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


October is on the way out, which means the resolution to Rhode Island’s 2018 campaign season is almost here. Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual, your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

GOP candidate Allan Fung continues to slug away, criticizing Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo on pensions, immigration and the DMV, as time ticks down in the race for governor. Fung also got an endorsement from the state lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. Barring a surprise, though, the statewide outlook appears challenging for Rhode Island Republicans this November. The greatest amount of uncertainty centers on whether House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello can repel a challenge from his GOP opponent for state rep, Steve Frias. Elsewhere, in a move reminiscent of how the RI Democratic Party backed a mailer elevating Spencer Dickinson’s visibility in the Democratic primary, Dems sent a mailer seemingly designed to help independent candidate Joe Trillo with President Trump’s base in Rhode Island. Meanwhile, the out of town view from such sources as University of Viriginia political science professor Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball points to a growing likelihood that Raimondo will win a second term. Meanwhile, Ethan Epstein writing in the conservative Weekly Standard, offers an approving assessment of the Democratic governor: “The first female governor of Rhode Island, Raimondo was a trailblazer by virtue of that fact alone. But she went on to govern as a highly unorthodox Democrat—cutting taxes repeatedly, for instance. At a moment when Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are in the ascendant, Raimondo is arguably even more of an outlier today.”

2) The U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse and Republican challenger Robert Flanders has featured at least some of the kind of partisan rancor gripping other parts of the country. So here’s some of what the candidates have to say about polarization. Speaking on Political Roundtable on The Public’s Radio this week, Flanders rejected the suggestion from Democrats that President Trump is largely responsible for our current polarization. “There’s plenty of blame to go around, including President Trump,” Flanders said. “The hyper-partisanship unfortunately is not limited to one side, the other party or the other.” The former state Supreme Court justice argued he could have more impact speaking out against sharp rhetoric as a Republican. In a separate interview, Whitehouse said Democrats bear some responsibility for polarization, but he called Trump the most polarizing figure: “He does go out of his way to weaponize issues rather than try to find common ground. When he has indicated he wants to find common ground like on immigration, and Republicans trust him and go out on a limb, he saws off the limb behind them and condemns them as they fall.”

3) Some RI history, amid the news that a suspect is in custody in a string of attempted bombings: Back in 1924, exasperated Rhode Island Republicans “hired a Boston thug to set off a stink bomb of bromine gas behind the Senate rostrum,” William McCoughlin writes in Rhode Island: A History. That was after months of filibustering ensued when Democrats demanded a constitutional convention. (Republicans “went to live in a hotel in Rutland, Massachusetts,” Coughlin wrote. Ultimately, “the filibuster effort backfired against the Democrats, as Rhode Island became the laughing stock of the Jazz Age. In the fall of 1924, the Republicans made a clean sweep of all state and federal offices and won overwhelming control of the legislature. Yet, four years later, the Democrats forced two constitutional amendments through, marking the beginning of the end of Republican dominance.”) 

4) The granting of benefits for public employees without apparent municipal vetting has been reported in Warwick and East Greenwich. Has this happened in other cities and towns in RI?

5) Could U.S. Rep. David Cicilline one day become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives? National Journal’s Daniel Newhauser looks at how Cicilline is competing with Cheri Bustos – dubbed by Politico as “The Secret Weapon Democrats Don’t Know How To Use” – for a leadership post, assistant House Democratic leader, that be could be a strategic stepping stone to the chamber’s top spot. Excerpt: “The position was created as almost an afterthought, but now, eight years later, the race for assistant House Democratic leader is shaping up as a proxy battle for the future of the party and a referendum on its current leader. In 2010, after House Democrats were whittled to their smallest minority since 1948, Leader Nancy Pelosi created the post to give Rep. James Clyburn, who had served as majority whip, a soft landing spot—and to defuse a potential fight between Clyburn and Rep. Steny Hoyer for the No. 2 leadership job. Over the years, as Hoyer and Clyburn stayed in place below her, Pelosi has hung on to power and any other potential challengers have either left the House or worked under her lead. This year, though, she may face her toughest challenge yet, as dozens of Democratic candidates have pledged to support a leadership change, and she has for seemingly the first time begun acknowledging a future without her. If the dominoes fall in just the right way, the assistant leader position may be the proving ground for a leader who will usurp her.”

