TGIF: 24 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

With the flip of the calendar to September, the lull of late summer will soon give way to a burst of political activity: a special legislative session, an intensifying PawSox debate, and the march to the 2018 campaign season. So thanks for stopping by. Your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. (A quick program note: I’m taking some time off next week, so TGIF will return on September 15). Here we go.

1. Robert A. Walsh Jr.‘s casting call for primary challengers to Gov. Gina Raimondo has come up empty so far. The executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island spoke for his upset membership when he unloaded on Raimondo in July, following her veto of a so-called evergreen contract bill. “I think that the classified ad is out: ‘Real Democrat wanted for governor of Rhode Island,’ ” Walsh said at the time. Speaking this week on RI Public Radio’s Political Roundtable, Walsh said no acceptable candidates have surfaced in response “to the classified ad that we were running. We still hope, of course, that Governor Raimondo will see the light on the continuing contract bill, because we’re always open to all possibilities in politics.” Walsh said the contract bill would restore a precedent of more than 40 years that was undone by an East Providence court case eight year ago. “This is a compromise to keep labor peace,” he said, “and we look no further than the state budget,” referring to the impasse on the spending plan over the summer. “The budget expired, the old budget stayed in effect.” (In her veto message, Raimondo said the contract bill could spark unaffordable costs for taxpayers.) Looking ahead, Lincoln Chafee remains a wildcard in the 2018 gubernatorial race (see #3), and Walsh isn’t ruling out the possibility of NEAR supporting a Republican challenger against Raimondo next year. “It’s too early to say,” he said. “You never know what happens in politics.”

2. The National Education Association Rhode Island is a bastion of Democratic politics in the Ocean State, so could the teachers’ union endorse a Republican mayor of Cranston for governor in 2018? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. Back in 1984, the NEARI broke with precedent by backing GOP candidate Ed DiPrete over Democrat Anthony J. Solomon. “We’re enthusiastic about this campaign and we’re going to commit resources to it,” NEARI President Ronald DiOrio told the ProJo at the time. “We think there’s an opportunity to break with business as usual.” The NEARI went on to endorse DiPrete twice more, in his successful runs against Democrat Bruce Sundlun in 1986 and 1988. (DiPrete later pleaded guilty to corruption charges; DiOrio was acquitted of pension fraud charges in 1999.) Meanwhile, the RI Laborers’ District Council backed Republican Lincoln Almond for governor over Democrat Myrth York in 1994. The NEARI had also backed Republican U.S. Sen. John Chafee and U.S. Rep. Claudine Schneider.

3. Will Lincoln Chafee run for governor next year? The Republican-turned independent-turned Democrat remains publicly undecided, and he declined to say whether he’s leaning for or against a run. His timetable for making a decision “could be as late as 2018,” Chafee tells me. The former governor said he’s analyzing whether he has a shot at winning — and that seems like a daunting prospect considering how his approval rating was in the 20s when he left office in 2015. But Gov. Raimondo‘s approval hasn’t touched 50 percent in any recent public polling, and problems with UHIP and DCFY provide plenty of ammunition for her rivals. Chafee’s ability to contribute significantly to his own campaign remains an ace in the hole, although he’s quite mindful of Raimondo’s fundraising prowess. “You need a pretty dysfunctional administration to counteract [that]” he said. Winning is one thing, but Chafee could certainly create some big headaches for Raimondo (and there’s little love lost between the two of them). So what will he do? For now, Chafee’s flashing an impish touch by taking a page from Buddy Cianci’s campaign playbook: the ultimate cutoff for deciding on a potential campaign, he said, is the filing deadline for candidates next June.

4. Speaking of 2018, most people — including House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick) — can’t match Chafee’s ability to dig into his own family resources. Morgan remains focused on assessing whether she can raise enough money for a gubernatorial run. “It’s going well,” Morgan tells me. “We’ll know in a few weeks.” Raising the initial seed money for a campaign should be a candidate’s easiest fundraising, since it’s largely a function of calling in requests to friends, family, and other longtime acquaintances. 

5. Do plans to scale back General Electric’s workforce at its new headquarters in Boston augur poorly for GE Digital’s future in Rhode Island? It’s hard to know. But Commerce RI says GE Digital has already exceeded in its initial hiring round, and currently has about 60 employees in Providence. Commerce spokesman Brian Hodge noted that the GE Digital jobs were attracted with the state’s qualified jobs incentive tax credit program, which doesn’t offer a benefit until after jobs are created.

