Happy mid-January, dear readers. Bad news: winter is far from over. Good news: spring training isn't that far, and the political beat remains busy. So thanks for stopping by, freel free to drop me a line at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and to follow me on the twitters. Here we go.
1. Slowly, but surely, Gina Raimondo's administration is coming into view. Craig Stenning, Richard Godfrey, Christine Ferguson and Janice DeFrances are out. A cast of newcomers is in, along with some experienced hands. RIPR has learned Jamia McDonald is expected to take over the leadership of the troubled Department of Children, Youth and Families after a few months at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Raimondo, meanwhile, has started replenishing her campaign account -- holding not one, but two fundraisers this week; the latest was a University Club luncheon on Thursday. While some short-term initiatives are anticipated, the most full-blooded sense of Raimondo's plans will come with the release of her first budget. "Typically, first-year governors put their budget out in the first or second week in March, so it'll be likely that I'll follow that," Raimondo told me this week. For the record, according to the governor's office, this is when previous governors released their initial budgets: Bruce Sundlun, April 9, 1991; Lincoln Almond, March 10, 1995; Don Carcieri, March 11, 2003; Lincoln Chafee, March 9, 2011.
2. The left side of Rhode Island's political ecosystem hasn't been too happy with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. To some, Mattiello was pulling a Grover Norquist when he said during a recent poverty vigil that "the focus has to on eradicating the safety net, and not bolstering the safety net." Writing at RIFuture.org -- in a piece headlined, "Speaker Mattiello upfront about his economic vision," Steve Ahlquist said, "It’s not often a conservative Republican goes that far." Sam Bell, state coordinator of the RI Progressive Democrats, used a ProJo op-ed to repeat the claim that Mattiello is intent on "eradicating the safety net." (Bell also faulted the 11 House Republicans for contributing to legislative hegemony by joining the symbolic vote for Mattiello earlier this month.) But although he's signaled his willingness to cut spending on social programs, the speaker's "safety net" comment has been taken out of context. A replay of the tape included at RIFuture.org shows that Mattiello was talking about eliminating the need for safety net programs. And though the speaker will never be confused with a liberal Democrat, his mind-meld with House Republicans stems mostly from a shared pro-business/tax-cutting worldview.
3. The recent death of Jim Baron brought to mind a biting media critique that Jim wrote in 2011, sparked by how made a reluctant entry to the Twitter age. While he acknowledged that in some cases Twitter can be used to convey in-depth information, Jim took a mostly critical view. Excerpt: "Call me a Luddite or a troglodyte, whatever; I have heard my outlook on this derided as being 'a dead tree guy in a pixel world.' So be it. I don’t apologize for sticking up for substance over speed and whatever other virtues this Twitter and blog stuff is supposed to possess. All these things are, I submit, particularly bad for the news media. For one thing, we who are supposed to be gathering and reporting the news — keeping our eyes on the government and the politicians who run it — wind up spending far too much of our time with our heads up each other’s backsides, seeing what everyone else has been blogging and Tweeting to make sure we are keeping up. Everyone is breaking their necks to squirt a three-paragraph News McNugget out into cyberspace 15 seconds before the other guy. That is what passes for a journalistic achievement these days. It threatens to make journalism a mile wide and an inch deep. What about perspective?" (A celebration of Jim's life will be held at 2 pm tomorrow, Saturday, January 17, in Lincoln.)
4. Luis Aponte might be between jobs, as he explained on this week's RIPR Political Roundtable, but the newest City Council president continues his evolution as a force in Providence politics. Here are some highlights from Aponte's appearance on Roundtable and our Bonus Q+A segment: On whether he's committed to passing the council's 18 recommendations for improving the use of tax stabilization agreements: "We're committed to working, utilizing those recommendations helping us inform the direction that we want to go into." Can the council squeeze more money from nonprofits? "I'm not sure that we will be able to," Aponte said, "but I think that we need to interject the state into this equation. The jobs that are created and the revenues that are generated through taxes from those jobs all go up to the state. So as these tax-exempts continue to prosper, and we're happy that they do well ... at some point, it reaches a tipping point where the city can no longer provide the critical services and basic services that residents demand." Aponte also said he plans to file next week the last of his outstanding campaign finance reports with the state Board of Elections, and then hopes to appeal for a lowering of his more than $40,000 in fines.
5. Casual observers might wonder why state lawmakers bother to convene for the short gatherings (typically 10 to 15 minutes) that end as quickly as they begin in the first two weeks of the General Assembly calendar. The answer is practical: legislators use the first fortnight to get their bills drafted and to work the floor, seeking support from their peers before and after session. The legislation then must be introduced before committee meetings -- slated to increase in number next week -- can be scheduled.
6. Speaking of Smith Hill, we this week launched an ongoing series profiling freshman lawmakers. First up was Representative Daniel Reilly (R-Portsmouth), who calls Bill Clinton the living pol he most admires. Next we spoke with Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Warwick), the nephew of former state treasurer Anthony Solomon.
7. Don't underestimate the subtle long-term political benefit that Central Falls Mayor James Diossa could gain from helping Providence police this week to recover a car stolen from Representative Carlos Tobon (D-Pawtucket). Although the story has a short life cycle, the mayor came across with characteristic humility. The simplicity of a tale involving a stolen car -- the same reason why people glommed onto Clay Pell's missing Prius last year --- increases the likelihood that Diossa's good-natured heroics will seep into RI's collective unconsciousness. (Meanwhile, Brown's Alumni Magazine has a story on the role of alums Steve Larrick, Matt Jerzyk, and Sonia Grace in "Saving Central Falls.")
