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

Thanks for stopping by. It's been a long week, so let's get rolling before I fall asleep at my standing desk. Your tips and thoughts remain welcome at...

Thanks for stopping by. It's been a long week, so let's get rolling before I fall asleep at my standing desk. Your tips and thoughts remain welcome at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and I invite your attention on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Tuesday was quite the day for Governor Gina Raimondo. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter (unsurprisingly) signed off on the pension settlement, the House Finance Committee approved a budget with Raimondo's top priorities intact, and just for fun, the governor claimed collegiate hockey bragging rights (PC Friars over BU Terriers) during lunch at Angelo's with her Massachusetts counterpart, Charlie Baker. The budget caps a very successful first five months in office for Raimondo. (Yes, the rollout of the governor's since-stalled truck-toll plan didn't seem ready for prime time.) Yet the $8.7 billion budget scheduled for a House vote Tuesday includes three inter-connected strands of Raimondo's plan to improve Rhode Island's economy: 1) reduce costs (the spending plan has 75 percent of the governor's intended Medicaid savings; of course, the pension settlement also reduces costs and removes a big cloud of uncertainty); 2) improve RI's business climate (cutting the corporate minimum tax by $50, to $450, putting it below the comparable figure in Massachusetts; the budget also eliminates the commercial sales tax on energy); 3) using economic development tools meant to spark jobs. Suffice it to say, Raimondo's budget victory is a collaborative effort -- and one that marks the building of a productive working relationship with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and other key lawmakers since she criticized the legislative budget process back in February. (Mattiello's imprint can be seen, among other areas, in the corporate minimum tax cut; the inclusion of Representative Joseph Shekarchi's jobs-incentive plan; the total elimination of the commercial energy sales tax, rather than gradually phasing out the tax, as Raimondo proposed; and of course, the big increase in who will qualify for Social Security tax exemptions.) Yet getting the bulk of what the governor wanted in the budget also increases Raimondo's ownership of RI's unfolding economic condition, raising the stakes on her ability to deliver.

2. The seeming death of the firefighter overtime bills arguably marks the third time this year when House Speaker Mattiello has applied the brakes to a contentious public subject. It happened with the PawSox' stadium proposal and Governor Raimondo's truck toll plan, both of which may return to be discussed in a special fall legislative session. Paul Doughty, president of Local 799, the Providence firefighters' union, was furious with the House after the unexpected setback on the OT legislation, and he called into question the chamber's credibility. Yet the collapse of the bills provide an opening for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza to seek a negotiated solution on his plan to move the Providence Fire Department from four platoons a day to three. The apparent death of the bills remove a political headache for Raimondo; she probably doesn't want to veto anything after getting most of what she wanted in the budget, even if she had real concerns on the legislation. And by backing a slower, more deliberative process, Speaker Mattiello spares his members a tough vote on an unpopular issue that would have provided ammunition to future GOP legislative candidates.

3. In a reflection of the poor public perception of pre-dawn legislative debates, watch for Tuesday's budget discussion to wrap up by 11 pm or midnight, and continue Wednesday afternoon if more time is needed. The General Assembly session itself is expected to likely wrap up the week after next.

4. If failure is an orphan, as the saying goes, success has many parents. Broad support for Rhode Island's fiscal 2016 budget can be seen in how all of the Republicans on the Finance Committee voted for it. According to House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield), “I’m happy that we’re looking into these things we’ve been pushing for years – Social Security tax cuts, Medicaid reform, the corporate tax cuts. And I want people to understand, the energy tax cut, the sales tax, that’s big for business. That’s a huge one. We’ve been pushing those things for years.”

5. In the media scrum outside US District Court on Thursday, I asked Gordon Fox what was going through his head when he committed corrupt acts. "I wonder, not much, stupidity," he responded in part. "I mean, I clearly was not thinking. Whether it's the pressure or whatever of dealing with a lot of situations ... But again, I did it. I have to stand up, take responsibility, learn from it, be a better person." Fox was characteristically polite in answering reporters' questions. Ultimately, as US District Court Judge Mary Lisi said in sentencing him, "It's very difficult to reconcile who the real Gordon Fox is." Fox, she said, "is going to have to figure that out himself."

