TGIF: 22 Things to Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Mar 14, 2014

It's a time of transition, in the weather, the political landscape (item #1), and the media (#5), so thanks for stopping by for my Friday column. Your thoughts and tips are always welcome, and you can follow me all week long on the twitters. Let's get to it.

1. There are now fewer than six months to the September 9 primary, so the Democratic candidates are stepping up their games. In the first of a series of economy-related policy initiatives, Gina Raimondo offered her manufacturing plan on Monday. Angel Taveras unveiled a job-training proposal a day later. And before the week's end, Clay Pell called for a faster hike to the minimum wage than his two Democratic rivals. It's already getting chippy between the two front-runners -- even before the candidates launch a costly air war on television. Raimondo's campaign twitted Taveras' proposal as "baby steps", and Taveras offered a thinly veiled rap on Raimondo for what he called a lack of precision in her initiative. "If you want to lead the state, if you want to be the chief executive, you should lay out a plan, say how you're going to pay for it," Taveras said during his event. Later in the week, when Raimondo was asked about a disclosure issue involving her former VC firm, she first invoked the bankrupt city of Detroit and said Taveras should focus on shoring up Providence pension. Taveras' campaign manager, Danny Kedem, responded by saying Raimondo hasn't gone far enough on disclosure. With a long way to still to go, these early skirmishes offer a preview of a nasty primary fight. The danger for Democrats, with their best hope of winning the governor's office since 1992, is that the in-fighting will boost a GOP challenger. 

2. As the Red Sox get set to start their 2014 campaign on March 31st, Rhode Island is about to become part of a growing battle over who gets to control the resale of tickets for sports games and other events. "The Fair Access to Tickets and Ticket Brokers Act," introduced by Rep John Carnevale in the House and Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio in the Senate, sounds fairly benign. Yet the move to regulate the sale and resale of event tickets has sparked fierce battles in other states. The crux of the issue is whether fans get to control their own tickets (possibly selling them via StubHub) or whether sports and concert venues should have greater control. According to a 2012 Memphis Business Journal report about similar legislation in Tennessee, "Opponents of the bills believe they will give Ticketmaster control of what fans do with tickets they’ve bought, including reselling or giving tickets away as gifts." In Michigan, the GOP-controlled House voted to legalize scalping earlier this month -- in what was called a move to let consumers do what they want with their own tickets. The fights elsewhere have aligned consumer advocates with conservative activists. Red Sox fans already pay the highest ticket prices in baseball, so should they (or other consumers) lose control of what they can do with their events tickets? (Disclosure: I'm a partial Red Sox season ticket holder.)

3. While labor can wield a particularly significant influence in primary elections, it has yet to speak with a single voice so far in the Democratic race for governor. Clay Pell gained an endorsement this week from United Nurses and Allied Professionals, no small deal since UNAP represents about 6,500 workers. Angel Taveras got the nod from the URI chapter of the American Association of University Professors. And Gina Raimondo has received endorsements from Ironworkers, Local 37, and Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 51. Meanwhile, Raimondo holds a 3-2 edge on city and town endorsements after her hometown Smithfield Democratic Town Committee (chaired by Providence's finance director/acting administration director) endorsed Taveras.

4. The past week marked a crucible for Pell's campaign, following the revelation that his wife's stolen Prius previously went missing in December. Whether Pell's UNAP endorsement signals the turning of a page remains to be seen. Regardless, the issue feeds in to perceptions of Pell as a candidate, so it's worth comparing the contrasting responses of Pell's two Democratic rivals. During his Tuesday appearance outside Hope Global, Taveras declined to comment on any questions about the Pell Prius. For her part, Raimondo offered this reaction on this week's RIPR's Political Roundtable: "I think we're all going to have ups and downs in this campaign. I feel for [Pell and his wife] -- that that happened, and we all do crazy things like that .... I don't think we should extrapolate and say what that means."

