TGIF: 20 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Feb 16, 2018

A sadly familiar story dominates the news once again.  Meanwhile, the political beat remains busy in the Biggest Little. As usual your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. In the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, this week that killed 17 people, advocates are renewing their call for restrictions on guns in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence's legislative agenda includes banning magazines with more than 10 rounds and keeping guns out of schools (with exceptions for police officers). But will new restrictions on guns make students safer in Rhode Island? There are tens of millions of guns in America, and gun-rights supporters argue that it's nearly impossible to stop a disturbed person hellbent on committing violence. Those on the other side say the ongoing horror of young people being killed in schools illustrates the need for change. "I was reading a tweet that was talking about students that were fleeing the gunfire [in Parkland], live-tweeting the event and being responded to and coached by students who have lived through similar shootings," state Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Newport) said on Rhode Island Public Radio's Political Roundtable this week. "It's an outrage that nothing has been done and I think even if the answer isn't perfect, it's incumbent upon us to take action." (New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof points to a cause and effect between relevant laws and gun violence.) But gun advocates say rifles are not being used in homicides in Rhode Island, and that new measures would punish law-abiding gun-owners. (In the case of Parkland, the FBI acknowledges it failed to act on a tip that might have prevented the massacre.) Ultimately, whatever happens at the Statehouse this year may depend on which side pours the most energy into pressing its case. In 2013, after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, not much changed at the General Assembly (and an NRA PAC had contributed more than $120,000 to lawmakers in the preceding 11 years). But supporters of what advocates call "common sense gun laws" have stepped up their activism more recently, building support for measures like taking guns away from domestic abusers facing a final protective order.

2. Political strategist Jeff Britt, who played a key role in House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's narrow mail ballot-fueled re-election victory over Republican Steve Frias in 2016, will not play a role in Mattiello's re-election run this year. Britt confirmed that after being contacted by RIPR, while declining further comment. (As TGIF recently reported, Kristen Dart -- who gave a boost to Mattiello's 2016 campaign -- left the speaker's staff for a job with Planned Parenthood in Albany, New York.) Yet the speaker should not lack for campaign assets, starting with a solid $266,000 in his campaign account.

3. Lilian Calderon was freed this week by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement -- a move that delighted her supporters and ended one chapter in America's ongoing debate about immigration. "I am so happy to see my husband and children again and to be out of immigration detention, which was a terrible ordeal for our family,” Calderon said in a statement released by the RI ACLU. “What the government is doing to my family, and to so many others, is simply wrong." Now, the ACLU says, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf is looking for answers, by February 21, about Calderon's detention. There's been a lot of sympathy in Rhode Island for Calderon, a Guatemalan native who has lived in the U.S. since she was three. That reflects broader public attitudes toward the Dreamers, even as a fix remains elusive at the national level. In 2016, President Trump's rhetoric about immigration resonated even in Democratic strongholds like Johnston. Meanwhile, some Christian leaders say deporting immigrants would jeopardize their churches. And in an era when critics continue to rail about undocumented immigrants, there's also the threat posed by foreign agents using the Internet to reach into American homes and offices.

4. State Sen. Nicholas Kettle (R-Coventry) was arrested by State Police Friday afternoon and charged with video voyeurism and extortion. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has called on Kettle to resign.

5. Democrat Margaret Good's much-touted special election win this week for a state legislative seat in Florida has a Rhode Island connection: longtime activist Kate Coyne-McCoy managed Good's primary campaign and then served as general consultant. Democrats are pointing to Good's win as a bellwether, since she had a 7 percentage point win in a district won by President Trump by five points in 2016. Here are some of Coyne-McCoy's thoughts on why Good won: "Good benefited from backlash against Donald Trump. But her campaign also focused early on key tactics which are often overlooked, tactics which must be emphasized if Democrats are to continue the trend of flipping red seats to blue. We can’t rely on anger at Trump alone. First and foremost, Margaret Good had the time and the network to raise the resources needed to win. She was completely committed to fundraising, and she relentlessly dialed for dollars .... knowing she was competing against a wealthy opponent. With the help of a Florida group called Ruth’s List and a new organization called Sister District, Margaret built an army of small donors who contributed early. Second, and perhaps most critical, was the early organizational support Margaret received. Most new candidates come to campaigns unfamiliar with the tactics and tools needed to build a winning organization. Imagine building a million-dollar business in two months. That is what campaigns need (but often fail) to do. Margaret was fortunate enough to have access to professional talent that could launch her on the path to victory. Democratic organizations across the nation would be wise to invest in early help to new candidates take raw skill and commitment and turn it into money, message and organization. Third, Margaret had assistance building and delivering a winning message. In my experience new women candidates are smart -- too smart. I call it the Al Gore problem. Candidates want to prove early on that they know the issues - every damn facet of them.  So they talk and talk and talk. They don’t know exactly what to say, so they say everything. Voters don’t have the capacity to listen to that much talk. Margaret Good spent hours honing her knowledge into a compelling message that resonated with voters. It was positive and relatable. She stuck to that message and practiced her delivery every day. Initially a hesitant and wary public speaker, with practice she became a compelling candidate able to motivate voters."

