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McKee says he’s “certainly interested” in running for lieutenant governor in 2014

December 27, 2012

Dan McKee 12-28-12Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee appears headed toward a run for lieutenant governor in 2014.

“I’m not ready to announce, but I certainly am interested in that position,” McKee said during a taping this morning of RIPR’s Political Roundtable. The segment will air Friday at 5:40 and 7:40.

While critics call the LG’s office unnecessary and wasteful, McKee argues otherwise:

“Policy really is very important for the state, and I think that’s a really good spot to not only create policy but actually generate the conversation that needs to be had. So I see that as a very good spot to be in this time frame for Rhode Island that’s in dire need of kind of keeping its sight on what’s right.”

Term limits preclude Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts from seeking re-election in 2014. Barring an unexpected departure for Governor Lincoln Chafee, Roberts appears poised to make an exit from politics.

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis is also a prospective Democratic candidate for LG in 2014.

McKee has built a profile as a center-right Democrat befitting Cumberland’s place in the Blackstone Valley. He has been a vocal supporter for mayoral academies, a different kind of public school.

During our Bonus Q+A (set to air at 6:40 and 8:40 am Friday), McKee said he supports same-sex marriage and hopes it’s approved quickly. He said he is not opposed to putting the issue to a statewide vote — a process sharply opposed by some advocates.

UPDATE: Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Marriage Equality Rhode Island spoke with McKee after his appearance on RIPR; Sullivan says he doesn’t consider McKee a supporter of putting same-sex marriage to a statewide vote.

Chafee mum on whether his next budget includes tax increases

December 26, 2012

Governor Lincoln Chafee is declining to talk specifics about whether his next budget will include revenue increases — a.k.a. tax hikes.

The governor offered this comment during an interview last week (excerpts of which were broadcast on RIPR Thursday morning):

“The budget will come out in January … we’re still putting it together.”

The governor’s latest budget is expected to emerge by January 17. Previous tax hikes proposed by Chafee have been lightning rods for public criticism. The General Assembly has mostly squelched the governor’s intended tax program.

Chafee says his top goal for 2013 is crafting a stable foundation for building Rhode Island’s economy.

The governor offered this response when asked if his administration is bringing enough urgency to economic development:

“There’s nothing I think about more every day — and that has not changed from the day I took the oath of office — than the Rhode Island economy. So it’s a complete inaccuracy to suggest in any way there’s not a sense of urgency about the Rhode Island economy.”

As Rhode Island still wrestles with high unemployment, some individuals and groups outside government have clamored for a tangible plan to improve the state’s economy.

Chafee calls his approach “a methodical conservative way” of investing in education, roads and bridges, and fiber-optics. The governor says some of those criticizing his efforts supported the state;s losing investment in 38 Studios. “Sense of urgency is sometimes how you define it,” Chafee says.

UPDATE: Gary Sasse on Thursday uses a ProJo op-ed to slam what he calls an absence of economic leadership:

Rhode Island’s major challenge is not financial, regulatory or educational, though these are critical matters. Rather, it is the lack of effective leadership that has the political will to connect the dots. As written in the Book of Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Diossa swearing-in set for New Year’s Day

December 26, 2012

January 1 is all about new beginnings, and that’s when the swearing-in has been scheduled for James Diossa, the mayor-elect of Central Falls.

Probate judge Bruce Sawyer will administer the oath of office during a 6 pm ceremony at Central Falls High School.

Diossa won decisive victories in a two-step mayoral election process. He succeeds Charles Moreau, who pleaded guilty to corruption and is due to be sentenced February 12.

Chafee says approving a pension settlement is mostly up to him and the General Assembly

December 24, 2012

As the two sides in Rhode Island’s pension lawsuit prepare for court-ordered mediation next month, Governor Lincoln Chafee says the authority to approve a settlement rests largely with him and the General Assembly.

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo was the architect of the pension overhaul approved last year by the legislature and signed into law by Chafee. Like the governor, she is a defendant in the legal challenge brought against the overhaul by five public-sector unions.

Nonethless, when it comes to approving a possible settlement, “The general treasurer, technically, is a bystander,” Chafee said in an interview last week.

As explained by the governor, negotiated changes to last year’s pension overhaul would need to clear the General Assembly “and the governor has a veto option.”

It’s certainly conceivable that Raimondo could express objections to Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter if a proposed pension settlement doesn’t meet her approval.

