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

Nov 18, 2016

Trump-world continues to assemble before our eyes, even as America prepares to pause next week for Thanksgiving. Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual, your tips and comments are welcome and you can follow through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Although Steven Frias remains on the losing side of his challenge to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, the race will have a lasting impact on the General Assembly. On election night, the Democratic speaker downplayed the strong level of support for Frias. "A win by one vote, when you're on the incumbent side of the fence, is a tremendous win," said Mattiello, who eventually rode to victory, on the strength of mail ballots. Yet the vigor of Frias' challenge was certainly a factor in Mattiello's campaign promise to begin phasing out the widely disliked car tax. Moving ahead with that in the new session offers a potential win for Mattiello, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, and Governor Gina Raimondo. The closeness of Frias' challenge to Mattiello is bound to have other effects, even if his challenge to some mail ballots doesn't change the outcome of the race. Mattiello came close to losing his seat, so it won't be a surprise if he works more closely with Paiva Weed, in an effort to deliver other accomplishments. Mattiello can also be expected to reduce his willingness to catch flak on controversial issues like the since-vanquished PawSox stadium proposal and truck tolls. (Marijuana legalization looms as a high-profile issue for the General Assembly in 2017, yet it helps Mattiello that Raimondo is calling for a cautious approach; see #14.) Potential wild cards in the new House session include a more assertive progressive caucus and a more outspoken GOP leader, in the form of Rep. Patricia Morgan. The bad publicity involving Ray Gallison and John Carnevale in 2016 will translate into greater scrutiny of committee appointments. And the emergence as House majority leader of Joseph Shekarchi -- who is perceived as a consensus-builder -- could help put the chamber on a smoother course. Frias, meanwhile, said it's premature to talk about a potential rematch against Mattiello in 2018. "By challenging the speaker, I hoped to make an impact, and I believe have," Frias said. "If the speaker ends up holding on to the slim lead he snatched through mail ballots, I hope he actually enacts significant tax relief and passes clean government reforms. The voters deserve and expect nothing less."

2. During one of her occasional sit-downs with reporters this week, Governor Raimondo offered her first detailed comments on Republican Donald Trump's defeat of Hillary Clinton. She expressed concern about possible cuts to Obamacare and federal aid to state, although she praised Trump's plan to raise federal infrastructure spending. Raimondo also made clear the emotional response that many Rhode Islanders had to the election: "I've spent a lot of time in the last week hugging people and reassuring people, from my own staff to my kids to people at church, people on the train to go to New York last week. People came up to me in the train station, wanting a hug, wanting to know, 'Governor, is this going to be okay?' .... And I give them a hug and I say, 'Yes, it's going to be okay,' and I believe that. And the people of Rhode Island, we will protect them. Our values aren't changing, and we're going to make sure that people are safe in Rhode Island."

3. President-elect Trump attracted nearly 40 percent of the vote in Rhode Island -- the best showing by a GOP presidential candidate here in many years. So will that embolden the RNC to try to make life difficult for Senator Sheldon Whitehouse when he faces re-election in 2018? Back in 2012, Republican challenger Barry Hinckley got just 35 percent of the vote against Whitehouse -- and it's not like the GOP has a deep bench in Rhode Island. Meanwhile, it's impossible to know how Trump will govern, so there could also be anti-GOP backlash after his first two years in office.

4. Majority Leader Shekarchi managed Governor Raimondo's 2010 run for treasurer, and some local politicos are curious to see how the Warwick Democrat balances his ties to the governor and the House. (Then again, such speculation may be a bit too fevered; Raimondo has gotten most of her priorities through the House; Shekarchi assured fellow reps prior to his elevation that the House comes first, as TGIF reported last week in #3.) Anyway, here's Shekarchi's response to the question of whether Raimondo's performance as governor is meeting his expectations. "I believe she's put a tremendous amount of effort in," he said during this week's RI Public Radio Bonus Q&A, "and I think that she hasn't seen the full result of those efforts yet, but she will in the next two years. I'm confident that she's turned the battleship, so to speak, in the right direction, and thinks are going in the right direction; the bond issues that were put up recently all passed in Rhode Island, and that's an indication of satisfaction with the state and where we're going, because if people didn't like the direction of the state they typically wouldn't authorize more bonds."  

