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TGIF: 14 things to know about RI politics + media

November 9, 2012

After a long, strange trip, Election 2012 is in the books. It’s been a long week, so sit back and relax with my latest edition of TGIF. Your comments are welcome, as always, at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org.

1. With legislative Democrats set to control 101 of 113 General Assembly seats in January (up from 94 in the last session), will they feel anything other than a sense of complacency? Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed are talking about a heightened focus on economic development, but they have divergent agendas. Fox cites a desire to move left in the aftermath of his election challenge from Mark Binder; he’s also on record about calling a vote on same-sex marriage legislation in January; Paiva Weed is on the other end of that  issue, and she has to mind her own constituency in the Senate. That explains why she makes this kind of statement, via news release, following yesterday’s Senate caucus: “We will continue to address the serious challenges facing Rhode Island and move our state forward in the coming months.” That kind of rhetoric has to leave some Rhode Islanders scratching their heads, considering the state’s sluggish economy and high unemployment. But in the absence of external pressure from voters and constituents, political institutions are largely loath to change their ways. 

2. President Obama’s re-election win has reignited speculation about whether Governor Lincoln Chafee will get an easy out, via a Cabinet post or ambassadorship, from an uncertain re-election campaign in 2014. Whether that will happen remains anyone’s guess, even if Chafee is more likely to make a change than Sheldon Whitehouse (recently rumored as a possible AG candidate; he says he’s not interested) or Jack Reed (subject to speculation for years as a possible secretary of defense; says he’s not interested). The greatest beneficiary of a Chafee departure would be Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts; she  has previously suggested a likely departure from politics when her second term as LG ends. Here’s the relevant language on succession from the state Constitution: “Article IX, Section 9. Vacancy in office of governor. — If the office of the governor shall be vacant by reason of death, resignation, impeachment or inability to serve, the lieutenant governor shall fill the office of the governor, and exercise the powers and authority appertaining thereto, until a governor is qualified to act, or until the office is filled at the next election.”

3. Speaking of Jack Reed, Rhode Island’s senior senator was recently profiled in Rhode Island Monthly. One highlight is this bit from former defense secretary Robert Gates: “Gates, who is working on his memoirs, says he’s enjoying writing down ‘what I was really thinking at the witness table’ when he was answering questions from lawmakers during hearings. ‘These guys were spouting off. And Jack Reed was one of those people where I was never thinking something opposite of what I was saying,’ Gates says. ‘He was always reasonable. He never postured for the camera. You knew he was a Democrat, from Rhode Island and liberal. But he was a problem-solver.”

4. Why in the world is the Carcieri fix — an effort to give the Narragansertt Indians more discretion over their tribal land in Charlestown — thought to be on the unfinished business list of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid?

5. Was the Providence Journal showing a new commitment to self-scrutiny when it reported on its own layoffs this week? Acting executive editor Karen Bordeleau told the venerable Jim Romenesko the answer is “No,” although the ProJo has had a disinclination to report on itself, at least in the past. More to the point: if the paper really wanted to be transparent in detailing its cuts, why did it omit the key information about the layoff of the wonderful Connie Grosch and two of her fellow photojournalists?

6. Patrick Crowley, political director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, was understandably pleased with the performance of labor-backed candidates on Tuesday. First, there were the wins of Ryan Pearson, Catherine Cool Rumsey, Hanna Gallo,and James Sheehan in the Senate, and Spencer Dickinson, Stephen Casey, and Linda Finn in the House. Crowley says teachers, riled up by last year’s pension overhaul, responded by helping send three of their own to Smith Hill:  Gregg Amore, William O’Brien and Adam Satchel. Crowley also cites a poor showing by the GOP Strike Force, and Democratic strength in down-ballot races, including a sweep on the Westerly School Committee and a majority on the Town Council in Portsmouth.

