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

Oct 21, 2016

It's not every week that begins with 38 Studios and ends with a yoga pants dispute in Barrington. But that's why Rhode Island is the gift that keeps giving. So thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual, your tips are welcome and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Curt Schilling has said for a long time how he would one day come to Rhode Island, face the taxpayers, and drop big bombs about the real story behind 38 Studios. So a lot of people were paying attention when Schilling ventured to WPRO's East Providence studio Tuesday for three hours of conversation with talk-show host John DePetro. Schilling was all over the place in his comments. Ultimately, he mostly reaffirmed what we already know about 38 Studios -- that a handful of insiders wired the deal to move ahead with a pronounced lack of transparency. The former Red Sox star took responsibility for the video game company's failure, maintained his drumbeat of criticism of former Governor Lincoln Chafee, and stopped short of offering an apology to Rhode Islanders. There were ironic tidbits; Schilling said he wouldn't have made the same deal offered to 38 Studios. He (curiously) identified with former House Minority Leader Robert Watson when Watson was the only lawmaker to vote against the related job guarantee program, warning during a 2010 House floor debate, "Scandal finds money." And after investigators announced a lack of criminal charges in July, Schilling offered a remark perhaps best suited for conspiracy theorists: "I was told by people in this state that are in positions of authority and power that they knew that [Michael] Corso and [Gordon] Fox had committed some sort of crime, but they couldn't prove it and didn't know what it was."

2. Schilling's talk-radio appearance was a nice get for WPRO, but it was also completely unsurprising. Like former Governor Don Carcieri, Schilling sees talk-radio as an unmediated way of communicating directly with citizens. Yet was his audience really typical of taxpayer sentiment on 38 Studios? (Two of the four callers over the first two hours started by thanking Schilling for helping the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004, and they didn't muster tough questions.) Schilling, meanwhile -- who fancies the idea of running for the US Senate -- has declined to sit down with Rhode Island Public Radio and other local news organizations.

3. URI President David Dooley was an EDC board member when the agency approved the $75 million loan guarantee for 38 Studios in 2010, although he said he wasn't there for two of the three meetings when the deal was formally considered or the actual vote. "Nevertheless, I think that in the meeting I did attend, I would say there was quite a bit of healthy skepticism," Dooley said during this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable. "I think many members of the board understood -- or at least thought they understood, on the basis of the information that they had been presented -- the nature of the risk that was going to be undertaken. And it was well explained by one member of the board, who says, 'Look, this is like a movie. You can have a great director, a fantastic star, you can have a great supporting cast, you can have all the budget in the world you want. But at the end of the day, the movie can still be a flop' .... Everybody on the board understood that that was the risk entailed in a 38 Studios decision. What no one, I'm convinced, on the board understood -- was there a risk that they could actually not complete the game, that they would fall apart before they got it done? No one had that understanding at all."

4. An analysis by The Center for Public Integrity shows that more than 96 percent of the $396,000 in campaign contributions made by news professionals went to Hillary Clinton. (Duh -- reporters should never make such contributions.)

5. From a strategic posture, Providence Councilor Kevin Jackson's lawsuit over the attempt to recall him brings to mind William Irons' case against the state Ethics Commission -- a strong offense is the best defense. But will it work? Patricia Kammerer, who helped organize the recall effort, says via email that constituents are asking why Jackson would pursue a court case "and create yet more distraction from his responsibilities to his constituents .... The purpose of this petition is simply to put to a vote whether or not Jackson should remain in office while under indictment for multiple felonies. Why does Jackson want to deny his constituents the opportunity to express their views as to whether he should remain in office? If Councilman Jackson thought he had the backing of his constituents, he would allow this vote to proceed. In fact, he should welcome this petition, put this question behind us, and prove that he has the support of his constituents." Meanwhile, the RI ACLU is calling out how Jackson's lawsuit includes two private individuals as defendants, along with City of Providence officials. "Their involvement in the suit is completely unnecessary in order for a court to address any legitimate due process concerns raised by the petition process," the ACLU said in a statement. "Thus, the inclusion of these two individuals as defendants strikes us a classic SLAPP suit -- an attempt to silence private citizens for seeking to exercise their First Amendment right to petition government." Jackson's lawyer, Artin Coloian, declined comment.

6. State Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is now supporting a line-item veto, as the ProJo's Katherine Gregg revealed in her in-depth look this week at independent candidate Sav Rebecchi's challenge to TPW. This shows how legislative challengers, even if they face an uphill climb, can raise the profile of government reform issues. Of course, Paiva Weed has also shown herself to be a savvy political player, so embracing the line-item veto is a way of getting ahead of the issue, co-opting critics, and enabling the Senate to chart an independent course from House.