6. After a slow start to the GOP gubernatorial primary, things are starting to percolate. House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan launched a salvo Friday at Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, saying via tweet that Fung "was for tolls before he was against them and by the time he changed his tune, it was too late." Fung campaign manager Andrew Vargas Vila fired back with this response: "As Rep. Morgan keeps falling behind in this race, we can expect to see more false attacks from her. Mayor Fung has never supported putting more tolls on Rhode Islanders and he has always opposed Governor Raimondo's new toll program." But as Michael Napolitano notes, Fung said during the 2014 gubernatorial race that he was open to considering a toll on I-95. Vargas Vila, meanwhile, points to language in a 2016 bill cosponsored by Morgan (page 2, lines 8-21) as evidence that she's a toll supporter.

7. Meanwhile, across the partisan aisle, Gov. Gina Raimondo is the target of an ethics complaint launched by RI GOP Chairman Brandon Bell. "Governor Raimondo’s decision to enter into an agreement with a local party committee, whose chairman is a subordinate state employee, and was approved under secretive circumstances, is unusual," Bell said in a statement. While fundraising agreements between elected officials' campaigns and political committees are not unusual, the element of how former Providence Democratic City Committee Chairman Patrick Ward landed a state job in the year before the agreement raises a question of perception. Meanwhile, the ProJo editorialized that what seemingly began "an end-run around campaign contribution limits" (and Speaker Mattiello's control of the state Democratic Party) has instead become "another self-inflicted wound" for Raimondo.

8. State Sen. Stephen Archambault (D-Smithfield), who was first elected in 2012, faces a Democratic primary challenge from left-leaning Melanie DuPont.

9. Theodore Francis Green is known for many things, ranging from his role in leading RI's "Bloodless Revolution" to his long service in the U.S. Senate. But the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and two leading Warwick lawmakers say it's time to change the name of T.F. Green Airport. According to a news release by the RI Airport Corporation, "RIAC officials believe the name change will support better passenger awareness of the airport’s location and destinations along with increased passenger travel.  Of the 376 primary mainland airports in the country as defined by the FAA – airports servicing more than 10,000 passengers annually - only 32, including T.F. Green, do not have the city, region or state in its name."

10. The rhetorical debate between progressives and conservatives promises to be a hot topic throughout the 2018 campaign season and potentially beyond. Clay Johnson, chairman of The Gaspee Project, took aim at progs in a Valentine's Day message this week: "when the far-left Progressives talk about helping the poor by raising the minimum wage, they are talking about disrupting the very system that has done so much good in the world. After all, a free market operates when NOBODY can set wages and prices for somebody else." Yet Rachel Flum, executive director of the Economic Progress Institute, said in an interview with RIPR that stagnant wages justify better pay for workers: “The minimum wage has not really kept place with inflation. And if it did, it would be much higher, we’d be talking about 20, 25, $30 an hour, rather than the $15 that we’re talking about. And so we do think there’s room to grow – we just have not kept pace.”

11. URI researcher Simon Engelhart has found that sea level rise in Rhode Island is faster than at any point in the last 3300 years, in part, because the state is sinking. "Although the state is losing only one millimeter of ground annually, according to Engelhart, it plays a meaningful role in present-day flooding along a coastal state that is mostly at sea level or 10 to 30 feet above," according to a release from the university. Meanwhile, in Boston, waterfront developers are already planning for climate change.

12. Guy Benson, a conservative journalist and author of End of Discussion: How the Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun), faced "student pushback and criticism" during an appearance at Brown University this week the BDH reported. "We will not stand idly by as our proud history of student activism is belittled and the real emotional, physical, and psychological needs of marginalized students are denigrated as illogical and irrelevant," a group of students wrote. "We, the undersigned, are staunchly opposed to this event. We consider Benson’s invitation yet another iteration of a conversation that is misguided, narrow-minded, and explicitly dangerous to the well-being and continued thriving of people of color and other marginalized people at Brown University and the broader community." Unlike Ray Kelly, Benson was able to finish his talk, although, he added, "Some personal firsts at #Brown this evening: - Pre-speech security briefing w/ university officials & police, including a designated escape route (really!) - Students’ bags searched upon entry to the venue. - Organized walk-out *not* due to audience boredom."

