1. As legislative incumbents try to repel insurgents in General Assembly elections later this year, how will Donald Trump influence the outcome? That's difficult to predict, although enthusiasm for Trump among independents and part of the Republican base could introduce something of a wild card. Then again, Hillary Clinton attracted far more votes than Trump even while losing Rhode Island's April 26 primary. With the legislature expected to wrap up business by mid-June, the coming elections will make for a lively campaign season. Watch for challengers to label the ruling Smith Hill Democrats as out of touch and ineffective in improving Rhode Island's economy. In turn, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's forces can be expected to tout tax cuts and reform measures like eliminating the master lever and supporting the move to strengthen the state Ethics Commission.
2. A long-sought Central Falls/Pawtucket train station is creeping into the realm of the possible. So would this be an economic generator, the kind of thing that makes Rhode Island more attractive to Boston-area workers? Believers in the catalytic effect of public transportation can point to the addition of an MBTA stop in the Davis Square section of Somerville, Massachusetts, about 40 years ago. Back then, David Square -- like Somerville itself -- was a sleepy backwater, even though it was within easy bicycling range of Harvard Square. The T stop propelled the area forward, to the point where Davis Square is now synonymous with gentrification. Yet not everyone's buying the concept that a train new train station at Central Falls and Pawtucket would have the desired effect. As Monique Chartier asks, "Why would we spend millions for 89 riders net pay day?"
3. VP Joe Biden is slated to visit Rhode Island to tout Governor Gina Raimondo's RhodeWorks initiative next Friday, May 27. That happens to be the one-year anniversary of when Raimondo, Speaker Mattiello, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and a cast of thousands (or so it seemed) gathered for dramatic effect under a crumbling Olneyville overpass. With Mattiello putting on the brakes, RhodeWorks wound up in the legislative slow-lane before re-emerging in a different form and then passing quickly early in this legislative session. The timing of the VP's visit could renew public debate about RhodeWorks -- a key talking point for Republicans in fall elections -- even as supporters tout the program's value. FWIW: Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger said the timing is a "pure coincidence" -- something that was chosen to suit Biden's schedule.
4. With Rhode Island's economy improving ever so slowly, Governor Raimondo hasn't presided over the kind of home run that would draw cheers. At the same time, other gubernatorial initiatives -- making college more affordable or trying to reduce opioid overdoses, for example -- are important, but it's more difficult to communicate their merits.
5. ProJo stuff: Alisha Pina is being assigned to the Statehouse, to cover social service-related stories .... The paper, which dismantled its pioneering bureau system years ago, also plans to raise the focus of reporters in covering South County, the East Bay, and Blackstone Valley, albeit from the main office on Fountain Street .... That could be an attempt to counteract the steady erosion of the Journal's print circulation. As Ted Nesi recently noted (#8), the ProJo's Sunday circulation has fallen to 78,000, and Monday through Friday to 59,000.
6. Conservative activist Mike Stenhouse said the mailers noting how some state reps voted for the truck tolls included in RhodeWorks were entirely funded by Rhode Islanders. (Stenhouse was out of town and unavailable for comment when we wrote about this topic in #8 last week.) He declined to specify how much was spent on the mailers, but said hundreds of individuals contributed to the Gaspee Project. While state Democratic Chairman Joe McNamara called the effort part of a broader conservative opposition, Stenhouse said the donations were motivated by how some voters were upset by the legislature's vote in favor of trucks on big tolls. "This is what they don't understand," he said. "They don't understand that people are outraged." Stenhouse said some of the mailers were paid for by Stop Tolls RI, an offshoot of the Gaspee Project; he said there was no coordination with the state Republican Party. Moving forward, Stenhouse said, the Gaspee Project's ability to send out more literature during campaign season will depend on its fundraising.
7. Stenhouse, who played for the Red Sox in an earlier life, is slated to be part of an on-field pre-game reunion event at Fenway next Wednesday, making the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Red Sox. As any good New Englander knows, the Sox had a great season that year and came close to winning the World Series against the Mets until a certain mythic play snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
8. The debate over a gas-fired power plant in Burrillville has increasingly moved beyond being just a local issue. The latest evidence comes via FB, from state Rep. Cale Keable (D-Burrillville), who says Governor Raimondo is planning a meeting in the northern RI town to hear directly from residents.
9. As the legislative session moves toward a conclusion, speculation continues about potential changes in the executive office. Governor Raimondo's chief of staff, Stephen Neuman, who came to Rhode Island after working for Martin O'Malley in Maryland, maintains he's not going anywhere. But if he does depart, and if Raimondo wants to turn to a Rhode Islander with good political chops, it remains unclear just who that person is.