7. With about three weeks to go until election day, The Providence Journal's editorial page took some readers by surprise by siding with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello over Republican challenger Steven Frias. After all, the Journal used a front-page editorial earlier this year to lambaste Mattiello over legislative grants. Yet, the ProJo argued, Mattiello has compiled "a strong record of achievement," by supporting tax cuts, fighting "for the best plan yet to fix the state’s dangerously dilapidated bridges," and backing some good-government measures. Fria, the Journal said, "is smart, dedicated and honest, and he joins us in supporting a line-item veto and an end to legislative grants. He sincerely wants to make Rhode Island better. But as a freshman legislator from a minuscule minority party, he would get few of his goals accomplished." Frias disagrees; if he defeated Mattiello, he has said, it would shock the system of the General Assembly, and significantly increase legislative support for a different way of doing things. Mattiello, meanwhile, is out with a feel-good video, and both candidates are aggressively knocking doors in the hunt for votes.

8. "Fortune has learned that in early 2017, the Adidas-owned brand will open its own Liquid Factory manufacturing lab in Lincoln, R.I. in a collaboration with footwear specialist AF Group Inc. At this lab, Reebok’s team will have the ability to experiment with new manufacturing processes, creating and customizing shoes at a faster pace than if they relied on shoe molds that are these days constructed in China."

9. Brown alum and one-time ProJo reporter Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, 36, was named deputy publisher of The New York Times this week. As the Times reported, "Mr. Sulzberger steps into his new role at a challenging moment for The Times, and for journalism itself. His résumé includes strong journalistic credentials and deep strategic thinking about changes in digital media, but limited experience running a digital media company. Unlike some of his predecessors in the deputy publisher role, he has been groomed more in the newsroom than in advertising or consumer marketing. The Times, like other publications, is experiencing declines in print advertising as it navigates a rapidly changing media landscape." Sulzberger led the charge on a 2014 "innovation report" at the Times. Meanwhile, Sulzberger seems to retain the understated essence for which he was known in Rhode Island. As Tracy Breton told me for a profile back in 2006, “He’s a very understated type of guy. You wouldn’t know that he’s from the family that, you know, whose father is the publisher of the New York Times. He has this very nice way of talking with people and getting them to feel comfortable with him."

10. The joint URI-RIC nursing program at South Street Landing is slated to launch with students in the fall of 2017, URI President David Dooley said, promising that the school will be remarkable in its technological sophistication. During our wide-ranging RI Public Radio Bonus Q&A, Dooley also talked about college affordability, Latino outreach, URI's role in Wexford Science & Technology's proposed life-science park in the I-195 District, and more.

11. RIPR healthcare reporter Kristin Gourlay covered this week's four-hour legislative hearing on problems with the state's new $364 million UHIP system for administering social services. Here's her report.

12. A few months back, TGIF was considering including an item about the number of openly gay individuals in the upper ranks of the Raimondo administration. We decided against it at the time because NBD, right? But the governor's chief of staff, Brett Smiley, talks about the role of gays in government with Options magazine, so it's worth mentioning. In fact, the lack of fuss about gays reminds us how much things have changed since 2002. That's when some observers (mistakenly) thought Providence voters wouldn't elect an openly gay candidate like David Cicilline. Here's an excerpt from Smiley's conversation with Options: "Being the first openly-gay chief of staff in the State House to recent knowledge is nothing to pass over, though it’s worth noting that the Governor’s staff is quite inclusive of members of the gay community. An overwhelming majority of her senior staff is gay, including three deputy chiefs of staff and a senior advisor. Brett chuckled while saying 'there has got to be some award, we have to have the gayest senior staff [in the country] .... It helps to have an LGBT person in a senior place when you’re having a conversation about whether it be charter schools or environmental protections. Because hey, we care about that too. And yes, it’s less specific, it’s not the gay perspective, although I bring that no matter what I do, but it’s the broader point of having more diverse perspectives around the table. Just like making sure we have women and people of color there, too.' ”

13. URI President David Dooley is an outspoken supporter for Ballot Question 4, which would use $45 million in borrowing to modernize an engineering building in Kingston and spark a competition for a so-called "innovation campus" meant to catalyze commercial research. Here's Dooley's response, on Political Roundtable, to the argument that the state and taxpayers shouldn't be getting into business with private industry: "The state, actually, in this endeavor, isn't picking any winners or losers. What it's doing is presenting an opportunity for a consortium of private sector companies to come together and match the state's contribution to creating an advanced research and development center, this so-called innovation center, that is and will be a center of innovative research in Rhode Island. That's going to be a selection process. That's going to be a process that evaluates who the companies are, what they're willing to put on the table, and what the benefits to Rhode Island would be of partnering with that particular coalition or consortium of companies. This is a strategy that has worked well in other locales, particularly South Carolina ...."   