5. State Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick) scored a surprising win by gaining the backing of a GOP caucus this week to succeed Brian Newberry as House minority leader. The other candidate for the post, Rep. Michael Chippendale (R-Foster) had expressed confidence that he had the votes. Yet in the end, Rep. Blake Filippi (New Shoreham) switched from independent to Republican, giving Morgan six votes in the 11-member caucus. (She also got a boost from how Rep-elect Robert Quattrocchi (R-Scituate) defeated Democrat Michael Marcello, allowing the House GOP presence to cut its losses from three to two. Morgan has emerged as a scrappy presence in the overwhelmingly Democratic House, so her relationship with Speaker Mattiello bears watching.

6. Middletown native Mike Flynn is in as President-elect Trump's national security advisor. Flynn, a Democrat, went all in for Trump during the campaign season .... CNN's Brian Stelter asks if Flynn will continue to be fooled by fake news .... The New York Times reports: "Mr. Trump and General Flynn both see themselves as brash outsiders who hustled their way to the big time. They both post on Twitter often about their own successes, and they have both at times crossed the line into outright Islamophobia. They also both exhibit a loose relationship with facts: General Flynn, for instance, has said that Shariah, or Islamic law, is spreading in the United States (it is not). His dubious assertions are so common that when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency, subordinates came up with a name for the phenomenon: They called them 'Flynn facts.' " .... Flynn has apologized for a policy requiring women to wear makeup during his tenure at the Defense Intelligence Agency .... Meanwhile, Senator Jack Reed offered these remarks in a release that went out ahead of the official announcement: “General Flynn served honorably throughout his 33-year military career. I respect him and deeply admire his family’s legacy of military service. It is pretty remarkable to have two brothers rise to the rank of General like Mike and Charlie Flynn. I do not agree with General Flynn on every issue. I have concerns about some of the statements he made in the heat of the campaign. Now, in becoming National Security Advisor, General Flynn is taking on a very different and challenging new civilian role.  He is familiar with the complex set of security challenges we face. And President-elect Trump does not have a wealth of experience in this arena. It’s incumbent on any National Security Advisor to provide unbiased and fact-based advice. I hope the Trump Administration will begin to detail its plans to advance America’s national security interests.”

7. US Representative David Cicillline collected signatures from more than 150 lawmakers this week while calling on President-elect Trump to rescind Stephen Bannon's appointment as his top White House strategist. Bannon helped Trump vault into the White House, after running the Breitbart news site, and hate groups cheered his appointment. In his letter, Cicilline writes in part, "Since the election there have been a number of incidents across the country in which minorities, including Muslim Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Jewish Americans, have been the targets of violence, harassment and intimidation. Mr. Bannon’s appointment sends the wrong message to people who have engaged in those types of activities, indicating that they will not only be tolerated, but endorsed by your Administration.  Millions of Americans have expressed fear and concern about how they will be treated by the Trump Administration and your appointment of Mr. Bannon only exacerbates and validates their concerns." Bannon was involved at the outset in trying to derail Hillary Clinton's presidential aspirations; a 2015 profile by Bloomberg's Joshua Green dubbed Bannon "the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America." Green tells NPR's Terry Gross he doesn't think Bannon is going anywhere: "I think that Trump has a degree of faith in Bannon that he doesn't have in another people. And I think that's why Trump has been willing to withstand all the intense criticism over the Bannon appointment that we've seen in the last few days. To me it's sort of like the least shocking aspect of what Trump has done in appointing Bannon to the West Wing. I mean, the guy hatched this elaborate plan to stop Clinton, and it worked."