13. Sen. Dawn Euer on why advocates for a state-based right to an abortion are pressing that polarizing issue in an election year and in the face of sharp opposition from Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin, among others: "I think the attacks on women's health over the years actually shows an urgency around this issue," Euer said on RIPR's Bonus Q&A this week. "This isn't something that women decided to care about overnight. Since Roe v. Wade there has been a persistent, consistent attack on these rights every year. And I think the realities of what's happen on the Supreme Court -- in my perspective it should be a no-brainer; it's the law of the land now. Let's codify it, let's make sure that Rhode Island law matches federal law. There shouldn't need to be an immediate urgency behind it to make sure that our laws match federal laws."

14. With the General Assembly taking its winter vacation next week, tentative plans call for top PawSox officials to sit down with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's team later this month to discuss potential changes to the team's Pawtucket stadium proposal. "We're looking for some direction from the House," says PawSox spokesman Guy Dufault.

15. Boston-based WBUR dismissed On Point host Tom Ashbrook this week for creating what investigators called an "abusive work environment." Ashbrook said he was deeply disappointed by the decision and he called it unfair, adding, "WBUR and BU stated that the sole basis for this decision was my management of our team. I believe that WBUR and Boston University failed in their responsibility to effectively address these issues when they arose when they could have been more easily resolved." Meanwhile, Ashbrook's dismissal also became a focal point for On Point, which is carried weekdays by RIPR.

16. Print persists. That's why Beacon Communications has bought the Coventry-based Reminder, "a buyer’s guide publication of classifieds and adverts which publishes 28,000 copies weekly and mails to 24,000 subscribers directly." According to a news release from John Howell, "Howard Stevens began Stevens Publishing Inc. in 1954, as Peter tells it, not because he had a burning passion for selling advertisements, but because he was trying to put food on the table for his family. After being let go from his job at the Gorham Silver Manufacturing plant in Providence, he fixed oil and kerosene burners to pay the bills. Following a discussion with Peter’s uncle at a family picnic, who advertised his music store in a Connecticut publication, Howard got the idea to put together his own weekly mailer. It quickly became the true embodiment of a family business, with Howard and his wife, Luella, along with Peter and Amey, physically crafting, collating, stapling and bundling the publication out of their family kitchen before stamping and dropping them off at the post office each week. Peter and Amey purchased the Reminder from their father in 1991, and has published every week since then. Peter said that it was simply time to hand the paper over to a capable team of new owners, which he believes he has found in Howell and Beacon Communication general manager Richard Fleischer. 'I have a real good feeling about the Beacon team,' Peter said. 'I think they're honest, I trust that they will carry on what we have started. I think their heart is in the right place and that makes me feel good about it.' "

17. Some Democrats have taken note of how Joseph Polisena Jr., the son of the Democratic mayor of Johnston, gave a $1,000 contribution in November to GOP gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung.

18. Interesting read from Sasha Issenberg: "Over the last decade, almost entirely out of view, campaigns have modernized their techniques in such a way that nearly every member of the political press now lacks the specialized expertise to interpret what’s going on. Campaign professionals have developed a new conceptual framework for understanding what moves votes. It’s as if restaurant critics remained oblivious to a generation’s worth of new chefs’ tools and techniques and persisted in describing every dish that came out of the kitchen as either 'grilled' or 'broiled.' "

19. Brown University alum Andrew Yang is running for president (h/t Eli Sherman). Via the NYT: "Mr. Yang, a former tech executive who started the nonprofit organization Venture for America, believes that automation and advanced artificial intelligence will soon make millions of jobs obsolete — yours, mine, those of our accountants and radiologists and grocery store cashiers. He says America needs to take radical steps to prevent Great Depression-level unemployment and a total societal meltdown, including handing out trillions of dollars in cash. 'All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society,' Mr. Yang, 43, said over lunch at a Thai restaurant in Manhattan last month, in his first interview about his campaign. In just a few years, he said, 'we’re going to have a million truck drivers out of work who are 94 percent male, with an average level of education of high school or one year of college.' "

20. Do you spend your days pining to be in South Dakota? Me neither. So take with a few giant grains of salt 24/7's finding that Rhode Island is the 10th most miserable state in the US. According to a blurb, "Having a sense of purpose is the most important component of personal well-being, and no state ranks lower in sense of purpose than Rhode Island." They obviously didn't take into account the sense of purpose felt by political and investigative reporters with a never-ending supply of material.