14. A Bryant University poll out this week shows voters back all five spending bond issues on the November ballot. Meanwhile, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity urges voters to reject questions 4 through 7.

15. Jeff Johnson, a South Kingstown biology teacher running against Second District Congressman Jim Langevin as an independent, is embarking on a march across the state starting this weekend. His campaign said Johnson plans to make it from Green Hill Pond to Burrillville over the course of two weekends (updates here). "I am running for Congress mostly because of my students," Johnson said. "For years, I have taught about issues like climate change, but what I've noticed is that all it does is depress kids. And I feel guilty. I feel guilty because I spend all this time criticizing leaders and lobbyists without actually doing anything to affect change. That's what this campaign is all about. It's about doing more than just talking about the issues and writing a few op-eds about them. It's about showing my students that it is possible to do something about these issues and act. I want to motivate my students to go out and get involved with activism and the political process so that they can one day fix these issues, whether they are related to the environment, our foreign policy or whatever else." Langevin, meanwhile, has rolled out his first ad of the 2016 campaign.

16. With time seemingly running out on Donald Trump's presidential campaign, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza noted "3 things Donald Trump gets very right": 1) Drain the swamp; 2) term limits; and 3) questioning incumbents' accomplishments. Paying attention, Brandon Bell?

17. Graham Vyse, a former Lincoln Chafee staffer now with The New Republic, has a lively read on Trump's talk of election rigging and media bias. Excerpt: "There’s .... a case to be made that the press, particularly cable television, has been too kind to Trump. His rallies have run endlessly on TV, earning him billions in free media. Networks were baited into covering a glorified infomercial for his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel in Washington, D.C. CNN is receiving well-earned criticism for paying four Trump defenders to routinely deny facts on air and engage in trolling, to the increasing frustration of the actual journalists employed by the channel. Even if this weren’t the case, and Trump wasn’t getting his message out in mainstream media, the fact would remain that Trump has succeeded, perhaps more than any previous candidate, in bypassing the press through social media. With his 12.5 million Twitter followers and 11 million more on Facebook, it’s hard to argue he’s not getting the word out about his campaign. In fact, his social-media prowess has routinely resulted in more mainstream media coverage, feeding the beast and keeping him in the headlines."

18. How the roots of Airbnb go back to RISD.

19. TGIF noted a while back (#13) how domestic violence remains persistent, despite a big increase in awareness over recent decades. Now, as a result of a recently established Domestic Violence Prevention Fund, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence is accepting proposals (by November 30) "for short- and long-term programs aimed at stopping intimate partner violence before it starts." The effort will distribute $180,000 annually, with two to three awards of $50,000 to $60,000, and smaller grants ranging from $1,000 to $15,000. “Prevention strategies have worked for other public health issues,” Lucy Rios, RICADV's director of prevention and communications, said in a news release. “Take a look at smoking – 40 years ago it was the cultural norm to smoke, even around kids. After implementing prevention strategies such as increasing the cost of tobacco products, passing smoke-free laws, and promoting strong anti-smoking messages, the rate of smoking has dropped from 42% to around 15%. We can use similar strategies to prevent domestic violence.”

20. Congrats to former ProJo Statehouse reporter Scott Mayerowitz, who left Rhode Island in 2007 for a gig with ABC News. After covering the airline/travel beat at the AP since 2011, he's been named the wire service's editor for digital storytelling.

21. Governor Gina Raimondo will be recognized November 1, at the Seaport Hotel/World Trade Center in Boston by The New England Council, which bills itself as the country's oldest regional business group. "The 'New Englander of the Year' awards are presented each year by The New England Council and honor residents or natives of the New England states for their commitment and contributions in their fields of work, as well as their leadership and impact on the New England region's quality of life and economy." Previous honorees include Senator Jack Reed. The honorees this time around also include GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt and former Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns

22. Roger Williams University is convening on Tuesday, October 25, what it bills as a first-of-its kind panel discussion on "grassroots efforts and legal strategies to fight water, gas and utility shutoffs to low-income households" (6 pm, 1 Empire Plaza, Room 434, Providence. Somewhere, Henry Shelton is smiling.