8. I asked Justin Katz to offer a conservative perspective on the Bannon controversy -- and why the reaction has broken along partisan lines. Here's his take: "For some of us on the political Right, news of President-elect Donald Trump’s possible appointment of Stephen Bannon as a senior advisor came by way of progressives’ demand that we disclaim it. Evidence that the demand was little more than an ideological stratagem grew to include Democrat Congressman David Cicilline’s letter in the same vein, which reminds us of ObamaCare with its entirely partisan signing list. Our suspicion has not kept conservatives from investigating the matter to some degree. In doing so, it is striking that, given the amount of sticks and stones being thrown around, no knock-down example of Bannon’s supposedly unambiguous bigotry have emerged. To kick off a panel discussion featuring Rhode Island’s own John DePetro, CNN host Don Lemon could come up with nothing more inflammatory than a brief clip from a radio interview in which Bannon suggested to then-candidate Trump that immigration of highly skilled workers might not be so obviously different from those who take low-end jobs. In short, those of us not caught up in the internecine feuds between Trumpkins and NeverTrumpers can’t help but see the fingers of progressive guru Saul Alinsky, who advised radicals to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” It’s a tactic to sow chaos, division, and hatred. However, the effect may be to unify the Right. We’re watching this tempest spun up within the mainstream media, which we understand to hate us, with the pervasive involvement of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which we’re inclined to see as a hate group. Our attitude, therefore, is that we'll give Bannon the benefit of the doubt and remain ready to push back on him and his boss if they actually do or say anything like what the Left appears to be making up."

9. Rhode Island Working Families -- which emerged as a force in legislative elections this year -- is helping to organize an action at noon on Monday, November 21 in which "individuals with gather at the State House calling on elected leaders to use the state’s powers to protect immigrant communities, defend reproductive rights, and maintain social services. Legislators in attendance will commit to support this agenda, and large delegations will deliver the message to the offices of the state’s top officials." This is part of the response by citizens, activists and progressive lawmakers to the election of President-elect Trump.

10. UConn journalism professor Mike Stanton, a former investigative reporter at the Providence Journal, said it's just not true that the media missed the story of "the angry white rust-belt heartland voter who felt ignored, and didn't understand that rage. I could point to many stories out to you, in print, on NPR, people going to Ohio, going to Detroit, talking to those people. But at some point it doesn't sink in. People, they don't read those stories." For much more from Stanton, listen to RIPR Monday morning for our conversation on media in the age of Trump.

11. Hillary Clinton's advantage in the popular vote has climbed past 1.4 million votes, offering fuel for those who argue that time has passed for the Electoral College. In 2013, Rhode Island joined states backing National Popular Vote, an interstate compact that would deliver a majority of Electoral College Votes to the candidate getting a plurality of votes. Yet despite ongoing fallout from unhappy Democrats, the Electoral College is unlikely to fade away. As NPR's Meg Anderson reports, "Abolishing the Electoral College would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which would need a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate, and then it would have to be ratified by 38 states."

12. Will the residential towers proposed for the I-195 District happen? Here's part of a take from architecture maven David Brussat: "The big question is whether this ambitious proposal is for real or some sort of joke, part of a cynical developer’s real-estate shell game involving players unknown to the commission. Does [Jason] Fane actually see a market here for the as-yet-unspecified hundreds of apartments and condos they would build, perhaps from booming Boston, or do they take us for rubes holding out bags of tax money for anyone with a quasi-plausible pitch to grab?" Meanwhile, Bill Fischer, spokesman for High Rock Development, owner of the vacant Superman Building, said, “Although the proposal is light on details at this time, we view it as positive news. Projects like these are good for the economy, good for Rhode Island and put people back to work. Their proposal affirms what we have been saying for years, Providence needs more housing. We wish them well."

