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TGIF: 17 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

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Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. Your tips and thoughts are welcome via email, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here...

Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. Your tips and thoughts are welcome via email, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Another week, another series of skirmishes on Governor Gina Raimondo's truck-toll proposal. RhodeWorks' rollout earlier this year seemed rapid, particularly compared with the strategic way in which then-treasurer Raimondo built support for Rhode Island's much-celebrated 2011 pension overhaul. Be that as it may, there's no disputing the relative lack of attention paid to the state's roads and bridges for many years. And at this point, question are more about the final yet-to-be-resolved details of the infrastructure plan than the likelihood of something happening. "I want to make sure that we have good information, appropriate safeguards that are is are dotted and our ts are crossed," House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told me earlier this week. Mattiello said he was impressed by a finding that most truck-toll receipts would come from out-of-state trucks, and he's on board with the borrowing in RhodeWorks, comparing it to how homebuyers use a mortgage to buy a home. "You're going to pay an awful lot of interest, but you live a great quality of life in a beautiful home that you otherwise would never have if you waited til you were 80 and had the cash in the bank to buy a home," he said. "It's the same thing."  

2. Another shoe dropped Friday in the corruption case involving former House speaker Gordon Fox. Raymond P. Hugh of Cranston, one of the former owners of the Shark Sushi Bar and Grill, is scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court on November 18.

3. Are Rhode Island Democrats facing a vacuum in their messaging capacity? Just look at how House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello -- not state Democratic chairman Joseph McNamara -- responded this week when state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell unleashed a sharply worded news release branding Mattiello "Public Enemy Number One on Ethics." It's hard to imagine something like that happening during the lengthy tenure of former Democratic chairman like Bill Lynch, who relished rhetorical battle and gave as good as he got. McNamara has focused on more perfunctory communications, like how to become a delegate at the 2016 DNC. The longtime Warwick rep, initially slated last year to be Mattiello's majority leader, later got the nod to become Democratic chairman, succeeding David Caprio as Caprio faced unflattering headlines about questionable beach contracts. The RI GOP has struggled for years to increase its legislative representation. Yet with Bell more than willing to unleash partisan attacks, the messaging battle between the two parties bears watching in the run-up to November 2016.

4. On a related note, could the diminished watchdog capability of the state Ethics Commission become a useful issue for Republicans in next years's legislative races? On one hand, relatively few Rhode Islanders are aware of the commission and its history. Not coincidentally, lawmakers have displayed little interest in restoring the Ethics Commission's ability to police legislative behavior since the state Supreme Court struck it down in 2009. Yet State GOP Chairman Brandon Bell used the ethics issue this week to spark a response from Speaker Mattiello (see preceding item). The most powerful man in Rhode Island politics responded by digging in, pointing to what he dismissed as a specious complaint as further reason not to strengthen the Ethics Commission. Back in the 1980s, Rhode Island Republicans had considerably more success electing candidates by generally functioning as the party of good government. The GOP could conceivably do worse next year than to highlight ethics as a symbol of legislative intransigence.

5. On the other side of the partisan aisle, Central Falls native Karen Petel is part of a trend in which sophisticated Democratic direct mail shops are boosting their offerings for down-ballot candidates. Petel, who runs Petel & Co. in Washington, told Campaigns & Elections she was moved by big Republican gains in legislatures nationwide during recent election cycles. “Democrats at the local level need to run more aggressive, message-driven campaigns,” she told the publication. “Nearly 70 percent of campaigns are on shoestring budgets. Unlike top of the ticket candidates, they don't use consultants or have anyone giving them professional advice.” 

6. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza could be facing a very tough year at the General Assembly. For starters, Providence faces financial concerns. Elorza got his way on Smith Hill last session, on the contentious subject of firefighter overtime. Yet if the city comes out on the losing side of its court fight with the firefighters' union -- and has to pay back millions of dollars in overtime pay -- asking for legislative help will be all the more difficult.

7. Mayor Elorza is due to appear on MSNBC at 9:30 am Saturday (October 31) to discuss a Politico survey on gun violence. The mayor is also slated to sign an executive order Monday on efforts to fight gun violence.

8. George Germon, who died earlier this week at age 70, was one of the pioneers who raised Rhode Island's standing back when some panned the state as a smudge on the way to the Cape. His creation of grilled pizza helped put Providence on the culinary map, drawing visitors to Al Forno from near and far, and training generations of future chefs and restaurateurs. (Mike Sears, who now owns a string of Providence hotspots, was behind the downstairs bar for part of the time when I researched this Providence Phoenix story back in 2000.) Anyone who spent time with Germon and his wife, Johanne Killeen, would be hard-pressed not to recognize their passionate love for one another. Our sympathy goes out to Killeen and others mourning Germon's passing.