6. General Assembly leaders are keeping close to the vest details on whether the special session on September 19 will include an override vote of Gov. Raimondo’s veto of the continuing contract bill. “No decision yet,” said Larry Berman, spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. “Whether that legislation will be considered for a veto override has not yet been determined,” said Greg Pare, spokesman for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. The NEARI’s Robert Walsh said he hopes for an override, but hasn’t gotten any indication from legislative leaders that there will be one. “We’re simply going to ask people to take the vote they’ve already taken and stay with the position they’ve already taken,” Walsh said on RIPR’s Bonus Q&A, referring to decisive earlier votes for the measure in the House and Senate.

7. Bills expected to be on tap for the September 19 session include the paid sick leave measure; the bill regarding domestic violence and guns; and the criminal justice reform package championed by the Senate.

8. “[T]he smartphone trumps the alt-weekly as a boredom killer,” media critic Jack Shafer wrote when The Boston Phoenix ceased publication in 2013. Now, shifting tastes and changing times have led to the demise of WBRU, after more than 50 years, as a beloved alt-rock station. ‘BRU had been around for so long, and was such a fave, that it sparked an outpouring of online tributes, from an array of far-flung individuals. “Today was a day to drive around late-summer, sun-soaked Rhode Island in a red car with my RayBans on and the windows down, blasting The Smiths, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, the Lumineers, Coldplay, Fiona Apple, Gin Blossoms, Radiohead, RHCP, Fitz and the Tantrums,” former GOP candidate Catherine Taylor wrote on FB, on the last days of the station’s rock format. “Farewell, Wbru 95.5 FM, and thank you for decades of making me feel like I’m 21.” As WPRI’s Kim Kalunian reported, Brown President Christina Paxson indicated the university was willing to offer financial assistance to maintain WBRU, so it’s hard to know if the sale had to happen. Still, with the technological future not always matching the rosy expectations of the past, WBRU’s terrestrial passing is a totem of our breakneck lurch into tomorrow.

9. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio made some waves this week by telling me he favors a November vote on the proposed PawSox stadium in Pawtucket. Given a few hours to respond, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, not surprisingly, kept his cards closer to the vest. “We will listen to the testimony and let the committee process take its natural course,” Mattiello said in part. “It is premature for me to take a position until after the hearing.” Still, given Mattiello’s earlier coolness, plans for an as-yet-unscheduled House Finance Committee hearing on the PawSox proposal seem significant. The Senate’s more robust slate of six hearings, starting September 14, will certainly give the public an opportunity to be heard. For now, it remains unclear what kind of financial commitment Worcester — or Montreal — would be willing to offer. Over in Connecticut, meanwhile, the Yard Goats’ new $71 million stadium ran into delays and other drama. But the AA Yard Goats attracted almost 400,000 fans in 2017, second best in their league.

10. Felix E. “Feidlim” Gill, the brother-in-law of Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, has been nominated for a judicial post in Family Court.

11. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse tells RIPR’s Lynn Arditi he’s concerned that Care New England’s sale to out-of-state Partners could have an adverse impact for Lifepan, RI’s largest hospital network: “If Care New England is also sold to a big, out-of-state interest,’’ Whitehouse said, “then that presents to Lifespan the question: Can we survive as the small player in Rhode Island when we’ve always been the big player in Rhode Island?” Lifespan, meanwhile, pushed back at the suggestion that it could be pressured into seeking a merger …. On a related note, don’t miss Ted Nesi‘s ongoing coverage of the troubled pension fund for Fatima Hospital, including how the shortfall nearly tripled in two years following a 2014 transaction.

12. Where Are They Now? Betsy Wall, who resigned after the state’s much-ridiculed Cooler & Warmer tourism campaign in 2016, was hired in June by Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump, as the office’s director of external affairs.

13. Congressional critics of President Trump have focused much of their attention on Russia influence in last year’s election. Yet there’s also alarm about potential conflicts posed by people like corporate raider Carl Icahn (net worth: $17 billion) passing in and out of the inner circle of power in the White House. Sen. Whitehouse gets a brief mention in a story in last week’s New Yorker, telling writer Patrick Radden Keefe that the “definitional murk” surrounding Icahn’s (former) role made it important to answer basic questions about how often he consulted with Trump, and on how broad an array of regulations.

