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TGIF: 21 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

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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...

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. Curiously enough, in a state where Republicans have struggled for years to increase their modest representation in elective office, Rhode Island's April 26th presidential primary is shaping up as an important fight. Donald Trump is expected to have a decisive victory on the GOP side. Yet the leadership team for Ted Cruz's RI campaign expanded this week with the addition as co-chairs of former state GOP chairman Giovanni Cicione and Roseanna Gorham. Cicione said he's impressed by Cruz's legal experience and finds his message of small government compelling. He thinks that Cruz will attract the majority of delegates ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and emerge as the nominee after supporters of other candidates are released for a second ballot. Trump, meanwhile, may make a Rhode Island appearance before the primary, according to his local chairman, state Rep. Joe Trillo (R-Warwick). And former AG candidate Dawson Hodgson is helping to boost John Kasich's campaign in RI.

2. Remaking the 6/10 Connector offers a big opportunity to open land to development and increase the overall ambience of a big swath of Providence. During a briefing for reporters on Wednesday, RI DOT Director Peter Alviti said DOT is changing with the times in offering what he called a series of public minded options, and he said a hybrid option would satisfy many of the needs cited by boulevard advocates. Yet although the word "boulevard" is attached to some of the DOT renderings, the most vocal transit activists were unimpressed. Jef Nickerson questioned how a tunnel will be maintained if there's not the money now to keep up bridges. James Kennedy wrote, "RI DOT is trying, but still doesn't get it. They've made no progress since we started talking to them. It's still just a highway with bus lanes instead of a boulevard. Mayor Elorza needs to push them for more as if the city's future depends on it, because it does."

3. Robert "Cool Moose" Healey, who died this week at age 58, was a unique person on Rhode Island's political scene; he combined a sharp intellect, fiscal conservatism, and a strong sense of humor with his status as a shaggy-haired folk hero. That helps explain how Healey sharply exceeded expectations by attracting more than 21 percent of the 2014 gubernatorial vote, while spending $36. National media sources loved that story, and you know that Healey must have enjoyed his ability to surprise the system. While it would be a stretch to tag him as the best-known Rhode Islander to not win statewide office (remember this guy?), Healey's questioning of the status quo resonated throughout this little state. "The discontent that was reflected in Bob's success is a sign of hope for me," said Gio Cicione, a fellow Barrington resident, pointing to how Healey attracted almost 40 percent of the LG vote in 2010 while campaigning to eliminate the lieutenant governor's office. The idea of abolishing the LG's post lives on, thanks to how state Sen. John Pagliarini (R-Tiverton) -- who competed with Healey for the office in 2002 -- has introduced a bill with the same intent. Yet Healey had no illusions about the impact of alternative approaches like his Cool Moose Party (which lost its official recognition with a few election cycles of gaining it). As Healey told me for a 2002 story in The Providence Phoenix, "I think a lot of the third political parties are people who like to rail against the system and have no idea of how to govern or would have a limited ability of how to actually govern. It's not that they're doing something that's futile. They're doing something that serves a valuable purpose, as long as they recognize what that purpose is. Third-party politics is fraught with delusions of grandeur. As long as you can put that into perspective, you understand what third-party politics is all about. It's about being outside the mainstream, being able to challenge the status quo. As one person said to me, `You can't beat City Hall, but you can piss on the steps.' "

4. The retirement of Superior Court Judge Patricia Hurst pushes to 11 the number of judicial vacancies in Rhode Island. That's likely making for some interesting discussion between Governor Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed (although Mattiello disputes the perception that each member of the troika gets a turn picking judges. "It's not that simple," the speaker said during an interview last month on RI Public Radio. "Sometimes, I wish [it was]. No, it doesn't work like that. Obviously, you chat and you talk and you give recommendations, and ultimately, it's the choice of governor. But I believe the governor respects other choices, and nobody's solely in charge of anything. It's a collaborative effort in government."

5. As part of RI Public Radio's occasional Policy & Pinot discussion series, Brown political science professor Wendy Schiller, state Republican Chairman Brandon Bell, Scott MacKay and I had a lively discussion at the Providence Athenaeum this week about the 2016 presidential race. You can listen to it here.