5A) A representative from Rhode Island has never served as U.S. House speaker. Maine and Massachusetts have each had a quite few, mostly recently Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, while Vermont and New Hampshire are not represented on this list.

6) U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, considered a likely presidential candidate in 2020, is coming to Brown University next Thursday, November 1. Tickets are required for the 1 pm event being sponsored by the Watson Institute. Writing in the Brown Daily Herald, Brown junior James Flynn called on Warren to acknowledge making a mistake by testing her DNA: “To claim minority status on the basis of some family stories and a few strands of DNA — without a more substantial connection to that group­­ — does not help institutions of higher education that seek to diversify themselves, and it does not help to voice the grievances of underrepresented groups. You have also dignified the rhetorical bafoonery and the ad hominem attacks that characterize Trumpian politics.”

7) My colleague John Bender offers a campaign profile of Rhode Island’s three long shot gubernatorial candidates. You should listen to the audio version to get the flavor of these hopefuls. For now, here are some excerpts from the candidates about who they are and why they’re running: Anne Armstrong of the Compassion Party:  “If I get my message out, and people implement my ideas, they don’t have to give me credit. And I don’t have to sit there and be in charge.” William Gilbert of the Moderate Party: “I think the economy would even be better if it didn’t take you five years to get a permit for something. You got the Fane Tower, the guy wants to come and invest almost a billion dollars, and we say no because we don’t want to do spot zoning? Don’t do spot zoning. Zone the whole street for high-rises. We’re in our own way.” Independent candidate Luis-Daniel Munoz: “There seems to be a system built around keeping outsiders out, and it’s not a system that voters accept, I just don’t think that many voters understand that it’s there,” Muñoz bristles at people who suggest he run for a lower office to get more experience in politics before making a bid for governor. He believes he’s demonstrating courage in running. “That type of courage is, I believe, what we need in Rhode Island. It isn’t enough to be intellectual, it isn’t enough to acknowledge that a problem exists. You have to have the courage to see a problem and engage it, and find any way possible to resolve it.”

8) Worcester is getting touted as a city on the rise.

9) Meanwhile, Moody’s Investors Service is generally upbeat on Worcester’s initial bond issue to create a new stadium for the PawSox: “Aa3 is Moody’s fourth-highest rating, and ratings at this level are judged to be of high quality and are subject to very low credit risk. ‘We project the new ballpark and other capital funding will increase Worcester’s already large amount of debt outstanding by an average of 6% annually over the next three years. The increase, however, comes as the city's economy and tax base continue to grow — factors that contributed to the Red Sox affiliate's decision to move to Worcester from Rhode Island,’ said Nick Lehman, Vice President and Senior Analyst at Moody’s. ‘Assuming tax base growth continues at or near the current rate, the city’s leverage will remain manageable and the ballpark issuance will not strain its credit profile.’ ”

10) GOP U.S. Senate candidate Robert Flanders got some support in his battle with Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse this week via a fact-check in The Washington Post. During a debate staged last weekend by The Public’s Radio and The Providence Journal, Whitehouse said Republicans passed a budget with Medicaid and Medicare cuts, with a desire to cut more. Yet, as Flanders’s campaign later noted, the Post later declared Whitehouse less than truthful with a commercial discussing where the GOP is headed with entitlements. The Post fact-check said the Democrat used the "usual kind of scare tactics" and declared that, "he has no evidence to support his incendiary campaign claim that Republicans want to eliminate these programs. It’s especially bad that the senator makes this claim himself in an ad." A spokeswoman for Whitehouse’s campaign, Meaghan McCabe, defended the senator’s accuracy: “Senator Whitehouse, who has been in the Senate for more than a decade, knows his colleagues' intentions. Republicans have tried to privatize Social Security, voucherize Medicare, and block-grant Medicaid, which would end those programs as we know them. The most recent Republican House budget proposed slashing Medicaid by $1.5 trillion and Medicare by more than $500 billion. The most recent Republican House budget proposed slashing Medicaid by $1.5 trillion and Medicare by more than $500 billion. The Republican nominee for Senate, who says that raising the Social Security retirement age “may end up being a small price to pay,” is quibbling over whether his party would prefer to eliminate Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security outright or make such massive cuts to those programs that they would be unrecognizable.”

