Happy New Year! Is it the dawn of a new era in Rhode Island, or just a fresh path to more of the same? The answers will come in the months and years ahead, and we'll be following them here each week. So thanks for stopping by. As always, feel free to drop me a tip or comment at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and to follow me on the twitters. Here we go.
1. The next phase in Gina Raimondo's Excellent Adventure in Rhode Island Politics comes with her inauguration at noon Tuesday on the south portico of the Statehouse. The question of how high Raimondo can go, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni noted this week, will depend on her performance as governor. The top symbolic item on Raimondo's to-do list -- creating middle class jobs -- should be helped by a growing national economy. Yet her aspiration to wipe out the state's ominous structural deficit and usher in a leaner, more productive state government is even more ambitious. "I'm going to be looking for areas where we can deliver services better and have better outcomes while substantially reducing cost," Raimondo told me during an interview earlier this week. Is it realistic to think the state can provide improved services for less money? Count House Minority Leader Brian Newberry skeptical. "Let's face it, when you cut social service spending, you're going to hurt people. There's no doubt about it. I don't relish that idea, but you've got to deal with the reality." When it comes to taming the growth of RI's budget, Newberry draws a comparison to the pension overhaul engineered by Raimondo in 2011; while public outrage centers on six-figure pensions, it's the sheer number of smaller ones that run up the public tab. Add political constituencies to the mix and the outlook, at least for now, remains far from clear.
2. While the national media continues to focus on Raimondo, Treasurer-elect Seth Magaziner may be the other general officer with the highest potential ceiling. Magaziner demonstrated impressive political poise while marching to victory in a statewide race at age 31. It helps, of course, to have the resources, contacts, and DNA that come with being the son of a former White House insider. Magaziner has also assembled an experienced team, with Andrew Roos as chief of staff, Jeff Padwa as deputy treasurer/legal counsel, and Patrick Marr as deputy treasurer/operations-chief operating officer.
3. Although Republicans got locked out of state and federal offices in November for the first time since the 1970s, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield) points to modest GOP gains in the House as a sign of how the party can do better. "The pendulum swings back and forth," Newberry said on RIPR's Bonus Q&A this week. "The biggest problem, I've always said to our local candidates, simply is this: the default position in Rhode Island is to vote Democrat. They will elect Republicans if they know you, and you can see that borne out when good Republican candidates in Republican-friendly districts run good campaigns, they tend to win. But incumbents are difficult to defeat -- no matter who they are -- so you have to have the right set of circumstances. We need to keep the people we have, we've got to build on it." For the record, there will be 11 Republicans in the House this time, up from 6 in the last session, and independent Rep-elect Blake Filippi is expected to caucus with the GOP.
4. The incoming Elorza administration in Providence hasn't exactly been rushing to offer a high-level post to former rival Michael Solomon. After getting edged during the Democratic primary, Solomon worked energetically on Elorza's behalf during the general election campaign. That effort was all the more noteworthy (and Solomon showed some thick skin) consider what happened earlier; back on August 22, Brett Smiley, now part of Elorza's administration, threw his support behind Elorza, and linked Solomon with Buddy Cianci as someone who "would return our city to the dark days of its past." Some might question how that rhetoric squares with how Solomon functioned, as council president, as a partner with Angel Taveras in confronting Providence's fiscal crisis in 2011.
5. Speaking of Providence, Part I: The tax stabilization agreement for a $50 million six-story housing development on the west side of the Providence River is an important test case when it comes to the development of other former I-195 parcels. If the process works well, it could amplify a message -- piggy-backing on the South Street Landing project -- that Rhode Island's capital is open for business. Conversely, if the TSA bogs down and more closely resembles tooth-pulling, a different kind of message will go out.