10. The Providence City Council has a new majority leader, Bryan Principe, following the recent arrest of Kevin Jackson. Principe cut his political teeth on the city Plan Commission. He offered these comments following his election this week: “As I embark on my role as majority leader, I want to take a moment to reaffirm my commitment to serving the people of Providence with diligence, transparency, and responsibility. As majority leader, I vow to work with my colleagues to actively address the issues we face today with an eye toward the future, and navigate challenges with steadfast focus and sound judgment. I am confident that earnest work and meaningful action will continue to strengthen this Council. I am honored to begin serving the constituents of Providence in the role as majority leader and look forward to building upon the working relationship developed with Council President Aponte and each member of the City Council, as well as with Mayor Elorza and the members of the administration."
11. The effort to regulate ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft is among the issues to watch in the closing weeks of the General Assembly session. Will Rhode Island go the way of Austin, where more stringent regulations led the services to leave town? Pew, meanwhile, offers this takeaway from consumers: "Ride-hailing users’ attitudes toward these services are strongly positive; users are in near-universal agreement that ride-hailing saves them time and stress, and that these services offer good jobs for people who prioritize flexible working hours."
12. With the Ray Gallison cloud still hanging over the Statehouse, House Majority Leader John DeSimone attracted unwelcome headlines this week for delinquent property taxes. Beyond crediting the ProJo's Katherine Gregg for bringing the matter "to my attention," DeSimone said he "got hell from my wife." One surmises Speaker Mattiello probably wasn't too happy, either.
13. Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian says there's nothing to whispers that he's headed to a job at the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and that he plans to seek re-election this year.
14. State Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Providence) on why more women don't run for public office in Rhode Island: "It's such a good question, and it's really not just an issue here, it's an issue across the whole entire country," she said during a taping of this week's RI Public Radio Bonus Q&A. "I think there is a lot of barriers, not the least of which is money and also the idea of the ugliness associated with it. When somebody turns negative attention to me, that's something that I have to bear myself as a politician and it also affects my family."
15. Sen. Goldin is among the lawmakers who haven't responded to Ken Block's effort to get legislators' stances on the line-item veto. "This bill hasn't come before me, so I certainly haven't heard the conversation on the other side of it," Goldin said during our interview, but she described as "worrisome" the idea that a governor could strike line by line worthy measures backed by lawmakers.
16. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea's office this week unveiled a new online Open Government Interactive with a heap of information on lobbying and public meetings.
17. General Assembly: State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown) faces a primary challenge from SK Town Council member Rachel Clough ..... Glocester Republican Stephanie Westgate is gunning for the seat held by longtime state Rep. Thomas Winfield (D-Smithfield).
18. Erika Niedowski, communications head and a policy staffer for Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, writes on FB that she's leaving this month to begin a full-time master's in public policy program at Tufts University. "No goodbyes necessary - I'm staying in RI!" she adds.
19. The RI GOP is staging a June 9 Hall of Fame dinner as a fundraiser. Here's the inaugural class of inductees: Lincoln Almond; John Chafee; Susan Farmer; Braford Gorham; Nancy Mayer; J. William Middendorf; Eileen Slocum; and Arlene Violet.
20. Karen MacBeth pointed to a distaste for campaign fundraising as part of the reason for this week's abrupt end to her congressional campaign in CD1. But it's no secret that a well-funded war chest is vital for anyone hoping to take out a congressional incumbent. As former congressman Lee Hamilton writes, "In fact, challengers are at a disadvantage at almost every point in a campaign. From building name recognition to arranging meetings to building credibility with editorial boards, donors, and opinion leaders, they’re trudging uphill. They do get one leg up — they’re in the district all the time, while the incumbent has to be in Washington regularly — but that’s a small advantage compared to the obstacles arrayed against them. Especially when districts are gerrymandered, as they often are, to protect incumbents. This means that in primaries, incumbents generally need to focus just on the most active voters, while in general elections the vast majority can consider themselves on safe ground. But there’s another reason incumbents keep getting re-elected that’s also worth considering: voters — that’s you and me. Most Americans don’t vote, which means that a U.S. senator or representative might be elected by only 20 percent of the eligible voters. And those who do vote often cast their ballots for narrow or unusual reasons. They like the way they got treated by the incumbent’s staff, or they shook his or her hand at a county fair, or they like his or her stand on a particular social or economic issue, or perhaps they just recognize the name. Whatever the case, they don’t look at an incumbent’s entire record: votes on a cross-section of vital issues; willingness to work with members of different ideologies and backgrounds; ability to explain Washington back home and represent home in Washington; skill at forging consensus on tough policy challenges."
21. Two fun reads for your weekend: "The Inside Story Of When Run-DMC Met Aerosmith And Changed Music History Forever" and "What's Happened to the Great American Dive Bar?"
22. A look at the greatest Red Sox' offenses of all time.