6. Goldman Sachs commits $10 million in support of a small business program in Rhode Island. The company (which paid about $5 billion to resolve probes into its handling of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the fiscal crisis) gets to burnish its image. Fair deal?

7. Although Governor Raimondo has made clear that her administration is open to changes to her controversial proposal to impose a new regulatory scheme for medical marijuana, the administration is not expected to roll out any revisions ahead of a House Finance Committee meeting on the subject Tuesday, March 29. "[T]he hearing will be another opportunity to hear more feedback, input, ideas as we continue to consider changes," spokeswoman Marie Aberger said via email. "[W]e are absolutely open to changes that will further decrease cost and increase access for patients and caregivers within the proposed regulatory framework. The overall goal of this legislation is to bring order to a largely undefined system and strengthen access to care for patients. We know there might be changes to the details within that framework as the legislative process moves forward." Meanwhile, Andrew Freedman, director of Marijuana Coordination for the State of Colorado, is coming to Rhode Island to speak with reporters and lawmakers on Tuesday (update) including a 3 pm appearance in Room 101 at the Statehouse.

8. Kirk Davis, CEO of ProJo parent GateHouse Media, spoke during a recent meeting in Columbus, Ohio, about Gatehouse's controversial sale last December of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. To recap, the buyer's identity was initially withheld before being revealed as casino mogul Sheldon Adelson; the Review-Journal's staff did most of the best reporting on the mystery; and Michael Schroeder, publisher of some small Connecticut papers acted as an intermediary (he later bought The Block Island Times). Davis told his audience in Columbus that GateHouse parent New Media Investment Group made a 69 percent profit by selling the Review-Journal. “It was highly unusual,” Davis said of the transaction, Columbus Business First reported. “I think many of us were a little out of our element figuring different aspects of that transaction out.” According to CBF, Davis said New Media is better off for what it learned from the deal and would think twice about a future arrangement.

9. State Sen. John Pagliarini isn't concerned about how statewide taxpayers could be on the hook if Twin River's envisioned convenience casino falls short of producing $3 million in annual revenue for Tiverton. "I don't believe that that's truly going to happen," Pagliarini said on this week's RIPR Bonus Q&A. "The minimum projections are close to that $3 million, but Tiverton could actually realize a lot more than $3 million, if the projections of $47 [million] to $70 million [in revenue] come to fruition. So I don't think the taxpayers will ultimately have to pay any of that minimum figure." Pagliarini, whose district includes part of Tiverton, said he expects voters in the town to approve Twin River's proposal. 

10. With Providence facing ongoing questions about its fiscal outlook, city chief operating officer Brett Smiley distributed a memo earlier today identifying steps meant to reduce overspending in the current budget: as of March 31, the posting of most non-essential vacancies will be delayed until the next fiscal year; staffers are being asked to use the requisition process for all departmental purchases; and a deadline of March 31 is established for non-emergency budget requests. "As you manage and reduce spending in your department, please remember that this is a common goal," Smiley writes in the memo. "A surplus in one area of your budget can and will cover a shortage in a colleague’s department, and an overall surplus will aid in lessening the deficit. The fiscal health of the city must be everyone’s priority, and will be everyone’s achievement. We are confident that the City of Providence is turning the corner. With stronger property values, a focus on municipal innovation, and a reduced reliance on non-recurring revenues, our future budgets will be more robust. We appreciate that you are all leading your department in a time of restraint, and we sincerely admire that you have all done more with less."

11. Reporter-turned mystery writer Bruce DeSilva revealed that he got shut down by an unnamed ProJo editor when he tried pursuing a tip about sex abuse involving a priest in the 1970s: "I argued. He got mad. If I didn’t let this go, he warned, I’d be looking for another line of work. I was just a young reporter, eight years or so into a profession he’d been engaged in for a couple of decades; but I was not very good at respecting my elders or following their orders. Still, there was something else to consider. I had a wife, kids, and a mortgage I could barely afford. I needed that job. I loved it, too. And when that editor threatened to take it away, he was so red-faced and angry that I knew he meant it." DeSilva said this experience is why he felt guilty after watching the movie Spotlight, about The Boston Globe's expose of sex abuse by priests.

