TGIF: 22 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Mar 16, 2018

We're closing in on the start of the baseball season, although you might not know it from the weather. Plus, the political cauldron continues to boil in the Biggest Little. So thanks for stopping by. Your comments are welcome and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go. 

1. What role will Matt Brown play in Rhode Island's 2018 race for governor, and what percentage of the vote can he attract? That's a question a lot of people are asking -- likely including those on Gov. Gina Raimondo's campaign team. For his part, Brown rejects the idea that he might play a spoiler role making it easier for a Republican to win in November. "I think the race is wide open," Brown said on Rhode Island Public Radio's Bonus Q&A this week. "Most people in the state think that the state's going in the wrong direction. Most people aren't satisfied with the candidates they have. They're looking for something else. They're looking for different ideas, and that's what I'm putting forward." Rhode Islanders remain largely divided about the direction of the state -- as evidenced by the recent WPRI/Roger Williams University poll -- and Democrat-turned-independent candidate Brown is trying to tap into the sense of dissatisfaction felt by a big slice of the electorate. But it's hard to predict where his ceiling may be in a general election matchup headlined by, say, Raimondo and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. Back in 2014, Raimondo got 40.7 percent of the vote, and Fung 36.2 percent, and their support appears similar now, according to the WPRI poll. So does Brown have the ideas to build his following? He calls for making Rhode Island shareholders in a more robust renewable energy system, although the outlook for doing that remains uncertain at best. On fixing UHIP, Brown said, "I'd have to, as governor, get in there and look at it." For now, Brown is banking his appeal on what he sees as voters' impatience with the status quo, albeit with an echo of previous campaigns (Gary Hart's emphasis on "new ideas," and messaging as a political outsider). "We need some new ideas," Brown said. "We can't keep waiting for people to continue to struggle through life, to continue to struggle to make ends meet, to continue to at the state level run a deficit, to continue to not be able to provide all of our kids a good education. We've been waiting a long time."

2. RIPR has learned that Matt Jerzyk, known for one of the best political minds in the state, has accepted a position as a lawyer with William A. Farrell and Associates, LLC where he will provide legal services regarding non-legislative policy and regulations. As previously noted on this page, Jerzyk left his post as legal counsel to the RI House leadership in February.  Farrell and Associates is a well-respected government relations firm, composed of Bill Farrell, Patricia Octeau and Will Farrell. Farrell previously developed the government law and strategies group at the international law firm of Brown Rudnick, where he worked with Octeau. This move reunites Jerzyk and Will Farrell, who played key roles in the administration of former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. (Jerzyk provided a copy of an unanimous opinion he sought from the Ethics Commission, outlining a road map for his post-State House career, including a strict one year prohibition on lobbying the General Assembly or being employed or contracting with any state or quasi-state agency.)

3. The statistical dead heat in the race for governor makes it a natural emphasis for the Rhode Island Republican Party. But RI GOP Chairman Brandon Bell rejects suggestions that the party is neglecting other races: "We are also hopeful about our chances in the U.S. Senate race," Bell said via email. "This may be the best opportunity in almost 20 years for a Republican to win a U.S. Senate seat in RI. For the GA, we have targeted seats in both the House and Senate that we believe we have a great chance of winning. Recruitment for those seats is ongoing and I anticipate we will have a strong slate of candidates. In addition to the targeted races we have live candidate training by some of our incumbents and other elections experts which will begin in mid April. This will include availability of some of the best data programs in addition to data training with regional and national support from the Republican National Committee and vendors who specialize in utilization of these data tools. We have more resources as of this date than we did in 2016 at the same time. As a result, I am hopeful that we will have full-time staffers to help our GA candidates in addition to money to spend on races where we have candidates who demonstrate a commitment to work hard in their respective districts." Bell said Tony Bucci is leading a fundraising effort for the GOP, and that the party is working to attract candidates, beyond LG hopeful Paul Pence, for AG, treasurer, and secretary of state.

4. Check out the 16 responses to the state's RFP for an innovation campus. The idea behind the concept -- backed by $20 million in bonds approved by voters in 2016 -- is that business-university partnerships will turn academic research into new businesses and jobs. The proposals come from business entities ranging from subdivisions of IBM to local businesses such as the RI Mushroom Company.

5. One of Matt Brown's ideas is making Rhode Island the first state to build "a fully clean energy system and create thousands of jobs that can not be out-sourced, that have to be here, giving the people a stake in that system, a financial stake like they do in Alaska, where everybody gets a rebate check every year." So is Brown's proposal to scale up clean energy jobs practical? "Some experts say Rhode Island ought to be the Saudi Arabia of wind power -- we've got that much wind power," he said on RIPR's Political Roundtable, repeating a line once used by former Gov. Don Carcieri. Asked how he'd he accomplish his goal, Brown said, "Well, there are a lot of ways to do it. The Alaska system is one, where you lease out your property to energy companies and you take the rent from that and provide people a check every year .... look around this country, there are over 40 million Americans who have some ownership in their utility company. There are different ways to do it .... So there's no reason we can't do it here. We just have to think differently. We've got to be bold."

