get the hottest political story of the year."

14. Meanwhile, media critic Dan Kennedy calls the results of Democrat Doug Jones' dramatic win over Republican Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama a victory for journalism: "If The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites hadn’t interviewed courageous women and exposed Roy Moore as a likely pedophile, the outcome of the election could have been very different. And if the Post hadn’t turned the tables on Project Veritas when it attempted a sting to discredit its reporting, the consequences for journalism would have been catastrophic."

15. Providence College alum John Bisognano is working for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, as director of campaigns and outreach.

16. Cannabis cafes are not just for Amsterdam anymore. Via WBUR's Steve Brown: "Sometime soon in Massachusetts, you'll be able to walk into a cafe, ask for a marijuana product, and consume it right there without heading home first. The state agency responsible for regulating legalized marijuana approved a policy on Monday that will allow for such establishments, so-called 'cannabis cafes,' to open — where one can buy a cannabis product and then legally consume it on the premises, just like buying a drink at a bar. 'The idea of on-site consumption is that people who are using cannabis would have a legal place to do it other than their own home,' said Shaleen Title, a commissioner on the Cannabis Control Commission. She authored the policy, which was voted in unanimously by all five members of the commission. State law prohibits marijuana use in public, but allows the commission to license on-premises establishments. Title says establishments can provide modeling for responsible cannabis use. 'I think that with cannabis use, having been so underground as part of prohibition, it was something that had to be kept secret and as a result, there wasn't as much opportunity for education and awareness and the sharing of information about responsible use, so that's the part I'm excited about,' said Title."

17. A lot of talk about this one this week: "Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society"

18. Brown University President Christina Paxson's $1.067.491 in compensation ranks near the bottom of the 59 university presidents who get more than $1 million a year in compensation, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, although that's far less than the more than $4 million hauled in by category leader Nathan Hatch of Wake Forest University (much of it in the vesting of deferred compensation). Meanwhile, as NPR's Anya Kamenetz reports, "At a time when the cost of college and the burden of student loans weigh heavily on many families, college president pay can stoke resentment. Most of the institutions at which executives earn a lot of money also have high tuition — but use their resources to reduce student borrowing, too. Nationally about seven in ten students take out loans for an undergraduate degree, but at the 10 schools with the highest-paid presidents, all private colleges, the average was half that. Only 36 percent of their students borrowed at all, and their average debt was around $22,000 — compared with an average loan burden around $32,000 for all private nonprofit colleges."

19. CEOs are going to RISD to learn how to think more creatively.

20. With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, Scott MacKay has some seasonal verse for the holiday. Excerpt: "Governor Gina was quite zealous, but Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s approval rating was making her jealous/Senator Josh Miller’s collar was  hot, peeved  that the governor won’t legalize pot/Patricia Morgan’s head was swimmin’, with visions of a big turnout of Republican women/Mayor Fung, once quick with a quip, now only wants to talk about UHIP."