7. An anti-Bethany Moura mailer sent by the Working Families Coalition attributes some inaccurate information to RIPR (it says House Republicans introduced the bill to expand the EDC’s loan program used to attract 38 Studios; as we know, the bill was sponsored by Democrats Steven Costantino, Helio Melo, and Jon Brien). The mailer itself was specious since it used 38 Studios as a cudgel against Moura, and she wasn’t yet elected at the time of the vote. The Working Families Coalition’s Edward Johnson was unable to explain why the mistaken information was attributed to RIPR.

8. The contract agreement approved this week by Providence firefighters is another feather in the cap of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Taveras steers clear of publicly discussing the politics of the situation. Yet as the mayor moves toward a possible gubernatorial run in 2014, his series of negotiated agreements mark a contrast from the pension cuts spearheaded by Gina Raimondo.  

9.  Latino voters were among the big winners of this week’s Rhode Island election. Thanks to their support,, James Diossa has a strong shot of becoming the first Latino mayor of predominantly minority Central Falls in the next round of voting on December 11 (even if city council president Bill Benson promises no help “whatsoever” for “the kid”). Latino voters on Providence’s South Side reprised their important role in some past election cycles, helping to boost David Cicilline. Rhode Island’s Latinos emerged on the political map 10 years ago. Going forward, watch for some of the new activists backing Diossa’s campaign to make an impact.

10. Anchor Rising is Rhode Island’s leading conservative blog, so let’s hear a bit of Justin Katz’s reaction to Tuesday’s election setback for conservative thinking in RI.(click here for his entire post): “When we began Anchor Rising, eight years ago yesterday, we expressed the goal of progress for Rhode Island. Tuesday’s discouragement was that we have not seen it. Nobody, back then, expected Rhode Island to have turned around by now. But it was reasonable to think Rhode Islanders would be giving signs of recognizing the problem. At best, they’re recognizing that there is a problem, which I suppose is a sort of pre-dawn light.”

11. Some good discussion is on tap for URI’s latest Journalism Day, coming up on Thursday, November 15: at 9:30 am, Tim White, Mike Stanton, and the Boston Globe’s Tom Farragher will talk on “Is Investigative Journalism Dead?” (I’ll go out on a limb here and predict they’re all going to say, “No!”) At 11 am. the ProJo’s Peter Phipps and RI Future’s Bob Plain are part of a panel on “Online News Aggregators: Ethical or Unethical?” Both discussions will be at Memorial Union.

12. Dominic Chianese, “Uncle Jun” of Sopranos fame, has another memorable role in Boardwalk Empire (thank you, HBO’s recycling program). The talented actor and singer will be the featured speaker Tuesday, November 13 at a “Culture Change” symposium sponsored by RI Generations at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. Chianese’s Joy Through Art foundation works to “improve the quality of life for residents of nursing homes through regular interaction with professional artists trained in music and theater.”

13. Little things can make a difference department: A tax amnesty program initiated by the Chafee administration has collected almonst $9 million.

14. Because it’s never too early to look ahead: The Fix handicaps the 2016 presidential race.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Urbie Watrous permalink
    November 9, 2012 11:03 pm

    Wait a minute — that firemen’s contract is the SLIMMED-DOWN version? Nobody in the private sector gets that kind of pension. This city and state are completely hopeless, in terms of doing right by the taxpayer. All through the Great Recession, they kept hiking our car, property, tangibles, you name it. Fire them all.

    • Mister Guy permalink
      November 12, 2012 5:28 am

      “Nobody in the private sector gets that kind of pension.”

      Who cares?? There’s no need to continue down the senseless race to the bottom, which ultimately benefits exactly no one.

      The agreement that was reached (ending most COLAs for a period of time & abnormally high COLAs permanently, higher employee pension contributions, lower level disability pensions & older retirees basically being taken care of by Medicare) is very reasonable. This is another triumph for honest negotiation between unions & management, and it’s the only viable & legal way forward.

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