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

Feb 9, 2018

There was a lot going down in Providence this week, so that's a good place to start 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. In politics -- as in war -- the best defense is often a strong offense. That could explain why Gov. Gina Raimondo's campaign made a fundraising agreement with the Providence Democratic City Committee. (Caveat: it's unclear if this agreement will remain in place now that Patrick Ward has resigned as Prov Dem chairman.) Yet the deal looks like an effort to expand Raimondo's already-ample fundraising, since individual contributions are capped at $1,000, per candidate, per year, while up to $10,000 can be donated to multiple political committees for so-called party-building activities. As Common Cause of RI Executive Director John Marion told me, “Governor Raimondo seems to have this really deep national fundraising network – people of means, many of whom could give bigger checks than $1,000 if they were allowed, and this a mechanism for them to do that.” The other view of the Raimondo-Providence Democrats agreement is that it's an attempted end-run around the state Democratic Party, which is effectively controlled by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. (Elsewhere, Kevin Olasanoye, executive director of the RI Democratic Party, said talks continue about creating a coordinated campaign for the general election later this year. "We are certainly working toward that," he said.) Yet the undisclosed nature of the details of the Raimondo-Providence Democrats' agreement, and the fact that Ward was hired last year by the state, also offer a line of attack for state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell. "Has the Raimondo Administration declassified the secret agreement?" Bell tweeted. (Raimondo has yet to formally announce her re-election campaign, so she doesn't have a designated spokesperson for campaign-related questions; the governor's press secretary, David Ortiz, did not respond to questions about the agreement with Providence Democrats.) But it's clear that Raimondo will need to dominate the Providence battlefield to win re-election in 2018. Back in 2014, the Democrat's margin over Republican Allan Fung in Rhode Island's capital city (16,217 votes) was greater than her statewide lead over Fung (14,471 votes).

2. Patrick Ward's Godfather-themed meme made its brief online appearance in December before being deleted, so why did Providence City Councilors John Igliozzi and Nicholas Narducci -- among other elected officials -- wait until this week to unload on Ward? "Never let a crisis go to waste," as the saying goes in politics. For his part, Ward apologized for the meme, writing on Facebook, "In December of 2017, I was going through a difficult period as I watched my wife lose her position as President of the Providence City Council. The swiftness of it took us by surprise and in a moment of weakness I posted a childish meme on social media. I deeply regret that moment and wish I could take it back." In his resignation letter, Ward wrote, "It is apparent that recent events have caused a distraction on one of the most important elections in recent memory.  It is but for my love of the Democratic Party that I feel it best to resign and continue my independent work for equality, representation and a voice for those less privileged."

3. The conflict between Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and the Providence Teachers Union became a full-blown spectacle when the PTU attempted to shout down Elorza during his State of the City speech this week. That's not the best look, particularly when Providence students continue to dramatically under-perform on some key assessments. The teachers' union faults Elorza for the ill will over the contract. "[I]n recent weeks, despite significant progress toward an agreement, the Mayor and his administration have reneged on many of their previous offers – showing their refusal to negotiate in good faith," the union said in a statement. "This lack of respect for the teachers and support professionals who educate Providence’s children is unprofessional and unacceptable." But Elorza said the underlying issue is money -- or rather the absence of it. “We need to figure out a way to address these long-term financial challenges," the mayor said during a recent interview at RI Public Radio. "And once we’re in a better position, well, then we can talk about raises not just for teachers, but for all of our public employees. But until then we just can’t give away more than we can afford.”

4. Brown alum Janet Yellen's tenure as Federal Reserve chairwoman comes to an end and the stock market goes to hell -- is that about it? (Related: "The Richest 10% of Americans Now Own 84% Of All Stocks")

5. The 12-person legislative commission appointed to study the line-item veto is exclusively male. To some past and current female lawmakers, that's a cause for concern. But it also reflects other factors, including how the sponsors of related legislation are male lawmakers and how some of those in earmarked slots, like for the president of the Rhode Island Society of CPAs, happen to be men. The membership was announced in a January 26 news release, with a mix of current lawmakers and people like lawyer Patrick Conley, former AG James O'Neill and RI CPAs President  Robert Mancini, president of the Rhode Island Society of CPAs. Senate spokesman Greg Pare said Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin declined a request to serve on the panel. The only woman in the top five legislative positions, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, picked House Whip Blake Filippi, a lawyer and constitutional enthusiast, as her pick for the line-item panel.

6. Meanwhile, the commission envisioned by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown) as a way to respond to issues of sexual harassment at the Statehouse is expected to take shape in the near future with an overwhelmingly female membership. Tanzi said she expects to meet with Speaker Mattiello on this issue in the coming week, and that the commission could start meeting in March. In California, after years of delay, lawmakers have passed a measure that would offer whistle-blower protection to legislative staffers. "The vote came three days after the Legislature released records on more than a decade's worth of substantiated sexual harassment claims filed in the Capitol," the LA Times reported. "The disclosure offered the most detailed look yet on how the institution investigates and disciplines complaints of misconduct." Apprised of the California measure, Tanzi said she would support a similar bill in Rhode Island. "I think we need to do what we can to make people feel safe," she said, when reporting claims about harassment. (RI has a whistle blowers' protection act, although its effectiveness and use might be a story for another day.)

7. Rhode Island Public Radio periodically offers a closeup on a nearby community, and we chose New Bedford as our latest subject thanks to how we're growing our audience in southeastern Massachusetts through our new signal at 89.3 FM. You can reel back all the stories in the series here. A few highlights: New Bedford's Scallop Industry Is Thriving, But Is It Sustainable?; One Man's Journey From Guatemala to New Bedford; Opioids In New Bedford's Fishing Industry.

