March is here, along with what continues to be an unusual year in presidential politics. Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual, your tips and thoughts are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.
1. Remember when "where's the beef?" was considered a cutting jab during a presidential debate? That might as well have been the Victorian age, considering what's passing for discourse this time around among Donald Trump and most of his fellow Republicans. Be that as it may, state Rep. Daniel Reilly (R-Portsmouth), a Marco Rubio supporter, still doesn't think Trump will be the GOP nominee. "He cannot get a majority of the delegates in any state he's competed in thus far," Reilly said on this week's RI Public Radio Political Roundtable. "In the first closed primary that he faced, in Oklahoma, he significantly underwhelmed his expectations. Ted Cruz came in first, and Donald Trump was in a close second with Marco Rubio. I think what that shows, when only Republicans are voting, they have different expectations, they have different results than when a broad universe of Democrats, independents, Republicans are voting." Reilly believes Trump will be unable to gain enough delegates to win, leading to a brokered convention. And he said he won't vote for Trump even if he is the nominee: "I can't see how I'd support him. I don't know who I would vote for, to be honest with you. Donald Trump seems to just start with some rambling stream of consciousness, and that becomes a Donald Trump speech. And he's on every side of every issue, so how could I vote for someone who may or may not share my beliefs on anything?"
2. More Trump: Obama strategist David Axelrod on how he'd take on the bombastic businessman .... Will Trump cause a lasting split in the national GOP? Via the NYT: "Heather Cox Richardson, a Boston College professor and the author of a new history of the Republican Party, predicts a violent rupture that cleaves the party in two: a hard-line conservatism, as embodied by Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and Mr. Trump, and an old-fashioned strain of moderate Republicanism that recalls Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller." That happens to sound somewhat like the Rhode Island GOP, where a moderate-conservative divide hasn't helped the party's efforts to be more competitive since a recent high-water mark in the late '80s-early '90s.
3. To go by the results of Brown University's recent poll, Democrat Bernie Sanders is running a competitive race with Hillary Clinton in Rhode Island even with relatively few connected supporters in the Ocean State. That marks a contrast from 2008, when two local politicos, Jeff Padwa (now chief of staff for General Treasurer Seth Magaziner) and the late Joseph Fernandez, served as co-chairs of Barack Obama's insurgent campaign. Clinton wound up beating Obama by 18 points in Rhode Island that year, a reflection of the Clinton's longstanding popularity in southern New England. Compare that to 2016, when Clinton edged Sanders by less than 2 points in Massachusetts on Super Tuesday. Clinton's Bay State victory can be attributed to her appeal in the eastern suburbs around Boston, as well as wins in cities like Worcester and New Bedford, but she lost broad swaths of working class communities in western, central and southeastern Massachusetts -- a potential concern for Democrats. Meanwhile, with Rhode Island's April 26 primary drawing closer, "we're constantly evaluating our ground game," a Sanders spokesman, R. Warren Gill III, said via email. "I'm confident that one way or another the voters of Rhode Island will get to hear the message of Bernie sanders and will have the opportunity to weigh in on who they think the next Democratic candidate for president should be."
4. Burrillville Town Councilor David J. Place plans to run a Republican challenge this year against three-term state Rep. Cale Keable (D-Burrillville), who hasn't faced an opponent since 2012. Place, a native of Swansea, Massachusetts, is serving his second term on the council and has lived in Burrillville since 2009. He said he's an Army veteran who worked in management and accounting before more recently becoming a machinist at American Tool Company in Lincoln (In classic RI style, Place found his way into a training program for veterans after a conversation with former Jack Reed aide Jack Casey, with whom he shares a barber in Cranston.) Place said he's running for the House due in part to frustration over what he considers overly restrictive state mandates (as an example, he said Burrillville taxpayers pay higher interest rates by being grouped with other communities in bonding for school construction). Place said he hopes to raise about $15,000 for his campaign, and plans to actively campaign door to door throughout Burrillville and Glocester. He said he considers the 2011 pension overhaul spearheaded by Governor Gina Raimondo to be a case of the state reneging on its promises to workers, particularly lower paid ones (his father-in-law is a retired janitor), and hopes to tap into voter discontent. "I just think the people of Burrillville, Glocester and Rhode Island are getting fed up," Place said. He said his preferred presidential candidate was Rand Paul, and that among the remaining GOP candidates, he prefers Ted Cruz. Keable outpaced Republican Don Fox, now a Burrillville town councilor, in 2012 and 2012. In a statement, Keable said, "I am running for re-election and welcome my Republican challenger into the race. I have fought to create local jobs by passing legislation that exempts the Industrial Foundation of Burrillville from state sales and use taxes. I was proud to assist in reducing the tax burden on Social Security benefits. I have been a tireless advocate for Zambarano Hospital and I am currently fighting against the cuts that the governor's budget proposes. For nearly two years, I have chaired a bi-partisan and thoughtful Judiciary Committee that has modernized our election laws, toughened our campaign finance laws, and passed Good Samaritan legislation to assist with our opiate crisis, all while dealing with some of the state's most divisive issues. I am proud of my record of accomplishment for Burrillville and Glocester and look forward to serving another term with the support of the people of District 47."
