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

Happy June, 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...


Happy June, 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. The criminal case involving the Institute For International Sport resurfaced this week when Dan Doyle used a news conference to proclaim his innocence and to skewer the media. "No industry is in greater need for introspection than the media, and no amendment, with the possible exception of the Fourth Amendment, is more abused than the First Amendment," Doyle said. Then again, much of the commentary by Doyle and his lawyer conveyed the sense of a courtroom opening argument, as the ProJo's Tom Mooney noted, and Doyle declined to answer questions about the guts of the case. According to the Journal, the Institute received more than $5 million in state grants since 1999, "with backing from the highest ranks of the General Assembly Democratic leadership for big chunks of that money." Doyle's trial on 18 counts from a 2013 indictment is scheduled to start September 12, just three days before the beginning of the 38 Studios case. The potential witness list for Doyle's trial includes a number of prominent names from local political, business, and education circles. What's more, the Institute's history stretches back to the era of Governor Ed DiPrete, and the case involves the legislative grants under renewed scrutiny, so the testimony could be riveting.

2. In what could be an important bellwether campaign, Democrat Anthony Paolino is running for the West Warwick seat held by Republican Rep. Patricia Morgan, an outspoken critic of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and his leadership. Paolino said he enlisted in the US Air Force after graduating from West Warwick High School in 2001 and served 12 years as an aviation specialist and training instructor in the RI Air National Guard, with four deployments in Kuwait, Qatar, and Afghanistan. More recently, Paolino got a master's in public policy from Brown, and he said he founded two nonprofits that aid veterans and their families, the Student Veterans Organization and the Rhode Island Military Organization. He said he previously served as military and veterans coordinator for Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and now works as the head of military and veterans affairs for General Dynamics Electric Boat. “I am running for state representative because I have had enough of the political games that continuously plague our community,” Paolino said in a statement. “I served in uniform for twelve years and I am committed to continue that service for our community. It is time that we stop complaining and start finding solutions. I am not a career politician. I am someone who will work hard to create more growth and business in our district, hold the line on taxes, properly fund our public schools, ensure our senior citizens are protected, and help restore faith in our government.” For her part, Morgan told TGIF months ago she anticipated an effort by Speaker Mattiello to knock her out of office. Morgan, a former state GOP chair, was a sharp opponent of the truck toll plan passed earlier this session. In a sign of what they point to her ability to stand up to heavy-handed leadership, her supporters note how former Finance chairman Ray Gallison threatened to turn off Morgan's microphone during a legislative hearing earlier this session. "I just think things are broken," Morgan said. "I think government is broken in Rhode Island." While walking the district can be physically taxing, she said, interacting with voters is among her favorite parts of being a rep, and she plans to wage an aggressive campaign. "I hope the people like what I'm doing and understand that things have to change," Morgan said. The rep, who works as a financial adviser and has served, most recently, since winning election in 2010, has a current campaign balance of just under $4,000.

2A: More on Anthony Paolino. Is he any relation to Joe Paolino?: "I do not believe I have any relation to Joe. I'm certainly familiar with him, and saw him around RI over the years, but there are so many Paolinos in RI and our families have never researched back to see if their is a connection." Did the speaker's team recruit him to run against Morgan? "The last time I was recruited was after 9-11 to join the military. My press release encapsulates why I decided to run. I have been around the State House for the past several years advocating for veterans. Once I finished my graduate degree at Brown, I have been exploring where i can be the most effective in giving back to Rhode Island, utilizing the skills I learned both in the military and in higher education."

3. Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed have scheduled a news conference for 2 pm Monday, in the House lounge, to discuss "grant reform."

4. Back in the day, Congressman Jim Langevin made his reputation as a secretary of state who butted heads with the General Assembly and documented frequent abuses of the open meetings law. Less well known is how Langevin -- unlike most other top state elected officials -- has declined to publicly release his tax returns. "The federal conflict of interest statements, the federal disclosure forums, are thorough and significant, and all of the information I believe that you need, you can get from that information," Langevin said during this week's RI Public Radio Bonus Q&A. "For me personally, my medical expenses are private rated issues and I choose not to release my tax returns. But I do believe in transparency, and that why I think the federal filings are so important, because all of my financial records and assets are listed."   

5. Rhode Island Democrats are staging a state convention meeting at 4 pm on Sunday, June 12 (at the Rhode Island Shriners' hall in Cranston) to endorse the party's congressional candidates and to finish the process of delegate selection for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Party chairman Joe McNamara said the convention will vote to elect three at-large delegates each for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders; and two pledged-elected delegates for Sanders and one for Clinton. Meanwhile, three standing committees will also be nominated; Rules, Credential, and Platform. McNamara said delegates will nominate two Sanders representatives for Rules and Credentials, while Clinton gets a representative for Platform. Speaker Mattiello is expected to be nominated as chairman of Rhode Island's Democratic delegation to the DNC. (Update: Although Sanders won Rhode Island, McNamara said the speaker traditionally serves as delegation chairman, following a vote of delegate. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is expected to get the nod as Clinton's pledged-elected delegate, while state Senators Jim Sheehan (North Kingstown) and Josh Miller (Cranston) are expected to be the PLEO delegates for Sanders.)

6. Hillary Clinton's sharp critique Thursday of Donald Trump signals a new phase in what will be an unremittingly negative and dirty campaign. Cook Political Report senior editor Jennifer Duffy believes most Americans will vote in November against one of the other candidates -- and she said that impulse is bad for democracy. At the same time, she believes Trump's campaign is causing an overdue reckoning for national Republicans. Duffy, a Rhode Island native, shared her view during a taping Friday of RI-PBS' A Lively Experiment, joined on the panel by Llewellyn King, Edward Achorn, and yours truly. Tune in this weekend to check it out.

