Happy weekend and 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.
1) Of all the potential steps to improve state government in Rhode Island – term limits, establishing the line-item veto, creating an office of inspector general to root out fraud and waste, and so on – an effective opposition party could be a real game-changer. A stronger Republican presence in the General Assembly would introduce unpredictability into the top-down process and give a GOP minority greater influence over what happens. As it stands, though, there are nine GOP representatives in the 75-member House and five Republican senators in the 38-member Senate. The recent legislative apex for the RI GOP was back in the 1980s when a botched redistricting plan led to a big uptick in the party’s presence in the state Senate. But those gains were short-lived, and Republicans have also been locked out of statewide elective office of late. So will the election this weekend of a new Rhode Island Republican chairman make any difference? Independents form the largest voting bloc in the state, so the potential exists for change. But Rhode Islanders have shown a longstanding tendency to vote for Democrats, some legislators who might be Republicans in other states run here as Dems, and President Trump,who polls poorly in the state, does not help the cause.
2) Across the partisan aisle, progressive Democratic Reps. Edith Ajello of Providence, Deb Ruggiero of Jamestown, and Susan Donovan of Bristol – all members of the ‘Reform Caucus’ – were among those voting during a March 24 Democratic Party meeting for Chairman Joseph McNamara, 1st Vice Chair Grace Diaz and Secretary Arthur Corvese, over respective progressive challengers Moira Walsh, Lauren Carson and Teresa Tanzi. The votes in favor of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s leadership suggest at least some rapprochement since the vote for speaker last January and an earlier caucus. With Mattiello having signed off on a floor vote on the high-profile abortion bill, the votes also raise the question of whether dissident Democrats now think they can get more done by working with the speaker than against him.
3) Outgoing RI GOP Chair Brandon Bell is part of the anyone-but-Rebecca Schiff camp (which also includes all 14 Republican members of the General Assembly), although he said he hasn’t been actively working against Schiff. “I think it’s really hard to have somebody as the leader of an organization who doesn’t support what the majority of the people in that organization support,” Bell said during a Political Roundtable appearance on The Public’s Radio this week. “Ms. Schiff was vocally anti-Trump and pro-choice, and I don’t think you pick a leader of the Knights of Columbus that doesn’t believe in Catholic values.” Schiff did not respond to a request for comment, although she does have her supporters, including Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and former RI GOP Chair Mark Zaccaria. Asked what’s at stake in the fight for RI GOP chair, Bell said his successor needs to be vocal and visible while also stepping up fundraising for the RI GOP. Bell checked two of those boxes, helping, for example, to push the residency case against Rep. John Carnevale, but his embrace of the megaphone did not lead to Republican gains in elective office.
4) Speaking of Mayor Fung, the two-time GOP gubernatorial candidate has said he’s keeping his options open for another run for governor, although some Republicans – including Brandon Bell – want the Cranston mayor to ride off into the sunset after his current term expires. “I think he ran a worse campaign the second time,” in 2018, Bell said on Bonus Q&A. “His media strategy was really bad – he allowed others to define him. I think it’s time to move on. I’m not for making decisions at this point in time in my own mind, because other people could step forward, but I think Allan Fung should go to the private sector, and I’m sure he has a very bright future after this.” Bell said if he could pick a dream GOP candidate for governor in 2022, it would be someone from the business sector, “someone who is able to come in with a lot of business experience and gravitas. I think of someone like Don Carcieri.”
5) [Update: Sue Cienki won -- congrats to the new chair of the RI GOP] With former Rep. Bob Lancia, former state Senate candidate Michael Veri of Woonsocket, and former East Greenwich Town Council President Sue Cienki also in the running, Veri may have the inside track to succeed Bell, although voting Saturday at the Providence Marriott on Orms Street may go through multiple rounds to reveal a majority. Cienki has the endorsement of Gaspee Project Chairman Clay Johnson (“She has led, and she has learned the political lessons from an East Greenwich-wide loss of conservatives. I appreciate that these lessons were not about evolving her positions on issues. Sue is a consistent and reliable conservative.”), but the level of controversy during her tenure may be seen by some as a liability.
6) Freshman Sen. Mark McKenney (D-Warwick), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was a wild card on the abortion bill until he published a detailed explanation, via a LTE in the Warwick Beacon, of why he plans to vote in favor. McKenney rejects the view of critics who call the bill an expansion of abortion rights. And while saying he would take no satisfaction in voting for the bill, he also sounded a note raised by many supporters of abortion rights: “I believe that pro-life means more than just pro-birth. Too often, the same people who are dead-set against abortion are dead-set against public funds being used to ensure that children have proper access to health care, food, shelter and education (including sex education and birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies).” The Judiciary Committee vote is seen as the key hurdle for the abortion bill, yet it’s unclear if and when a vote may happen. Sen. Stephen Archambault (D-Smithfield) – who tells the ProJo’s Katherine Gregg that he’s taking “everything under consideration” – remains the key lawmaker to watch.