6. Rhode Island has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives over the last decade, as part of an effort meant to create jobs and improve the economy. But as RIPR contributor Alex Nunes reports, state revenue officials have yet to evaluate the effectiveness of those incentives, in spite of a more than four-year-old state law that requires them to do so. State Revenue Director Mark Furcolo, who took over the department just a few few months ago, agrees the evaluation of tax incentives is overdue: " 'I can't speak for my predecessor,' said Furcalo. 'What I can speak for is that I do think it's an important report. I think it's a wonderful report in the fact that we get to put our recommendations into that report. I'm committed to getting it done as soon as possible, and I will get it done.' Paul Grimaldi, the Department of Revenue spokesman, explained some of the factors that held up the report. Staffing is one. The Office of Revenue Analysis was once down to as few as one full-time and one part-time employee. Taxpayer confidentiality issues complicated information sharing between state agencies. Analysts were also busy with other reports, like a recent car tax analysis."

7. During the 2014 gubernatorial race, Gov. Raimondo wound up in a public scrap with Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin over her vow to oppose attempts to restrict women's reproductive healthcare. That led La Salle Academy to remove a portrait of Raimondo, an alum. So it's worth noting how a Raimondo spokesman said the governor will sign two bills backed by abortion-rights supporters if they make it through the General Assembly (that's a big if, of course, since legislative leaders appear unlikely to bring to the floor a measure that would protect abortion rights in Rhode Island if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.)

8. Next Tuesday -- March 20 -- marks the 35th anniversary of Buddy Cianci's infamous assault on Raymond DeLeo -- a move that sparked Cianci's departure from City Hall while setting the stage for his remarkable 1990 comeback (and everything that followed). As the ProJo recounted in 1985, "Cianci was accused of attacking DeLeo on March 20, 1983, with a fireplace log, an ashtray, and a lighted cigarette while Ptlm. James K. Hassett allegedly restrainted DeLeo. Also present was Cianci's divorce lawyer William J. McGair and Public Works Director Joseph C. DiSanto. Another friend of both men, former Atty. Gen. Herbert F. DeSimone, stopped the attack." Cianci denied hitting DeLeo with an ashtray or a fireplace log; Buddy biographer Mike Stanton memorialized the assault as "DeLeo's Nightmare on Power Street." And while Cianci died in January 2016, his larger-than-life story lives on, as evidenced by how Trinity Rep plans to stage a play or musical based on Stanton's book. Recreating Cianci's 1983 attack on DeLeo (who died in 2013) will be a key dramatic high point in the production.

9. While guns remain a polarizing issue in the United States, there's something heartening about how citizens on both sides of the issue are making their voices heard. Last week, it was gun-rights advocates who had the biggest turnout for two legislative hearings. This week, students walked out of high schools around Rhode Island and some of them marched to the Statehouse. Referring to school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, Cumberland HS junior Emily Lamoureux told me, "This is a problem that needs awareness and it is time that students and teenagers speak up and try to bring an end to the violence." Meanwhile, gun control advocates point to Connecticut as an example of how a state can make a difference in the face of congressional inaction.

10. GOP gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan aired a new TV commercial this week, contrasting her with Gov. Raimondo and Mayor Fung. She also unveiled Bryan Piligra as part of her campaign team.

11. Another week and more mixed news on Rhode Island: in a story touted by Gov. Raimondo, Business Insider ranked the Ocean State as having the 9th-best economy in the U.S. -- a much higher ranking than in a series of other rankings. Yet Greecore is ceasing production at its facility at Quonset, resulting in the elimination of about 200 jobs. Meanwhile, there was another skirmish in the border war with Connecticut, with Raimondo calling Rhode Island "an island of rationality," while the Nutmeg State has "blossoming debt as far as the eye can see."

12. Scott MacKay's take on RI's economy: "If you only considered the low unemployment rate, you have to conclude that things are looking up. But that’s only one metric. Other measures show things aren’t so great. More Rhode Islanders are working, but many more of them work in other states, particularly Massachusetts, than live in surrounding states and come to the Ocean State to work. About 80,000 Rhode Island residents work outside the state. Less than 60,000 come to the Rhode Island to earn their living, according to data compiled by Paul Harrington, a labor economist at Drexel University. University of Rhode Island economist Leonard Lardaro says that compared to the Boston metro area, Rhode Island still lags in creating high-skill and technology-based occupations. “The knowledge gap is scary, says Lardaro."