5. Kudos and congrats to Phil Marcelo, the soon-to-be the latest alum of the Providence Journal's Statehouse bureau, also known as the Katherine Gregg School of Journalism. Marcelo was hired around the time in 2006 when the paper eliminated a reporter-intern program that had introduced a stream of talented young reporters into Fountain Street (the reporter-interns were nonetheless called "Bics" because of the ceaseless stream of fresh applicants). Eight years later, Marcelo remains one of the ProJo's youngest reporters, so his departure will exacerbate the aging tilt of the newsroom. Meanwhile, so many talented scribes have moved through ProJo's Statehouse bureau just in the last 15 years that it seemed timely to offer a recap. My esteemed colleague, Scott MacKay, is the political analyst here at RIPR. Ariel Sabar is an author and journalist. Chris Rowland is now the Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe, Cynthia Needham is the Globe's political editor, and Jonathan Saltzman is an investigative reporter at the paper Mark Arsenault covers the casino beat there. Liz Anderson is a local news editor at a paper in New York's Westchester County. Scott Mayerowitz covers the airline industry for the AP, while Steve Peoples works on the national political beat. Elizabeth Gudrais is a freelance writer in Wisconsin. The constant through the years, of course, is the aforementioned Kathy Gregg, whose tenacity and dedication to public-interest reporting remains invaluable.

6. Speaking of Rowland, he's come a long way since leaving the ProJo. Among his guests for the celebrated annual Gridiron dinner this week in the nation's capital, Rowland brought none other than his boss, Boston Globe owner John W. Henry (also the principal owner of the Red Sox) and wife Linda Pizzuti Henry.

7. Old friend Dan Kennedy had an thoughtful post recently on whether there's a distinction between news and journalism. He notes in part, "[M]uch of what we consider news is tied to the industrial processes that gave rise to the modern newspaper, which demand that the product of news be delivered on a daily basis — and in the post-print age, more frequently than that." Long ago, when I was as short-timer with the Providence AP, the frequency on the wire of ferry disasters and buses careering off cliffs in faraway places lent a predictable quality to terrible news. That's not to say this stuff shouldn't be reported; quite the contrary. Yet as Kennedy notes, there are a lot ongoing stories (he uses the example of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine) where a reader can drop out for a day and then pick up the latest without missing too much. It's different when a single story is particularly revealing or so well done that it takes on added value. 

8. City Council president Michael Solomon keeps rolling up endorsements in his quest to succeed Angel Taveras at City Hall, gaining the useful if completely unsurprising support this week of Maryellen Goodwin. Yet rival candidate Brett Smiley seems most visibly active on the policy front in the mayoral race so far. He rolled out a proposal for overhauling the PEDP, and this week proposed an office of strategic partnerships to attract fresh funds by bridging the public and private sectors.

9. The State of Colorado created a series of public service announcements (h/t the Washington Post's GovBeat) to discourage driving while stoned. They're pretty funny.

10. Close viewers of the General Assembly could be excused if they sometimes feel like participants in the movie Groundhog Day. Annual debates about reproductive rights, pay day lending, and auto body bills are among the hardy perennials on Smith Hill. This time around, though, as the auto body legislation fight kicks off anew, former Rep Peter Petrarca has joined the pantheon of former lawmakers who've returned as lobbyists (to name a few: William Murphy, Bob Goldberg, Stephen Alves, Joe Walsh, Tom Lynch, Rick Rosati, Chris Boyle, Ray Sullivan, Dan Connors, etc.).

11. Meanwhile, Statehouse races: It's not every day you get a Republican beauty pageant enthusiast challenging one of House Speaker Gordon Fox's biggest intra-party critics. But Rhode Island politics is the gift that keeps giving, so Lacey McGreevy is taking on Democratic Rep Spencer Dickinson, informally known as the Man in Black because of how his stentorian voice is reminiscent of the great Johnny Cash. Her announcement is slated for Monday, March 24 (7 pm) at the Mews Tavern in Wakefield.  Elsewhere, Republican Steve Tetzner plans to make another run against liberal Democratic rep Teresa Tanzi, who ousted David Caprio, now the state Democratic chairman, back in 2010. Tetzner is set to announce on Wednesday, March 26 (6 pm) at Phil's Restaurant in Wakefield Commons.

