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TGIF: 12 answers to RI’s top political questions of 2012

December 28, 2012

We’re offering a slight break from TGIF’s usual format this week with a look back at how 12 of the big questions of Rhode Island politics played out in 2012. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments on the blog or by email: idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org.

Question 1. Will Governor Lincoln Chafee offer a more coherent message that helps lift his slumping approval rating?

Answer: Chafee went into 2012 with a 27 approval rating in a Brown University survey. By October, WPRI put the governor’s backing at a virtually identical 29 percent. Chafee continues to march to his own drummer, without much apparent concern for how he’s perceived — and with uncertain impact for his re-election hopes in 2014.

Question 2. Will the General Assembly approve a meaningful overhaul of severely underfunded locally managed pension funds in an election year?

Answer: No. As expected in an election year, the legislature opted to leave the issue for cities and towns to resolve. Some of those  clamoring for legislative help made progress through negotiations. Yet other communities, like West Warwick, continue to struggle, and more still face severely under-funded local pensions. 

Question 3. Will Rhode Island be able to stanch the bleeding from a leading revenue source when casinos open for business in Massachusetts?

Answer:  It’s not entirely clear whether expanded gambling at Twin River in Lincoln, set to ramp up in the new year, will preserve Rhode Island’s big revenue stream from gambling in the face of new casinos planned in Massachusetts. But it’s probably too much to hope that it does. Legislators acknowledged as much during a budget debate last June. A best-case scenario, they suggested, might be preventing even greater erosion in a key source of state revenue.

Question 4. Will the hangover from Providence’s fiscal problems prove the undoing of David Cicilline, or will the incumbent survive, thanks to his energy, fundraising, reshaped congressional district, and how he’ll be running during a presidential election?

Answer: The Cook Political Report was prophetic when it likened Cicilline to Lazarus in the weeks before the November election. The freshman Democrat, helped by President Obama’s coattails and the locally toxic reputation of national Republicans, cruised to a surprisingly large victory over Republican Brendan Doherty.

Question 5. Will labor rebuild its influence on the General Assembly, or will Gina Raimondo and Engage RI have a lasting impact?

Yes, on both counts. Defeating conservative Woonsocket Democrat Jon Brien was among labor’s legislative victories. Raimondo has remained a media favorite, and she came out in support of disclosing EngageRI’s donors after the group got some big exposure in the Wall Street Journal. Many eyes remain upon Raimondo as we move closer to 2014.

Question 6. Will other fossilized deposits of old-school Providence mismanagement and cronyism surface?

The Providence Economic Development Partnership offered grist to help some stay busy for much of the year.

Question 7. Will Rhode Island be able to move past its perennial struggles to bolster economic development and competitiveness?

Answer: No, although we did see a sharper rift between Governor Chafee defending his approach and other individuals (Gary Sasse) and groups (RIPEC, the RI Foundation, etc.) calling for more idea, energy, and focus.

Question 8. Will the Providence Journal’s recently adopted online approach enable the state’s largest news organization to  stanch the bleeding in its print subscriptions and ad revenue?

Answer: Not so much, at least not yet, and more talent and expenses got cut on Fountain Street.

Question 9.  Will the pension law linger as a singular accomplishment, or will it signal a new ability on the part of state government to tackle other complicated policy problems?

Answer: The meltdown of 38 Studios — Rhode Island’s top story of the year — lingered as a hard-to-forget example of bad government. In the area of public policy and politics, there was nothing in 2012 to match the boldness of the pension overhaul a year earlier.

Question 10. Will Angel Taveras be able to maintain his high approval rating while continuing to fight big fiscal challenges in the state’s most important city, possibly with another tax increase?

Answer: The mayor had a strong year, keeping his approval rating up while drawing a series of new contributions from non-profits and closing cost-cutting deals with city unions.

Question 11. How will the increased spending from outside groups made possible by Citizens United impact RI elections and campaigns?

Answer: There was some noise around the margins, but big spenders on a national level didn’t always emerge as winners.

Question 12. Will the RI Republican Party, after losing an experienced leader with high-level experience in Ken McKay, be able to increase its modest presence in the General Assembly?

Answer: No. Despite what continues to seem like a fertile atmosphere for an alternative to legislative Democrats, the RI GOP continues to struggle. Every legislative Democrat who sought election in November won their race, and the Republican presence on Smith Hill is shrinking from 18 to 11 lawmakers.

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