13. Dr. Elizabeth Rosenthal tells RIPR's Lynn Arditi she's skeptical about whether the CVS Health-Aetna deal will benefit consumers: "I guess the question is, what happens to that money that’s saved? And what we often see, particularly when the companies, as is true in this case, when they’re for-profit companies is that that money goes to shareholders and really doesn’t benefit patients/"

14. Gina Haspel, President Trump's pick to lead the CIA, faces scrutiny for her role in running a black site in Thailand after 9/11. U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, who voted for Mike Pompeo as CIA director, say they have reservations about Haspel and see a need for her to be more upfront about her time at the secret prison, but they're not ruling out supporting her nomination.

15. Another eye-opening story from Lynn Arditi: "More women than men are enrolling in medical school, but women doctors are still paid significantly less than their male colleagues, according to a new national survey released Wednesday. And the pay gap is growing. In Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts (identified as the Providence Metro Area) women physicians earned, on average, about $109,000 less in 2017 than their male colleagues. That’s a gender pay gap in of about 31 percent. The national average gender pay gap was 27.7 percent. Rhode Island was one of 25 metro areas surveyed where the gender pay gap was more than $100,000."

16A. Opioids are increasingly an issue in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse and one of his would-be Republican opponents, Robert Flanders. Flanders this week announced he won't accept contributions "from companies that manufacture the types of opioids that have caused the current epidemic in Rhode Island, and he called on Sheldon Whitehouse to follow his lead." Meanwhile, Whitehouse appeared at Women & Infants Hospital Friday to call "on Congress to take action on his new bipartisan legislation, which would authorize $160 million for programs that support expectant and new mothers and babies who are struggling with opioid addiction." (State Rep. Robert Nardolillo, R-Coventry, and Flanders are battling for the chance to take on Whitehouse. Nardolillo is set to join RIPR as the guest on next week's Political Roundtable & Bonus Q&A.)

16B. Former GOP U.S. Rep. Claudine Schneider is set to host an April 29 "Breakfast of Climate Champions fundraiser in Warren for Sen. Whitehouse's campaign. In 1989, Schneider had 140 bipartisan co-sponsors when she introduced a global warming prevention. Whitehouse, meanwhile, used his 200th speech on climate change to argue that it should not be a partisan issue. 

17. Trust Barometer Global Report (h/t Aaron Renn, who sums up these findings: "Average US trust in institutions dropped by nine points (on a 100 point scale), the biggest decline out of any country surveyed; Trust in institutions by the US 'informed public' declined by 23 points, from one of the world’s highest to the lowest surveyed; Across the four major institution types analyzed (NGOs, Business, Government, Media), the informed public still has a higher average trust level than the general public; The US has a 34 percentage point gap in trust in the media between political parties; The media is overall the world’s least trusted institution (22 of 28 countries), including in the US; Despite the 'trust crash' last year, trust in all US institutions is actually higher than it was in 2012.")

18. Matt Fecteau, who often travels the globe when he's not running for public office here in RI, points to Bhutan in suggesting that it may offer some lessons for us Ocean Staters. For evidence, he pointed to an AP story, headlined, "In Bhutan, gross national happiness trumps GDP" ("Never conquered, never colonized, tiny Bhutan retains much of its deep and ancient culture. But it’s attempting to chart a unique path in today’s world: modernize and democratize without sacrificing independence, culture or its pristine mountains and forests.") But some say Bhutan's putative happiness quotient is overstated and NPR reports that the birthplace of 'Gross National Happiness' is growing a bit cynical.

19. The future of a downtown hotel in Fort Myers, Florida, may be bound up in old Rhode Island court files. It turns out that the developer, John Morgan Dean, one of the first in Fort Myers, had Ocean State ties and his heirs passed away while living here, resulting in an unresolved title dispute. "John Dean's will passed through probate in the Cranston, Rhode Island city probate court," reports the News-Press. "Paperwork generated by depression-era claims made by creditors against the Dean estate fill four accordion-style folders in a court storage facility. Like other business owners, Dean's fortune suffered during the Great Depression, leaving creditors to bring claims against his estate."

20. Demand Progress, the progressive activist group run by former state rep. and Providence City Councilor David Segal, is doing a podcast with commentator David Sirota.

21. The heart may be a lonely hunter, but hearts can get younger in middle age with exercise.

22. "Born on third, thought he hit a triple" has had a long use in sports and politics. Yet now Minor League Baseball plans to magically place a runner on second base whenever a game goes into extra innings -- Sad!