6. The battle over firefighter overtime is more complex than it might seem at first blush. Taxpayer advocates were alarmed by a possible impact on local property taxes, due to increased overtime. Yet as Dan McGowan reported, Mayor Elorza abruptly dropped the platoon-change plan on firefighters, following months of rumors. And it's hardly a radical concept that workers should get more money if they're being asked to work longer hours. Then again, with far fewer house fires than in the past, reducing fire department spending remains a pitched battle, even with severe financial problems for local fire districts in Coventry and some other communities. (Note: A Pawtucket firefighter wrote in to say that despite fewer house fires, overall calls are up. He added: "Firefighting is an unsafe as its ever been, albeit seen less in acute injuries [and] more as chronically debilitating because of the constant physical beating, material exposures and emotional traumas we're now facing.") 

7. While Republican Robert Trager came up short in Tuesday's House District 33 special election, Representative Daniel Reilly (R-Portsmouth) believes the tactics and organization used by the GOP in the race could bear fruit elsewhere in the state. "I've always been of the impression that if we focused on local races, school committee and town council races, particularly, in those communities outside of the 295 belt, if you will, we really can grow a farm team that then make outstanding General Assembly candidates," Reilly said on this week's RI Public Radio Bonus Q&A. "I say that having not run in those seats first, but I think that's a good opportunity we have."

8. The arrest of a Warwick man on a charge of supporting ISIS is a reminder of how the threat of terrorism can pop up in unexpected places. Yet as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston recently reported, "The case in Massachusetts [last] week, in which Usamma Rahim, 26, allegedly wanted to kill police on behalf of ISIS, is the exception rather than the rule. If you look at the cases brought so far, the suspects' motivation for going to Syria is about defending Muslims, or battling the Syrian regime, or marrying a good Muslim. While some say they were motivated by U.S. policy in the region, America doesn't appear to be the target. Instead, the suspected 'travelers,' which is what the FBI calls them, seem to be leaving because they want to be part of something bigger."

9. Talking Points Memo looks at how two children of prominent political families -- Lincoln Chafee and Jeb Bush -- went in different ideological directions: The story of Linc Chafee and Jeb Bush stand as the perfect metaphor for a Party that left “ayuh” in favor of “y’all.” Meanwhile, US support for the metric system (21 percent, according to Rasmussen) is just a bit below Chafee's approval rating in the latter part of his time in office.

10. John Marion, executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, recently called for the pension settlement to be voted on separately from the budget. "This extraordinary legislation, that will affect every Rhode Islander -- and every Rhode Island state and municipal budget -- for decades, should not be rolled into the annual budget as if it were just another article," Marion said in a recent email. "The budget debate that typically occurs in a single evening and includes debates on amendments concerning dozens of issues is not the place for this important legislation. "It deserves special consideration so legislators, much as they did in the special session in 2011, can take this up on the merits alone."

11. A great chestnut, via Scott MacKay, about Joe Caffey of Omni Development, who recently passed away: "While he was a close observer and participant in political campaigns, he wasn’t always the best prognosticator. Yours truly recalls a conversation from 2007 over the odd drop at Nick-a-Nee's, the Jewelry District tavern that Caffey occasionally frequented. I was fresh from a political reporting trip to New Hampshire and I mentioned to Caffey that a young Illinois Senator named Barack Obama had impressed longtime Granite State Democratic activists and veteran campaign reporters with his ability to draw large crowds and answer the endless questions required to make a splash in New Hampshire. Caffey waved me off, saying, 'I’ve got more chance of dating Halle Berry than that young guy does of winning the Democratic presidential nomination. I'm with Hillary, who is gonna win this thing.' Several months later, Caffey was in the same tavern. It was the evening of the Wisconsin primary. As the results rolled in, it was clear that Obama would score a solid victory over Hillary Clinton. Spotting Caffey, I asked how Halle was doing and wondered why he never brought  her to Nick-a-Nee's .... He laughed and laughed."