12. Former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey blazed across Rhode Island's political landscape before his ambitions crashed and burned during a 2006 GOP US Senator primary with Lincoln Chafee. Although Laffey failed to win his own ward in Cranston, he blamed Rhode Islanders for mollycoddling the status quo and split for Colorado. Now, after a very brief run for governor in the Rocky Mountain State last year, Laffey has set his sights on Congress.

13. The latest push for state help for the vacant Superman Building in downtown Providence, initially planned for this past week, has been moved back. Meanwhile, there's been far less criticism -- and less attention in general -- about the potential use of tax credits for the project formerly known as the Dynamo House. As the ProJo's Paul Grimaldi reported this week, "The multi-pronged project could tap into public subsidies, including $28 million in state historic tax credits and $26 million in federal tax credits."

14. With the groundbreaking today for a slot parlor in Plainville, Massachusetts -- less than 20 miles from Twin River in Lincoln -- the cannibalization of southern New England's gambling landscape is under way. In a further worrisome sign for Rhode Island's third-largest source of state revenue, Foxwoods has landed the rights to 30 acres for a potential casino in Fall River. The aforementioned Mark Arsenault has a good overview in the Boston Globe about the fallout for RI. University of Nevada professor Mark W. Nichols shared this view with Arsenault: “You’re going to have a lot of states relying on their own citizens for gambling revenue and the tax revenue it generates. Because the days where you can get it from other states are — by and large — over.”

15. While Rhode Island lags far behind Massachusetts as an economic competitor, it's really the Boston-Cambridge nexus and other elements within the 128 corridor that set the Bay State apart. Travel through southeastern, central or much of western Massachusetts, and you'll see a lot of similarity to our own economic woes. Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem has focused attention on "the other Massachusetts" with a tour of what she calls "Gateway Cities." According to one news report, her pitch for helping the communities "involves looking at each municipality's specific strengths and weaknesses, and determining where state government can help. The former national security adviser says that the plan generally focuses on increasing transportation options, attracting businesses, supporting businesses owned by women and minorities and increasing the quality of education."

16. The summer of 2015 will mark the 40th anniversary of the release of "Jaws." Get a head start by learning how it forever changed the movie business.

17. The North Kingstown GOP's Lincoln Dinner/Fundraiser, set for March 29, will feature an appearance by John Hazen White Jr. and a straw poll pitting Republican gubernatorial aspirants Ken Block and Allan Fung.

18. Former ProJo reporter Bruce DeSilva, who has carved a niche as the author of Rhode Island-based mysteries, comes to the Providence Public Library April 3 (6:30-8:15 pm) for a signing and talk about his latest, Providence Rag.

19. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang visited Rhode Island recently for a story on ethnic politics in the Ocean State -- an update of sorts to my 2002 story in the Providence Phoenix. Meanwhile, the Colombian American Cultural Society of RI held a reception Thursday at El Paisa in Central Falls to celebrate the 50th anniversary of when Colombians started settling in CF. The most visible flowering of Colombian-American political empowerment remains James Diossa's election as mayor in 2012.

20. If you missed RIPR health care reporter Kristin Gourlay's hour-long audio documentary on Rhode Island's overdose crisis, listen to it here.

21. For those awaiting not just spring and the start of baseball season, but the return of HBO's Game of Thrones, you might enjoy ThroneCast, a British show for fans on the series. Part of the fun is the host's repeated surprise about how the actors who play creepy characters like Melisandre don't seem quite so creepy in real life.

22. "In this age of ubiquitous digital electronics, then, open-mike gaffes are becoming about as common as the iPhone."