Like Chafee, Raimondo is an expected candidate for governor in 2014; the relative merits of a settlement — and its impact on taxpayers and public-sector employees — could become a big issue in the race.

Raimondo and the state’s lead lawyer in the case, John Tarantino, declined comment on who has the authority to approve a pension settlement with the unions seeking to overturn the overhaul.

Raimondo said:

“The mediation is confidential, so I am not allowed to tak about it; no one is. We will be participating in good faith per the court order.”

Chafee says he expects federally supervised  mediation talks on the pension case next month to focus on four areas: age of retirement; suspension of cost of living adjustments; the imposition of a hybrid-style retirement plan; and reamortization:

“We’ll be addresing what can occur in any of those four areas, with the thought that ultimately this has got to be good for the taxpayers and it has to be approved by the General Assembly. That’s the process and it’s a good process.”

Chafee declined to talk more specifically about what criteria he will use in assessing whether a proposed pension settlement is worth approving; Raimondo declined comment on that question. 

Asked if he would support a deal that preserves a certain percentage of the savings from the pension overhaul, Chafee declined to talk specific numbers.

But the governor says he doesn’t think he’ll leave himself open to charges of watering down the landmark pension overhaul or trying to rebuild his support among unions:

“I’m doing this as a governor who has to put together budgets …. if we’re falling deeper and deeper into the hole by not putting money aside for the possible loss in court [in the pension case], that’s not a good thing. I’d like to get this resolved on behalf of the taxpayers of Rhode Island. That’s the smart course to take.”

Raimondo, meanwhile, says politics can remain apart from the path of the pension case in court.  


“I am confident that the great work that led to this reform, that has made Rhode Island a national leader in this regard — Rhode Island  is now known as the state who put politics aside to do the right thing for the people, and I think we’re going to stay on that path.” 

McGowan headed to from GoLocalProv

December 24, 2012

Kudos and congrats to Dan McGowan, news editor at GoLocalProv, who is headed to a new gig writing for the Web site of WPRI.

McGowan has emerged as one of the best young reporters in Rhode Island, with a strong nose for news. He’s expected to focus on covering Providence politics and crime, among other topics, starting in mid-January.

WPRI has steadily bolstered its Web presence, showcasing work from Ted Nesi and Tim White.

No word yet on McGowan’s sucessor at GoLocal.

(My standard disclosure: I’m a longtime panelist on WPRI’s Newsmakers.)

TGIF: 15 things to know about RI politics + media

December 21, 2012

A lot of news in the run-up to Christmas; debate over how to reduce school shootings; mediation ordered in the pension case; and the march is on toward our next RI campaign season. Happy holidays to all my readers, and thanks for checking in. Lets get to it.

1. Call it A Tale of Two Institutes. The Institute for International Sport housed at URI was launched with a mission of promoting youth sports; It’s unable to account for a lot of taxpayer’ money. The Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence has a record of helping to reduce violence in Rhode Island; it was hit by a round of staff cuts that were all the more striking for happening on the same day as Newtown. The nonviolence institute’s director, Teny Gross, knows as well as anyone the difficulty of documenting the value of prevention. “Basically, what’s billable is provable, which is ridiculous,” he told me when I profiled the institute’s efforts in 2003. But as various Rhode Island officials offer new proposals in response to Newtown, they might consider the level of government support for stopping violence before it happens.

2. It’s on: President Obama‘s selection of John Kerry as secretary of state sets in motion another US Sentate race in Massachusetts, giving another opportunity to Republican Scott Brown. As National Journal notes, the field of prospective Democrats ranges from the likes of Ben Affleck and Edward Kennedy Jr. to current Congressmen Michael Capuano, Steve Lynch, and Ed Markey.

3. It’s off: George Caruolo will not be the chair of Rhode Island’s combined Board of Education.

4. It wasn’t all that long ago when three things (crack cocaine; a demographic boom of young men; and the advent of semi-automatic pistols, like the 9mm, in the civillian marke) sparked a huge increase in youth violence (mostly in poor city neighborhoods) from the 1980s into the early 90s. The violence abated for a number of reasons, including the fade of the crack epidemic. But the place of military-style weapons in the civilian market is getting renewed attention after Newtown. Check out this Terry Gross interview with Tom Diaz, an analyst with the Violence Policy Center, for more of the backstory. For starters, Diaz says more people die in the US each year from gun-related incidents than in all global terrorist attacks since the 1960s.