12. Dr. Charles Steinberg, executive VP of the Red Sox and senior adviser to Larry Lucchino, sported a single world championship ring during Tuesday's RI Public Radio-Taubman Center public forum on the PawSox' proposed Providence stadium (you can listen to the audio here). As it turns out, the ring is from the Sox' memorable worst-to-first season in 2013, a year when the World Series victory took on special meaning ("Boston Strong") because of the Patriots Day attack by the Tsarnaev brothers. While the wounds of that April day remain close for many, the Red Sox have struggled to regain their mojo in the years since. It's gotten so bad that Boston, which once charged a fee just for fans to get on the season ticket waiting list, now exhorts rooters to buy season tickets. The PawSox' stadium quest, meanwhile, has stalled in the face of sharp public opposition. Steinberg is gifted in his own right as the maestro behind the magic at Fenway's signature celebrations. Yet when Jim Skeffington died last month, the PawSox lost the guy best-suited to make the case as a champion deal-maker and a believer in the poetry of baseball. In an indication of how much things have changed, Steinberg says the figures in the PawSox' initial ask should be put aside. We'll see if a fresh deal emerges -- and if lawmakers return this fall to consider it.

13. Congratulations to Elisabeth Harrison on her selection this week as news director at Rhode Island Public Radio. Elisabeth's roles at the station include time as education reporter, Morning Edition host, and interim news director. She's everything we want in a news director -- super-smart, good-humored, curious, an excellent reporter and a fine editor -- so I'm sure she'll continue to lead the newsroom at RI's NPR station with distinction.

14. Those taking the latest ProJo buyout include reporters Gene Emery and Paul Davis; photographer Kathy Borchers; Andrea Panciera from news; and Lynn Chaput from features.

15. Where are they now? Happy Birthday to former Rhode Islander Eli Zupnick, who previously worked for Elisabeth Roberts during her time as lieutenant governor. He now serves as communications director for US Senator Patty Murray of Washington .... NYC star chef and Rhody native Wylie Dufresne, whose father Dewey ran a Providence hipster sandwich shop in the 1970s, is set to open a new restaurant in Gotham next year ..... Former Lincoln Chafee staffer Graham Vyse continues to generate lively stories, including this one about Sheldon Whitehouse, in his adopted career as a, gasp, reporter.

16. A bonus nugget from Scott MacKay: US District Court Magistrate Patricia Sullivan is among the candidates for the judicial opening being created by Mary Lisi's pending retirement.

17. On the beer front, state Representative Stephen Casey (D-Woonsocket) welcomed a selection of local craft brewers to the House chamber this week, touting them as an important small business sector. That's probably music to the brewers' ears, considering some of the restrictions on selling micro-brews from the source .... Meanwhile, Bloomberg looks at the rebirth of Gansett, whose sales have climbed dramatically under the leadership of Mark Hellendrung. Excerpt: About a third of Narragansett’s sales now come from outside New England (the company is based in Providence), and it is becoming a popular alternative to Pabst Blue Ribbon among price-sensitive beer drinkers at hip Brooklyn bars. It was the cheapest of the top four fastest-growing beers in Brooklyn in the past year, according to GuestMetrics, which tracks 415 or so beer brands at 18 locations in the borough. It was trumped only by Allagash, Bell's, and Blue Point, three craft beers that can sell for almost twice as much as Narragansett. "When we opened about two years ago, it was making a huge stomp on Brooklyn," says Adam Bohanan, a bartender at Brooklyn's Brew Inn, which sells Narragansett for $3. "Everybody was ordering it, everybody wanted it. So we decided we would have it as well. We don't want to be behind the times."

18. A key question for Pawtucket is what becomes of McCoy Stadium if the PawSox move elsewhere. For now, city officials still want to see the team's feasibility study, and that hasn't been forthcoming. During the Q+A portion of our public forum Tuesday (see #11), one audience member contended the PawSox may be about to pull up stakes just as Pawtucket is on the cusp of a cultural renaissance. That view may be overstated, but at minimum, the city does have a snazzy new logo playing on the theme, "Join the Evolution!"

19. Rest in peace, Vincent Musetto, who wrote one of the all-time great tabloid headlines: "Headless Body in Topless Bar." He worked more than 40 years at the New York Post before being let go in budget cuts in 2013.

20. Via Esquire, The 25 Greatest Characters of The Wire, Ranked.

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