13. Welcome to 2016, via BuzzFeed: "This Analysis Shows How Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News on Facebook"

14. During her sit down with reporters this week, Governor Raimondo said she expects the state to look more closely at legalizing marijuana, after voters in Massachusetts approved legalization. At the same time, Raimondo said, "I haven't focused on it very much yet. I've been interested in the comments of some of the public officials in Massachusetts -- that they want to take their time to implement it, to make sure that it's regulated properly, especially the edibles. I have the same concerns they're talking about -- too many people driving high, too many kids getting their hands on edibles. So I'm going to watch incredibly closely what they do. I think both the Senate and the governor have said, 'hang on a minute, we have to take our time to get the legislation correct to take care of this.' .... I am not in a huge race to keep up with them. My concern has always been much more around safety and can we regulate this properly? .... I don't want to rush and get it wrong."

15. US Representative Jim Langevin's spokeswoman, Meg Geoghegan, on how Langevin will try to remain relevant in the new Congress: First, I would point out that Congressman Langevin’s committee assignments are a happy exception to some of the partisan gridlock we’ve seen on other issues. The Congressman is a senior member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, and is one of the strongest voices in the nation on cybersecurity. If there’s any issue that can bring bipartisan consensus, it’s national security. I would also point out that Congressman Langevin always tries to work in a bipartisan way, regardless of who is in the majority party. On cybersecurity, he collaborates often with his Cybersecurity Caucus Co-chair Mike McCaul (R-TX); on disability issues, he works with his Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus co-chair Congressman Gregg Harper (R-MS); and on job training and workforce development, he has a great working relationship with his Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus Co-chair GT Thompson (R-PA). In each of these areas, and across the board, he is respected by his Republican colleagues and is committed to finding common ground and reaching compromise wherever possible."

16. While the House now has a majority leader -- opening a vacancy for the chairmanship of the House Labor Committee -- other spots remain to be filled on the chamber's Finance Committee. That's due to vacancies created by the departure of Reps. John Carnevale, Daniel Reilly, Jan Malik, and Eileen Naughton (and by Patricia Morgan's elevation to minority leader. She remains an ex officio member of the committee.)

17. Rest in peace, Gwin Ifill. Via Jeffrey Goldberg: "What Gwen Ifill Knew About Race in America"

18. The Center for Public Integrity describes how President-elect Trump overcame Hillary Clinton's financial advantage. Excerpt: "Big money can backfire as Democrats, who have often fought for dramatic campaign finance reforms, are painfully learning. The benefits are as significant as they are obvious: a candidate may hire superior staff, purchase more ads and run longer and harder than an opponent. But the drawbacks proved to be equally profound for Clinton. Although she routinely decried the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, she became one of its chief beneficiaries by building a massive money-making machine that fully exploited the high court’s ruling. While she promised to “fight hard to end the stranglehold that the wealthy and special interests have on so much of our government,” her campaign and supportive super PACs solicited huge sums from elite political patrons. And despite her railing against “secret, unaccountable money in politics,” the super PACs supporting Clinton collected eight-figures worth of money from sources trading in cash that’s tough, if not outrightly impossible, to trace. Money also couldn’t adequately mask what many voters perceived, fair or not, as Clinton’s damning flaws."

19. While President-elect Trump campaigned on a pledge of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with something better, the next steps remain far from clear. State Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston) is surprisingly optimistic about the outlook; he believes that cuts in coverage are unlikely. In a conversation with NPR, US Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, also described maintaining coverage as a goal.

20. Did you know that a Rhode Island company is producing clothing that guards against zika?

21. Keep an eye out for Phil Eil's forthcoming Rhode Island Monthly story on The Providence Journal and the paper's top editor, Dave Butler. Phil scored a bit of a coup by speaking not just with Butler, but also Kirk Davis, the CEO of ProJo parent GateHouse Media. (FWIW, he also interviewed yours truly.)

22. Coming next Friday, November 25: Rhode Island's traditional Buy Nothing Day coat exchange.