5. Do you know the glass bottles you put in your recycling bin each week wind up getting buried at the Central Landfill. rather than being recycled? RIPR’s Bradley Campbell broke the story last summer, and he found that 13,000 TONS of glass have been dumped into the landfill since a change in legislation took effect in June.

6. Don’t hold your breath if you expect the Senate to restore legislative oversight by the state Ethics Commission in 2013. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed says Senator James Sheehan continues to work on a “compromise” meant to address her chamber’s concern about preserving the “speech in debate” clause for lawmakers. We heard similiar talk this year, and Common Cause of RI calls the intended compromise unworkable …. Btw, Paiva Weed tells me she expects “contract-dispute resolution” legislation (binding arbitration) to be introduced and debated in the new session. The Senate passed a binding arb bill in 2011, but it died in the House amid a public outcry from critics who called it bad for taxpayers.

7. The Phoenix’s David Scharfenberg has a must-read this week about the amateurish tendency in Rhode Island politics, and the counter-example set by the likes of Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo. Scharfy acknowledges the uphill battle facing the idea of switching to a full-time legislature; He calls for adding more professional legislative staff as a way of fostering better policy.

8. Speaking of Raimondo, watch for her to step up her advocacy against payday lending in 2013. “I plan to be active in the payday debate,” the treasurer tells me. “I think it’s about time that we protect Rhode Island families from predatory lending like payday.” Raimondo says supporters of cutting the annual percentage rate of up to 260 percent on payday loans can bolster their case by promoting more education on the issue. Former House Speaker William Murphy, a lobbyist for Advance America, was seen by some as a major reason for the death of a payday lending bill this year. “I hope it’s different this year,” Raimondo says. “It’s my job and the job of the members of the General Assembly, all public servants, to represent the interests of all the people in Rhode Island.”

9. I’m looking forward to delving into the Boston Globe’s “68 Blocks: Life, Death, Hope,” a series on a year in the life of a poor Boston neighborhood. Old friend Dan Kennedy calls it “a triumph of narrative and digital journalism,” adding, “It’s a great example of what a large news organization is able to do if it’s got the resources and is willing to commit them to a long, complex project.” The capacity to carry this effort off comes as Brian McGrory, a one-time Globe paperboy, takes over the top job on Morrissey Boulevard. Is there a lesson here for the ProJo?

10. Speaking a bit earlier of Taveras, he has a piece on HuffPo about what heading over the fiscal cliff would mean for Providence. Excerpt: “Perhaps most alarming is the Congressional Budget Office’s warning that without a compromise, the national unemployment rate will rise and our economy may slide back into recession. The recovery in Rhode Island and — with it — Providence is incredibly and dangerously fragile. Rhode Island has the nation’s second highest unemployment rate. Our working and jobseeking families cannot afford to take another hit.”

11. Would an all-women Congress fix the fiscal cliff faster?

12. President Obama said of Newtown, “We can’t accept events like this as routine.” The sad fact, though, is that gun violence is accepted as routine in the poor parts of American cities. I wrote about this disparity in 1999, and the observations hold up, IMHO.

13. James Alan Fox, a smart and highly quotable criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, has 10 myths about mass shootings.

14. What’s your favorite holiday movie? Two of our favorites: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (of course), and “White Christmas“.

15. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus

Caruolo asks to not be chair of new combined Board of Education

December 21, 2012

George Caruolo has asked Governor Lincoln Chafee to withdraw his name from consideration as the nominee to chair a controversial new combined state Board of Education.

Via statement:

Governor Chafee stated, “George came to me and informed me that the scope of his position and the time commitment necessary were far more extensive than he realized when he agreed to take the position. I reluctantly agreed to his request. He has done fine work for my administration as chair of the Board of Regents and I was looking forward to working with him in this new position. He is a valued advisor and remains so.”

Caruolo stated, “I told the Governor that I was sorry to withdraw and I was appreciative of his confidence in me, but that the more I investigated what had to be done in the coming months, the more it was interfering with my need to support my family. I told him that I still had two children in college and that I felt that to do this job correctly would require virtually a full time effort. That is particularly true during the period when the new structure is designed and implemented. I explained that if I could not dedicate enough time then it was unfair to everyone to have me fill that job. I thanked him for his understanding.”

Caruolo, a former House majority leader, has emerged in recent years as a resurgent player in RI politics.