7. With the unveil of the House budget now expected for early next week, one of the key questions involves the fate of Governor Gina Raimondo's proposed economic incentives. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor has been actively lobbying lawmakers for their support, and the agency's president, Darin Early, used a Valley Breeze op-ed this week to argue that "the right investments" are crucial to growing the states' economy. Yet some lawmakers seem unimpressed by the results thus far from the incentives they approved last year.

8. Invenergy, the company behind the Burrillville power plant proposal, is paying for a full-page ad in the Sunday ProJo with a picture of an "unwelcome mat," and the accompanying question, "Do you want to tell businesses they're not wanted in Rhode Island?" The ad goes to say, "Rhode Island's elected leaders have done a lot in the last year to move our economy forward. But one bad bill now under review at the State House undo all that good work." The bill in question, approved this past week by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, would require local voter approval of any tax agreement between Invenergy and the Burrillville Town Council. According to Invenergy, whose ad is endorsed by a group of business and labor groups, the legislation is "a job-killer and sends the wrong message. It tells companies that Rhode Island is a risky place to do business; It means that you can't trust that the rules won't change in the middle of the game ...." Environmental groups and many residents oppose Invenergy's proposal. Meanwhile, Governor Gina Raimondo remains non-committal on whether she'll veto the bill if it reaches her desk.

9. Congressman Langevin has made a longtime focal point of cyber-security. Here's his take on whether he expects the US to be hit by the cyber-equivalent of Pearl Harbor: "It's one of those things, certainly, that keeps me up late at night. The reality is right now that the worst cyber-weapons are in the hands of nation-states, like China or Russia, who certainly have the cyber-weapons to launch a major cyber-attack, but not necessarily the will. But you have groups like Al Qaeda or ISIL, certainly they have the will but not the cyber-weapons. I've always said, that my concern is, how long is it before that gap is bridged and the worst cyber-weapons are in the worst hands." Langevin said the US is working aggressively to erode ISIS' cyber-capacity, as part of an effort announced in April, and said the approach is having "great success."    

10. The RI Payday Reform Coalition hasn't tweeted since June 2015, which tells you about something about how what was a hard-fought issue for years has more recently faded from view on Smith Hill. But the battle is still being fought elsewhere, after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed "rules [that] would for the first time require lenders to take steps to ensure consumers have the means to repay loans they take out." Jamie Fulmer, the lead spokesman for Rhode Island's most ubiquitous payday lender, Advance America, was quick to fire back, via email: "The proposed short-term lending rule announced by the CFPB today weighs in ¬at an astonishing 1,333 pages containing 414,233 words, all to govern loans that are, on average, under $400. Short-term lending is currently highly and effectively regulated by the states. The short-term lending statutes in all 36 states that allow it combined total 206,035 words -- less than half the size of the proposed federal rule."

11. Parking issues have been quite the contentious issue, with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza scouting for more revenue wherever he can find it. Here's part of James Kennedy's argument that parking meters should be fixed, not eliminated: "Parking meters are an essential part of land use policy in any city. If we don’t want the city to gradually turn into a parking crater of surface lots, we have to properly manage parking demand. Meters are front & center in that. If we don’t get our parking situation right, we’ll have many ecological and equity issues as a result."

12. The low approval rating for journalists comes with the job. Still, it doesn't seem good for civic culture when a candidate trashes reporters for doing their job, and worse, his campaign stops a reporter from being able to do their job. (No surprise, then, that a young man leaving Donald Trump's Warwick rally a few weeks ago yelled at the press pen, "The media suck!")

13. "The 15 Most Important Slides in Mary Meeker's Internet Trends Report"

14. One of the highlights in the Metcalf Institute's annual public lecture series: On Friday, June 10 (11 a.m., at URI's Corliss Auditorium), Curt Guyette of the Michigan ACLU will talk on "Uncovering Flint's Water Disaster: Insights from the Reporter Who Broke the Story." Separately, check out this take by former ProJo reporter Talia Buford, now at the Center for Public Integrity, on how she -- as an environmental reporter from Flint -- missed the story of the water crisis in her hometown.

15. The former office of the Boston Herald is now a Whole Foods supermarket. That speaks volumes about how Boston has changed in recent decades. Chris Sweeney has an excellent read in Boston Magazine on whether the Herald can survive.

16. Congrats to former ProJo staffer Bob Wyss, now a professor at UConn, on his new book, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower.

17. Former Lincoln Chafee deputy communications director Faye Zuckerman, who most recently volunteered on Bernie Sanders' Rhode Island campaign, is now doing communications, marketing, and government relations work for the Brain Injury Association of Rhode Island.

18. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea's "Treasures from the Archives" series is turning its attention to the 1772 burning of the British schooner Gaspee, with a display in the Statehouse library. According to a news release, "On June 9, 1772, the packet sloop Hannah ran the Gaspee aground in the shallow waters of Namquid Point. That night, in what would become a significant precursor to the American Revolution, angry colonists carried out a plan to burn and destroy the Gaspee. Despite British attempts to investigate and arrest the perpetrators after the burning, not one member of the rebellious group was detained. Rhode Islanders commemorate this historic act of civil defiance each year with a series of community events called the Gaspee Days. 'The June Treasures exhibition of the Gaspee Commission Papers is a perfect example of how our State Archives serves as our very own time capsule that we can open at any time to see how the actions by concerned citizenry have shaped our history,' Gorbea said. 'It also provides an additional element of historical context to one of Rhode Island’s longstanding community traditions.' "

19. A read for the next time you're stuck in beach traffic on I-95: "When New York City tried to ban cars -- the extraordinary story of 'Gridlock Sam' "

20. This weekend: PVDFEST.

This post has been updated.

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