11) Is Medicare for all an empty promise even in prosperous Massachusetts? 

12) A new study by the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina looks at “the expanding news desert” and what it means for the public interest. Here’s one excerpt specific to Rhode Island: “When the largest newspaper chain in the country, GateHouse, acquired The Providence Journal in 2014, layoffs started before the deal even closed. The Journal, known as “ProJo,” bills itself as the oldest continuously published newspaper in the country. Throughout its 189-year history, the paper has won four Pulitzer Prizes, covering the state of Rhode Island and its capital city of Providence with more than 180,000 residents. In the 1990s, the paper boasted a circulation of 200,000 and a newsroom with more than 300 journalists. By July 2018, newsroom employment had been cut by 75 percent, bringing the staffing levels below 100. According to the NewsGuild-CWA, there were fewer than 20 reporters and columnists responsible for covering both state and city government. When asked by a former reporter why the Providence Journal no longer covered routine government meetings, Kirk Davis, CEO of GateHouse, replied that ‘covering routine government meetings doesn’t automatically equate to earning ‘watchdog status.’ ”

13) Former ProJo reporter Mark Arsenault, now with the Boston Globe, with a great riff on some of the more absurd moments in Rhode Island’s gubernatorial race. Excerpt: “In a debate Oct. 15 at the University of Rhode Island, Trillo tried to turn his past clashes to his advantage. Asked about his temperament, he launched into a fiery argument that the state needed a hard charger to take on special interests, cut taxes, and reduce waste. Trillo, 75, stocky with gray and ginger hair, cut a Trumpian figure at the debate in a dark suit and red power tie, with forward-leaning aggressiveness and a bit of hyperbole. He pledged to clean up government ‘like it’s never been cleaned up before!’ He has denied he is a spoiler in the race and insists he has a path to victory as Fung and Raimondo beat each other up. At the debate, Raimondo defended Trillo’s right to run, and then quickly pivoted to her record, touting her administration’s investments in roads, bridges, schools, and job training.”

14) Writing in the New Yorker, Sheelah Kolhatkar traces the growth of Sinclair, the media giant that owns WJAR-TV, Channel 10. Excerpt: “In the past decade, consolidation in the media industry has reduced the number of outlets producing news. With advertising siphoned away by online platforms, dozens of newspapers have closed, leaving many towns with limited or no local coverage. The changing landscape has expanded the influence of companies like Sinclair, with profound political implications. According to the Pew Research Center, fifty per cent of Americans get their news from television. At a time when President Trump has undermined trust in the national media, and online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have spread misinformation created by Russian agents, seventy-six per cent of Americans say that they still trust their local news stations—more than the percentage professing to trust their family or friend. Sinclair is especially well positioned to capitalize on this trust. It owns more stations in swing states than any other company. Since Trump began his Presidential campaign, many of Sinclair’s political messages have hewed closely to his talking points.”

15) Man about town Bill Bartholomew is compiling an appealing list of podcast interviews. To cite just two examples, you can hear how’s Dan McGowan got the scoop on a high school graduation party at the home of then-Providence police chief Dean Esserman, and why activist-performer Nika Lomazzo thinks some progressive candidates aren’t living up to their ideals. Bartholomew’s latest interview is with Allan Fung.

16) Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has a new plan for the Woonasquatucket riverway on the West Side. Back before his 2002 fall from office, Buddy Cianci was pushing the idea of redeveloping the area as part of his “New Cities" plan.

17) Ernie Nardolillo, the cousin of departing state Rep. Robert “Bobby” Nardolillo (R-Coventry), is running an independent challenge to Rep. Sherry Roberts (R-West Greenwich)

18) Congrats to Cumberland/Woonsocket native Rocco Baldelli, the new manager of the Minnesota Twins.

19) Was 1988 the greatest year for hip-hop or what?

20) The good news is how the Red Sox may be World Series champions by the time we’re back at work on Monday. The bad news is how teams typically raise their tickets prices – and Boston’s are already among the highest in the game – after winning a World Series.

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