5. Timing is the secret sauce of politics, just as with location, location, location in real estate. So while the legalization of marijuana seems unlikely to win legislative approval this election year, it may just be a matter of time until Rhode Island joins other states in moving forward with legalization. "I really couldn't be doing this if I thought the question was 'when' as opposed to 'if,' " Nancy DeNuccio of the Ocean State Prevention Alliance said during a Q&A on RIPR this week. (For the other side of the argument, listen to my interview with Jared Moffat of Regulate Rhode Island.) Staunch opposition by law enforcement, concerned parents, and prevention groups helps explain why the General Assembly is pursuing a go-slow approach on legalization; a non-binding referendum may wind up on the November ballot as a way of testing public sentiment. Yet in a situation reminiscent of the passage of same-sex marriage in 2013, cultural opposition to legalization has trended down over time. And of course, there's also the profit motive of the marijuana gold rush coming to the Ocean State.
6. Skeptics question the impact of truck tolls on legislative races later this year, noting how the toll gantries won't be in place for more than a year, and how tolls will be levied on big trucks, many of them from out of state. Yet Representative Reilly flips that argument on its head in predicting an impact from the high-profile issue. "We're far away from the toll, gantries, being constructed, us seeing projects, but that goes both ways," Reilly said on this week's Roundtable. "We're also not going to see the results of these projects so quickly. So my friends on the Democratic side, or at least those who supported the proposal, would say you're constituents are going to see the fruits of this labor, and everything's going to be different and better and everything's fixed. That's just not going to happen very quickly. It can't. DOT can't get these projects done [quickly]. So I think what are you going to see is while everything's going on behind the scenes, you're going to see a legal battle that's going to keep tolls out in the news in a negative light, and you're going to see people continue to be turned off by the process by how things are done on Smith Hill."
7. Democrat Jim Seveney, who lost a special election earlier this year to Sen. John Pagliarini (R-Tiverton) is staging a campaign kickoff fundraiser March 24 at the Valley Inn in Portsmouth.
8. Speaking of the General Assembly, Representative Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick) is actively working to recruit more GOP candidates. Morgan declined to specify how many hopefuls she's come up, and she said they still have to be vetted. Meanwhile, a Democrat has yet to surface to challenge Morgan (she beat Nicholas Denice by 4.5 points in 2012, and 7 points in 2014). But the GOP rep -- the most vociferous critic of the majority party in the House -- said she's expected all along that leadership would target her ouster.
9. Listen: transit savant James Kennedy on the case for remaking the 6/10 Connector as a boulevard.
10. What's better than a juicy well-written takedown by a food critic of a restaurant passing off overpriced, overrated food on its customers? A case in point this week from Nestor Ramos in The Boston Globe, with a review headlined, "Tourist trap or living history? The Union Oyster House at 190" Food critics are consumer advocates, so they shouldn't hesitate to bring the criticism when warranted. Of course, the all-time classic may be Pete Wells' NY Times review of Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant.
11. Scott Mackay's take: How to make Rhode Island relevant in presidential primary politics.
12. Governor Raimondo has talked about the importance of boosting computer science education, and she's taking the next step at 1 pm Monday, at Pawtucket's Tolman High School, announcing the launch of what's billed as a comprehensive statewide initiative. "If we want our kids to have the best opportunities in our tech-driven economy, we need to do everything we can to help them keep pace and develop the skills that matter," Raimondo said in a statement. "Part of turning our economy around and creating jobs is making sure every student, at every level has access to learn the new basic skill: computer science." The governor's release notes that the state is expected to have more than 4,000 openings in computer and math jobs by 2022. The state's congressional delegation and Chief Innovation Officer Richard Culatta are among those expected to attend the Monday event.
13. A great read from Washington Post editor Marty Baron on the Oscar winner for best picture: "I'm in Spotlight, but it's not about me. It's about the power of journalism." Excerpt: The rewards will come if this movie has impact: On journalism, because owners, publishers and editors rededicate themselves to investigative reporting. On a skeptical public, because citizens come to recognize the necessity of vigorous local coverage and strong journalistic institutions. And on all of us, through a greater willingness to listen to the powerless and too-often voiceless, including those who have suffered sexual and other abuse.
14. RI Future's Bob Plain has reported recently on how Human Rights Watch has criticized Textron for manufacturing cluster bombs, and how Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have supported restricting the weapon's use. This isn't the first time Textron has faced concern over weapons of war. Back in 2000, Steven Stycos, now a Cranston city councilor, reported in the Phoenix on how Textron was poised to sell $4.5 billion in attack helicopters to Turkey, despite human rights violations in that country.
16. Local baseball enthusiasts know how one of the game's great early hitters, Napoleon Lajoie, came from Woonsocket. This Sunday, March 6, (1:30 pm), local educator Greg Rubano will present a talk at the Museum of Work and Culture (42 South Main Street, Woonsocket) on his forthcoming book, Under the Shadow of Ty Cobb: the Life and Times of Napoleon Lajoie. Lajoie was considered the first superstar in American League history, and compiled a lifetime .338 batting average.
18. New England states are among the least devout, according to the Pew Research Center. In RI, 48 percent of residents say religion is very important to their lives, ranking the Ocean State 35th in Pew's finding.
19. With Boston becoming an increasingly expensive place to live, "Millennial Villages" -- smaller, more affordable apartments -- are being suggested as part of the solution. The micro-loft approach has been a hit at the Arcade in Providence, and downtown residential occupancy is said to be well over 90 percent. So is there a place for more small units in or near the center of the capital city?
20. It was a long time ago -- 2001, in fact -- when Brown University opposed a unionization effort among grad students. More recently, Brown joined eight other universities late last month in urging the National Labor Relations Board to continue to recognize graduate assistants as students, not employees.
21. To some, the popularity of Facebook has stemmed from FB's resemblance to a personal newspaper. So what happens know that the social network is becoming more like cable news?