8. Here what Jenn Steinfeld has to say about what she hopes to accomplish as the new executive director of the Women's Fund of Rhode Island: "The interesting thing to me about women’s rights is that they are still seen as marginal, minority issues. But in reality, women make up more than half of our population, and it is nearly impossible to live in the world without having some relationship to people who identify as women. So policy changes that promote equity not only benefit women, but also support families and society as a whole. My personal mission is to work for a more just, equal and inclusive world where everyone has the opportunity to live the live they envision; the Women’s Fund is a natural fit for me and I look forward to using my advocacy background to advance women’s equality in government, business and in the overall society. I am committed to an intersectional feminism, recognizing that sexism and gender bias are deeply connected to racism, classism, and other systems of oppression. I encourage the community to hold me accountable to an inclusive, accessible approach that provides space for anyone who believes that women deserve an even playing field to get involved."
9. With President Obama set to deliver his latest State of the Union address next Tuesday, here's a rundown on guests: Senator Jack Reed is bringing Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg .... Congressman David Cicilline is taking Robert Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council .... Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's guest will be Elizabeth Roberts, the nominee to lead Rhode Island's Executive Office of Health and Human Services .... Congressman Jim Langevin is bringing Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. .... Meanwhile, don't miss this read on past SOTU highlights and lowlights from Brookings' Elaine Kamarck, complete the video clips of FDR, LBJ, Ronald Reagan, and others.
10. If you don't think Elizabeth Warren is having an impact on the 2016 presidential race, consider this tweet from Hillary Clinton: "Attacking financial reform is risky and wrong. Better for Congress to focus on jobs and wages for middle class families." That kind of message is right from Warren's playbook -- and explain why the progressive group MoveOn is calling on the Massachusetts senator to pursue the presidency. In an email interview this week, MoveOn's head, Brown alum Anna Galland, called Warren's advocacy "what we need right now, and it’s why we are intent on showing her she has the support she needs to run for president and win." Meanwhile, MoveOn Political Action announced Thursday it was hiring an Iowa field director, four other field organizers, and opening a "Run Warren Run" campaign office in Des Moines.
11. Speaking of the liberal cause, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse this week unveiled what Bob Plain dubbed a "progressive tax trifecta." During a news conference at his Providence office, Whitehouse held out hope that his package could be used to balance cuts favored by the Republican majority in the Senate. "This comes at it from the other side and says, 'here are the things you can do to raise the money and make the tax code fairer and simpler,' " Whitehouse said. "Three hundred ten billion – a third of a trillion dollars over 10 years – gives you a pretty good pool of resources to lower tax rates, if that’s what you want to do."
12. Highlights from my colleagues at Rhode Island Public Radio: Scott MacKay talks about what will be lost if the PawSox leave Rhode Island .... Catherine Welch reports on the outlook at Electric Boat .... and Kristin Gourlay has takeaways from her deep reporting on Hepatitis C.
13. The Council of State Governments' rundown on the top issues facing state lawmakers in 2015.
14. Tax subsidies played a significant role in Commerce nominee Stefan Pryor's past success in attracting business to Newark, New Jersey. So I asked Pryor, following Governor Raimondo's first Cabinet meeting, what role he envisions subsidies playing in his efforts in Rhode Island. "There are many factors in promoting successful development," Pryor said. "Part of it is leadership in the state government, and thankfully we have terrific momentum with the election of Gina Raimondo. Part of it is the overall climate for business -- the tax structure, the ways in which business-friendly policies are crafted and regulations are removed. And yes, there are also roles for programs and initiatives and incentives from the state government. What's important is ensuring that there are rules regarding those programs, that they operate well, that there are clawback provisions if jobs are not produced and businesses are not created. So we're going to look at all of those factors from building a yet stronger leadership team for the state, through to the climate, through to all of the factors that I've described in creating a successful program for this governor." Asked about his efforts at Commerce, Pryor said he plans to start by building a strong team and developing a legislative package focused on job creation, with the details TBA.
15. City Haul: The City of Providence is interviewing to fill the important post of liaison to the City Council and General Assembly. Part of the challenge is finding talent on a par with past liaisons Matt Jerzyk and Will Farrell, particularly with other administrations having already staffed up. For now, the city's director of Community Development, Brian Hull, is serving as interim inter-governmental affairs liaison.
16. State Senator Leonidas "Lou" Raptakis (D-Coventry) in responding to the shutdown of a Boston highway this week with plans to introduce a bill "addressing unlawful interference with traffic. “Legislation I will introduce next week will establish a new section of law, regarding unlawful interference with traffic, and associated penalties,” Raptakis said in a statement. “Protestors have rights but so does the rest of the public and this legislation will ensure that individuals who interfere with the safety of others on roadways and highways will face legal consequences.” As envisioned, a first offense would carry a prison sentence of one to three years "with no eligibility of suspension, deferral or probation for the first 60 days of any sentence. A second violation would increase the prison term to between three and five years, with no eligibility for suspension, deferral or probation for one year. A third violation will result in imprisonment for between five and 10 years, with no eligibility for suspension, deferral or probation for two years."
17. The conservative Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity played a big role in focusing public attention on RhodeMap RI. So will the center have the same effect when it's advocating for something -- in this case, school choice?
18. And you thought a segment of Rhode Island politicians were shameless? Speculation has former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim -- who recently apologized after being convicted of 16 corruption charges in 2003 -- making a comeback.
19. The pitfalls of the Twitter age (item #3) notwithstanding, the fascinating sports nuggets on Todd Radom's feed -- like how they didn't know what to call the first Super Bowl in 1967 -- are a pleasant diversion from more pressing news.