7) With sports betting revenue falling below expectations in RI, is it just a matter of time until southern New England becomes over-saturated with gambling and more entities chasing fewer dollars? The Boston Globe editorializes that more casinos are a bad bet for Massachusetts. The paper also notes that one proposal in the Massachusetts legislature would mostly benefit Planville Park Casino, seemingly the top local rival for Twin River’s venues in Lincoln and Tiverton: “Still, if Plainridge were to add table games it would essentially have obtained a resort casino license at a slots-only price. Resort casino license applicants must commit to a minimum of a $500 million capital investment, while slots parlor applicants are only required to spend a minimum of $125 million. While Plainridge’s expansion feels minor, it wouldn’t be fair to the other companies that have been awarded resort licenses or will vie for one in the future. And like the misguided Region D idea [for a casino in Central Massachusetts], it would add more casino gambling in Massachusetts just as the alarms over market over-saturation are getting louder.”
8) Club for Growth co-founder Stephen Moore, who is set to headline an April 6 Lincoln Day dinner for North Kingtown Republicans, is facing criticism over his nomination to the Federal Reserve Board.
9) Former Rhode Islander Aaron Renn has a new report – How Stagnating Cities Can Prepare for the Future. Excerpt: “Near-term economic turnarounds for many stagnating cities are improbable. Revival, instead, will be possible only after market conditions change. Given this reality, the most plausible strategy that these cities and metropolitan areas can pursue is to lay a foundation for renewal after markets do change. This foundation includes three pillars: fixing municipal finances, reforming and restructuring dysfunctional government institutions, and rebuilding public services. All these changes may be difficult but are at least doable, particularly with the help of state governments. Even in the absence of economic revival, all these changes will improve their residents’ quality of life.”
10) Dan McGowan -- whose move from WPRI.com to The Boston Globe, was first reported by The Public’s Radio – will be covering Providence and Rhode Island for the Massachusetts daily. It looks like Dan is set to get rolling in his new gig, part of an effort by the Globe to increase its digital subscriptions – although other details about the newspaper’s foray into the Ocean State remain under wraps for now. (Congrats to Dan, an all-around mensch and top-notch reporter.)
11) Meanwhile, GateHouse Media, which owns The Providence Journal, as well as papers in New Bedford, Fall River, Newport and elsewhere, is partnering with Google News on digital subscriptions. Dan Kennedy got a copy of the email sent by Gatehouse CEO Kirk Davis. Excerpt: “Developing a sustainable digital subscription model to showcase the amazing work being done by our journalists across the United States is essential to preserving the vitality and viability of our local journalism. Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that GateHouse has been selected, as one of eight publishers, to participate in the Digital Subscriptions Lab, a partnership between the Google News Initiative, the Local Media Association and FTI Consulting. This intensive six-month program will address every step of the digital subscription process from discovery to conversion to retention. Participants will receive dedicated 1:1 support from each of the three partners, as they leverage their respective capabilities in research, product, technology and analytics. Several in-person meetings over the course of the program will enable participating publishers to share strategies, insights and best practices.”
12) Ken Block shared these thoughts, via Twitter, after testifying this week in support of a line-item veto bill in House Finance. Excerpt: “I am concerned that the House has forgotten where the real power is supposed to lie, and I find it truly ironic, because the House is often called ‘the people’s House’ This idea that our legislature (both the House and Senate) rushed through a bill expanding sports gambling to mobile devices in just a few months and the line-item veto effort has been under way for 5 years should tell you a lot about how our government works.”
13) Elected officials in Central Falls are pressing for the closing of the Wyatt Detention Facility.
14) Former RI poli people on the move: Eli Zupnick, who was a policy analyst during Elizabeth Roberts’ time as lieutenant governor, is leaving his job as comms director for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) for a gig with a downtown DC firm; his significant other, Allison Kerbel, is the daughter of Richard Kerbel, a former North Kingstown town manager who later worked for David Cicilline at City Hall …. Matt Burgess, who worked on Matt Brown’s 2006 U.S. Senate run, shares word that’s he joined The New Media Firm, a D.C. shop, as a principal. Burgess managed Al Franken’s 2014 re-election campaign in Minnesota and now-U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan’s 2012 campaign for governor of New Hampshire.
15) Celebrate Quahog Week by checking out this story from my colleague Sofia Rudin.
16) Here’s a look at the emerging slow journalism movement, which emphasizes explanatory stuff over breaking news: “Born out of the frustration at the quality of journalism from the mainstream press, slow journalism sprung into existence around 2011 with the launch of UK quarterly print magazine Delayed Gratification. Around a dozen or so new publications and books later, the rise of the dual consumer trend demanding a slower kind of journalism and actively looking to miss out is conspicuous. Now the question becomes: Can slow journalism serve as an alternate for news fatigue — and news avoidance? And can media startups capitalize on news consumers’ disenchantment with an offer people are willing to pay for?”
17) Why pedestrian deaths are at a 30-year high: basically, cell phones and SUVs.
18) Via the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy: “…. Old-fashioned hardball is endangered in a culture of smartphones and smart-asses who have no sense of history. The sport is out of touch with the times in which we live. The games are too long, there are too many bad teams, pitching has become too dominant, there are too many strikeouts, and not enough balls are put into play. MLB’s demographic is heavy on Lawrence Welk, light on Kendrick Lamar. No sport can thrive and survive with a fan base of card-carrying AARP members. Still, it has endured for 150 years. And for many of us, it still matters ….”