14. A good read from David Collins in The Day: “Hushing up Block Island crime.” Excerpt: “[T]he Block Island Times, owned since 2015 by Michael Schroeder, who is caught in a journalism scandal in connection with his fronting for billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of the Las Vegas newspaper, has stopped routinely printing police logs. The logs were always a favorite read of mine, chronicling not just arrests but incidents ranging from bike thefts to assaults and sidewalk flashers. It was police Chief Vincent Carlone who told me the island newspaper has stopped routinely running the logs. He said he asked them to. He said he learned from his time on the Narragansett, R.I., force that he believes the media goes out of its way to ’embarrass the living daylights’ out of people arrested. ‘It is terrible. I have lobbied (the Block Island Times) about it … I have to arrest a guy for drinking a beer,’ he said. ‘Do we have to doubly embarrass him?’ “

15. The NEARI’s Robert Walsh on how he would finance a solution to Rhode Island’s imposing school-building needs: “That’s an easy one for a good old-fashioned Democrat. You match long-term needs to long-term money — and interest rates are still relatively low. And kudos to Mayor Elorza — you announce a lot of bonded money and you start putting money into the schools. The condition of a lot of schools is abysmal. We have a few schools that did not start on time already this year because they’re having problems, Central Falls High School being one of them. Spend the money, get everything up to speed and fix it — and create good jobs in the process.”

16. Fascinating story, via NPR’s Joe Palca: “How Moldy Hay And Sick Cows Led To A Lifesaving Drug”

17. RaimondoWorld: apropos back-to-school, the governor’s communications director, Mike Raia, highlights these K-through 12 initiatives in his weekly newsletter: “In 2015, Governor Raimondo led the effort to require all-day kindergarten in every school district. Since she’s taken office, Rhode Island has tripled the number of Pre-K classrooms. These investments are laying a stronger foundation for our youngest learners, and they help give working parents a break on childcare; By December of this year, Rhode Island will be the first state in America to offer computer science in every district and every school; The previous administration halted funding for school repairs and school construction. Under Governor Raimondo’s leadership, Rhode Island got back to work. Since she’s been Governor, we’ve invested nearly $40 million in school building projects; Last September, Governor Raimondo drew a clear line in the sand and set a goal to ensure that 75 percent of third-graders are reading on grade level by 2025.”

18. Meanwhile, with all the back and forth over Governor Raimondo‘s RhodeWorks program — and litigation expected in the future — would a different approach be more prudent? In Oregon, a $5.3 billion transportation package, signed into law by Democratic Governor Kate Brown, relies on a one-tenth of one percent increase in the payroll tax, a four-cent hike in the gas tax, and higher car registration fees.

19. Lt. Gov. Dan McKee is stepping up his public profile in the face of an expected primary challenge by state Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence.) McKee is trying to raise attention about the energy-shopping web site, Empower RI, According to McKee spokeswoman Andrea Palagi, “The office also currently has legislation pending in the General Assembly (H6171 and S874) that would increase competition in the electric market by creating a program to protect alternate energy suppliers against bad debt. This legislation would give Rhode Islanders more options to save on Empower RI.”

20. Senate President Ruggerio on why he decided to get on Twitter. “Because these two people standing here right now” — Chief of Staff Stephen Iannazzi and spokesman Greg Pare — “told me I have to get on Twitter. I don’t know Twitter from anything, but that’s what they tell me and I take their advice. I wouldn’t know how to tweet, so my staffers are doing the tweeting. I’m telling them what to do and they’re doing the tweeting.”

21. Via East Side Monthly: “For years, though it has improved markedly in recent years, much of the housing friction on the East Side involved Brown and its neighbors. Now it appears Brown is being replaced by Bronhard. Walter Bronhard, a Fall River chiropractor, has aggressively been purchasing mostly upscale homes on the East Side, many of them large and historic, and in many cases is converting them to student housing.”

22. RIPR’s updated app (free!) enables you to listen to our live stream via mobile or tablet device wherever you go.

23. Here’s a fun audio story by RIPR’s Chuck Hinman on nautical tattoos and the stories behind them, based on a current exhibit at New Bedford’s Fishing Heritage Center.

24. Don’t forget to celebrate the fade of summer with a highly touted and made-in-RI pizza doughnut.

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