6. Speaking of Providence, Part II: It didn't seem coincidental when Mayor Angel Taveras' outgoing administration sent a news release, headlined, "City of Providence Independent Auditor Reports $1.1 Million Budget Surplus for FY2014," on December 31. The release read in part: "The $1.1 million operating surplus marked the second year in a row the City ended its fiscal year in the black, and reduced the cumulative deficit remaining from the City’s Category 5 fiscal hurricane to $8.6 million. Fiscal year 2014 also marked the second year in a row that the Taveras administration produced an operating surplus despite the Internal Auditor’s projections that the City would end those fiscal years with deficits in the tens of millions." Taveras has downplayed talk of a larger, double-digit deficit for the fiscal year starting in July, saying he instead expects it -- as note above -- to be far less.
7. Rhode Island doctors will face the highest in the nation cuts under Medicaid in the New Year, but the Rhode Island Medical Society and Neighborhood Health Plan of RI don't seem particularly concerned. As Felice Freyer tweets, "I don't get it."
9. Emerson Spartz has become a very wealthy man at 27, as The New Yorker reports this week, by honing a keen sense of how to deploy viral content on the Internet. If there's something soulless about constantly repackaging content found elsewhere, no less a site than Romenesko took note of Spartz's would-be approach for covering real news. Media observer Matthew Ingram took up a similar theme in describing how most of his Twitter stream reacted to the profile of Spartz with a combination of "horror, disgust, and resignation. As depressing as the profile might be for those interested in 'serious' journalism, however, I think it should be mandatory reading in all newsrooms, both traditional and digital. You may not like his work, but Spartz is learning everything he can about how content works online — which is more than I can say for plenty of other outlets. And the less we all know about that subject, the more likely it is that Spartz and his ilk will win."
10. Longtime former state Democratic chairman Bill Lynch is leaving Adler Pollock & Sheehan to join the law practice of his brother, former attorney general Patrick Lynch. The latter has faced scrutiny over connections between former AGs and corporations. Bill Lynch said he's looking forward to working professionally for the first time with his younger brother. Regarding Patrick Lynch's view that he has not lobbied with Peter Kilmartin -- a position endorsed by outgoing Secretary of State Ralph Mollis -- Bill Lynch said, "I think he's exactly right on the law."
11. Recent highlights from my colleagues at Rhode Island Public Radio: Scott MacKay remarks on the 80th anniversary of the Bloodless Revolution .... Elisabeth Harrison reports on how the contract for state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has yet to be renewed .... And of course, we had pre-session interviews with Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Governor-elect Raimondo.
12. Rest in peace, Mario Cuomo. Was he destined to be president or just political poet laureate?
13. State Representative Joseph Trillo (R-Warwick) is one of the few elected officials offering a tangible response to the looming casino threat facing Rhode Island, and more specifically Newport Grand. Durring an appearance last Sunday on ABC6 on the Record with Buddy Cianci, Trillo renewed his call for "a world-class casino" to be established at Quonset Point. But there's not enough space to make it happen, even if everything else was a go, according to David Preston.
14. Gina Raimondo is offering qualified support for the idea of a statewide teachers contact, which is among the priorities of Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. "I do think it's a very good idea," the governor-elect told me this week. The issue, of course, is, what's in the contract? And the devil is in the details."
15. With micro-targeting entrenched as an effective campaign practice, are we ready for voters to get profiled by consumer preferences and such details as who sought information on Viagra?
16. 2014 by the numbers, courtesy of the Center for Public Integrity: the federal mid-term elections cost more than $3 billion; 11 state legislatures gained Republican majorities; 163 colleges and universities received money from private foundations led by David or Charles Koch; and much more.
17. Call it the Deer Tick rule. US Senator Jack Reed on Wednesday welcomed a final rule from the US Department of Transportation, clarifying standards for the presence of musical instruments on airlines. Reed urged passage of the measure earlier this year after members of Deer Tick were prevented from carrying guitars onto a plane. The rule, following the implementation of a related law in 2012, is due to become effective in March. In a statement, Reed called the final rule "an important step towards a more uniform policy for musicians traveling with their instruments."