12. If the Sunday Providence Journal has seemed newsier of late, it's not a coincidence. Beefing up the Sunday paper is said to be a priority for Executive Editor David Butler. This makes sense since Sunday offers the chance for reporters to write longer narratives on Rhode Island's ample supply of compelling stories. It's also a bit of a back-to-the-future move, since Joel Rawson's reinvention of the Sunday Journal helped fuel the paper's heyday in the 1980s and '90s. As none other than Bruce DeSilva wrote in a 1989 piece in Rhode Island Monthly, "The Journal under Rawson would continue to be a government watchdog, protector and advocate for those most disenfranchised, and the state's paper of record, the standard for a respectable newspaper. But Rawson believed the paper could aspire to significantly more. Namely, the Journal could engage, absorb, and rivet its readers. To accomplish that, reporters under Rawson were to approach a story as a novelist or playwright might. Forget the inverted pyramid, Rawson said. Just tell a story, like Ernest Hemingway. He held weekly meetings, where reporters and editors talked about writing the news differently. He had his reporters read Didion, Wolfe, Catton."

13. Brett Broesder, who co-managed Peter Kilmartin's winning 2010 attorney general campaign, continues his tour of the Nutmeg State, taking on the role of communications director for Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. Broesder previously served in a comparable role for Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who lost his re-election primary campaign last year to former mayor Joe Ganim.

14. Sen. Pagliarini on what he would do if he could pass one bill this session: "It would be the elimination of tax-stabilization agreements in the state of Rhode Island. I don't believe that cities and town councils should have the power to do tax stabilization agreements, and I say that as a property tax attorney who does them often. I think it's a power and a duty that is not being properly carried out by the cities and towns, and that it would better serve the state if we let the Commerce Corporation due it as a reduction in income tax rather than local property tax."

15. Last October (#5), we noted how Fortune appeared to have a serious crush on Governor Raimondo, and now comes further evidence: the magazine ranks Raimondo 38th on a list of "the world's greatest leaders," although they botched the year of her signature pension overhaul. Back in RI, the Independent and Newport Daily News used an editorial to take the governor and other state leaders to task for not doing more to build public faith in government.

16. State Rep. William O'Brien (D-North Providence) faces a primary challenge from Bill Deware, a radiographer at Rhode Island Hospital, as RI Future's Steve Ahlquist reported this week.

17. What's it like when someone winds up at a local hospital with a drug overdose? RIPR's Kristin Gourlay goes behind the scenes at Rhode Island Hospital to describe the role played by recovery coaches: "[Donna] Price is part of a growing army of recovery coaches working in emergency departments across the state. They serve as guides to the world of recovery, lighting a path for addicts who see only darkness ahead. Price says her work complements that of doctors and nurses: 'Nothing like peer to peer support. Nothing like being approached by another recovering drug addict or alcoholic that can help you in your time of need, and knows exactly what you’re going through at that moment, that a hospital staff might not know about.' ”

18. US Representative David Cicilline talks about his recent trip to Cuba, as part of a delegation with President Obama.

19. Happy 20th birthday to The Valley Breeze, which demonstrates how very local newspapers can continue to succeed in the digital age. Publisher Tom Ward offers his thank you message here. And of course, the paper's estimable online editor, Ethan Shorey, is also getting it done on the twitters.

20. Money and politics: Darrell West reports that billionaires like Donald Trump usually win when they run for public office. As West writes, "In an age of rampant citizen cynicism, voters see them as white knights who are too rich to be bought. From a voter standpoint, these individuals have the economic independence to stand up to special interest groups. American billionaire Trump regularly plays to this perception by saying he is self-funding his campaign and not relying on corporate funding. In addition, billionaires often assemble unconventional coalitions and display a willingness to think outside the box. Through control of media and money, they dazzle the public with tough talk and bold ideas, and claim their business success guarantees political effectiveness. Trump follows this approach by appealing to white, working class voters who feel they have been left behind. In some of the primary states, exit polls have shown the tycoon attracting votes from independents and even disaffected Democrats."

21. Did you appear about the reporter who got arrested while seeking public records? (h/t Phil Eil).

TGIF: 21 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media
TGIF: 21 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media