9. Will a slowing national economy step on Governor Raimondo's attempts to deliver more jobs? "Doubtful ginanomics will carry RI thru coming economic slowdown but key question is does it set RI up 4 long term? Only time will tell," CoffeeBlackRI tweeted earlier this week. Meanwhile, Moody's economist Aaron Smith is slated to offer a forecast on the RI and US economy, at 9:30 am Monday in Room 35 at the State House.

10. There's a lot more to Burrillville than meets the eye, judging by what RI Public Radio's newsroom turned up during our latest One Square Mile close-up on a particular Rhode Island community. Here's a rundown on some of our stories: the local hockey culture still runs strong in Burrillville; unconventional industrialist Austin T. Levy; the most influential media outlet in town; the deep roots of Zambarano; debate over a proposed power plant; the penny arcade games of Spring Lake; all-you-can-eat chicken dinners; fighting addiction at Burrillville High; and Addieville East Farm -- A Love Story.

11. Marijuana legalization efforts are unlikely to move forward in the General Assembly in 2016, according to House Judiciary Chairman Cale Keable (D-Burrillville). Legalization "is the national trend, that much is obvious," Keable said on this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable. "But I wouldn't expect it to be done in this [coming] legislative session. I just don't think we're ready. We don't have the studies. We haven't taken a close enough look at it yet. But the time is likely to come when marijuana will be legal in Rhode Island, in my opinion."

12. Will renewed legislative oversight hearings on 38 Studios yield any significant findings? "I think it's unlikely that you have a Jack Nicholson moment, where someone stands up and admits they ordered the code red," Representative Keable said on Roundtable. Then again, it will take time for the process to play out. In the interim, Governor Raimondo -- who backed the idea of an independent outside probe of 38 Studios when she was a candidate last year -- has backed away from that stance. Instead, she's putting the onus on the State Police to offer some findings. 

13. A few weeks ago, Congressman David Cicilline had a grim prediction for the next speaker of the House, asserting that the competing demands of GOP factions would inevitably doom the next leader to failure. Yet now that Paul Ryan has won election, Cicilline is sounding a somewhat more upbeat message. "Although I strongly disagreed with him on many important issues, I’ve seen firsthand his willingness to negotiate in good faith with Democrats in order to get things done, and I hope this continues in his new role as speaker,” Cicilline said in a statement. “Washington has been defined by gridlock for the last five years because conservative Republicans in the Freedom Caucus refused to allow their leaders to work with Democrats. It’s a sad commentary that the most bipartisan this Congress has been was in the last few weeks since Speaker Boehner announced his retirement. Although we have made progress in the past several days, there is a lot more work to do. Democrats and Republicans need to find common ground so that we can invest properly in our nation’s infrastructure, reinvigorate American manufacturing, fix our broken immigration system, make college affordable, and reduce gun violence. I hope that Speaker Ryan will seize this opportunity to restore bi-partisanship and cooperation in the interest of serving the American people, and I wish him well as he begins his tenure.” .... Meanwhile, in an example of how Cicilline spares no effort in his outreach to constituents (and potential voters), he's set to hold a "Town Hall for the Next Generation," at 7 pm, November 12, at the Providence G ballroom. The get-together is meant for Rhode Islanders ages 18-28. 

14. Local journalist Phil Eil is still slugging it out in his battle to get court records from a big drug prescription trial in 2011. Eil is suing the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and the DEA, via the RI US Attorney's office, recently filed a response in the case. As Phil notes, this case especially bears watching due to the Obama administration's assertion that it has run "the most transparent administration in history." The next step is a phone conference featuring both sides and the judge slated for November 18.

15. Will Facebook's Instant Articles mean the end of links?

16. It's no secret that getting former Rep. Lisa Tomasso back in the House next year is a priority for legislative Democrats. Meanwhile, the Republican who beat Tomasso in 2014, Sherry Roberts, is lauding a pathway for students at Coventry High School's Regional Career and Technical Center to get jobs at Electric Boat.

17. While Republicans may never tire of using debates to skewer the media (sometimes with justification), a different image of the Forth Estate emerges in a forthcoming move. Spotlight depicts The Boston Globe's role in exposing a sex abuse involving Catholic priests.  As Dan Kennedy notes, Spotlight is already eliciting praise as "All the President's Men" for a new generation -- and a reminder of the importance of journalism.

TGIF: 17 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media
TGIF: 17 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media