8. Abortion rights advocates this week renewed their push for a state-based law protecting a woman's right to an abortion. Top legislative Democrats have said in recent months that there's not a current threat to Roe v. Wade. The sponsor on the House side, Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), said she's tired of hearing that. “ 'Don’t worry, Edie, this is a settled law' – that sort of thing – from a number of people, and curiously, they’ve all been male," she said, "And I have to say I find it kind of patronizing.” Yet opponents of abortion rights are certain to maintain their opposition to the measure sponsored by Ajello and Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Providence). Barring an advocacy campaign that changes the equation, it remains unclear if this bill will make it to the floor this year.

9. With legislative progressives putting forward a new agenda of priorities, an ideological debate is playing out, in part through the op-ed page of the ProJo. Mike Stenhouse of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recently called for the business community and voters to take a more active role at the Statehouse. "Most Rhode Islanders are unified by love of country, belief in God and adherence to Constitutional rights," Stenhouse wrote. "Progressives belittle these long-held tenets, instead promoting a divisive, secular, social-equity agenda that crushes economic growth and invades individual liberties. There should be no place for anti-American socialists in the Democrat party." Laufton Ascencao fired back, saying that Stenhouse's piece was off-base: "Critics love to portray progressives as fighting for all kinds of crazy things. However, the actual progressive agenda at the State House is centered on fighting for funding to repair our crumbling schools, raising the minimum wage, passing legislation that makes it harder for bosses to pay women less for simply being women, and protecting a woman’s right to abortion. These are not unreasonable demands. These policies are all overwhelmingly popular and supported by most Rhode Islanders. Poll after poll shows this, and candidates who run on these issues have won."

10. Lynn Arditi reports on Helena Foulkes' exit from CVS, to become CEO of the company that owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor: "Foulkes, 53, who was named by Fortune magazine as one of the “Most Powerful Women in Business,’’ is described by the company as “a force for change and innovation.” As chief of strategy and government affairs, Foulkes helped lead CVS's decision to stop selling tobacco products. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Foulkes worked at Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Tiffany & Co. prior to joining CVS in 1992. Foulkes, of Providence, is married to William Foulkes, chairman of the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education and a faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design."

11. Gary Alexander, who served as secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services during Don Carcieri's time as governor, is among the applicants to be president of the University of Central Florida. His resume describes him as an "accomplished health care leader and chief executive officer."

12. Best wishes to Tim Britton, who's done excellent work covering the Red Sox for the ProJo, as heads off to cover the Mets for The Athletic. Back in RI, Executive Editor Alan Rosenberg shares word that the Journal will be hiring two reporters.

13. Former colleague Alex Nunes shares word of how Koch family money is under the microscope at Brown University. Meanwhile, with the Koch brothers, the Mercers, Fox News and Breitbart bulking up the conservative infrastructure, U.S. Representative David Cicilline offered this answer when asked whether Democrats can offer an effective response: "We have to continue to highlight this, commit to fixing the broken way that we run and fund elections in this country. We have a democracy reform task force that includes automatic voter registration, a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United, public financing of our campaigns, the DISCLOSE Act. I think we have to be the party that says we're committed to fixing this, to getting the money out of our politics."

14. Related: "8 Years Later: How Citizens United Changed Campaign Finance"

15. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has hired David Allard to run his re-election campaign. In a statement, Elorza said, "David is a well-respected leader in our community who brings valuable experience in state government and on political campaigns up and down the ballot. We are happy to have him leading our campaign team." Allard's work experience includes being a public school teacher, outreach manager for Gov. Raimondo, and field director for Brett Smiley's 2014 mayoral campaign. He ran for the state Senate seat vacated last year by Teresa Paiva Weed (Dawn Euer won that race). According to a statement, Allard will leave his current role as manager of the state's 3rd grade goal program as of February 23, and will start as Elorza's campaign manager on February 26. Allard has a BA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Spanish and an MA from the University of Rhode Island in Spanish.

16. Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns NBC 10, WJAR-TV, and gave its employees a $1,000 bonus after the GOP tax plan became law, is asking eligible workers to consider contributing to Sinclair's Political Action Committee, FTLive reports.

17. "Head-spinning" low prices are emerging for U.S. offshore wind, according to this report. If that holds up, it strengthens the arguments made by people like Jeff Grybowski of Deepwater Wind -- that initial above-market costs are worth it to help launch a renewable energy industry, with the lure of better rates down the road.

18. Keep an eye on the technology backlash narrative. Vox offer a story on how to breakup with your smartphone. Elsewhere, Huffington Post recently asserted, "Facebook and Google's Surveillance Capitalism Model Is In Trouble" Excerpt: "Most people associate Facebook with cute family photos and think of Google like a semi-reliable encyclopedia. But these services have only a tangential relationship to the way either company actually makes money. The twin Silicon Valley titans rely on two closely intertwined technologies, customer surveillance and advertising, to maximize shareholder profits. The pair control 63 percent of the U.S. digital advertising market, and in 2016, they secured 99 percent of all digital advertising growth. That profit-making combo is exactly what regulators are focused on in 2018."

19. "Why Paper Jams Persist"

20. While Bucket Brewery is closing shop, two brewers, Everett-based Night Shift, and Vineyard-based Wash Ashore Brewing Company, have joined The Guild in Pawtucket as partners. They join Narragansett Beer, Farmer Willie’s Craft Ginger Beer, Newburyport Brewing Company, Devil’s Purse Brewing Company, and Great North Aleworks on tap at The Guild. Aaron Renn has more on the brewery boom. Lastly, pork fat ranks high on the BBC's list of most nutritious foods.