It was quite the week in Rhode Island politics, and the fallout led to tardy publication of this week's column. So thanks for stopping by. As usual, your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.
1. Better late than never: Governor Gina Raimondo lost control of the narrative of the big story of the week, the error-plagued rollout of the state's new tourism campaign, letting days go by before taking a page from crisis communications 101. Speaking at the Statehouse early Friday evening, Raimondo announced the dropping of the much-ridiculed "Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer" slogan; and the resignation of $135,000 a year chief marketing officer Betsy Wall; and said two of the three companies that worked on the campaign, Havas and Indie Whip, would give back a combined $120,000. Seeking to make lemons into lemonade, the governor was no longer invoking the negativity of Rhode Islanders. She vowed the state will do better, learn from its mistakes, and incorporate citizens' input in a revised tourism promotion campaign. "One of the things that I've learned from listening and engaging with people, there should have been more public participation in this effort from the get-go," Raimondo said. "And we need to fix that. It is crystal clear to me that Rhode Islanders have a deep and abiding passion for our state. People love Rhode Island." Any of the individual gaffes in the rollout (the confusing slogan, a snippet of Icelandic footage in the promotional video, and the error-prone web site) might have blown over if they were isolated examples. Combined, however, they posed a series of problems for Raimondo -- not least a sharp contradiction to her self-narrative as a government problem-solver. The slow messaging response echoed earlier controversies, like the hiring of Don Lally and using the URI endowment to pay for a later-scrapped trip to Davos. Just as importantly, the ensuing critical storm and widespread media attention (from the front of The Boston Globe to UK's Telegraph and beyond) obscured Raimondo's move to invest in one of the state's most important industries. In what may prove her last interview in Rhode Island, at RI Public Radio, Betsy Wall apologized on Thursday and predicted the tourism campaign will be a success. Yet her fate was already sealed, in part since the resident of Winchester, Massachusetts, remained more a part of Boston's orbit than a Rhode Islander. What's the fallout for Raimondo? That will take time to assess. At minimum, the governor and her staff came to recognize the shortcomings of a belief that there's no such thing as bad publicity.
2. Preach it, Phil Eil: "The good - and important - news, is that the actual RI-tourism product we're selling is still fantastic and hard to beat."
3. Under-Reported Story of the Week I: The tourism mess took attention away from the governor's attempt to make headway on public education, including the use of some more experimental approaches.
4. Would freshly minted GOP Rep. Karen MacBeth of Cumberland be staging an after-school announcement this coming Monday, April 4, if she wasn't unveiling a challenge to US Representative David N. Cicilline? Probably not, although MacBeth has taken a series of stances against the Smith Hill status quo -- and there's perhaps no better time to amplify a message than after her recent party switch. Does running an uphill fight against an incumbent like Cicilline make sense? That depends on a candidate's objectives. (Let's recall that back in 2012, a lot of people thought former State Police Colonel Brendan Doherty would oust Cicilline, yet the Democrat wound up scoring a larger than expected 12 point victory.) If MacBeth wants to take on the congressman, she might have run better as a Democrat in a primary. Meanwhile, MacBeth's surprising move from D to R this week lent a bolt of energy to the long-suffering RI GOP. If she leaves Smith Hill for a quixotic fight in CD1, will that move the ball toward strengthening the state's two-party system?
5. State Sen. Paul Jabour (D-Providence) isn't ruling out running as a Republican candidate for attorney general in 2018. Jabour said he plans to seek re-election this year as a Democrat and was guarded in talking about his future plans, dismissing AG talk or a switch in party affiliation as rumors, although he also described his background as potentially being in line with running for AG. "I've been a lifetime Democrat," said Jabour, who has had a lengthy political tenure, including time as a rep before winning election to the Senate in 2006. Asked if he would rule out a Republican run for AG in the future, Jabour said, "I wouldn't rule out anything in politics." State Rep. Robert Craven (D-North Kingstown) and Sen. Stephen Archambault (D-Smithfield), who ran in 2010, are also considered potential AG candidates for 2018, when current AG Peter Kilmartin will be term-limited.
6. In a sign of the seriousness with which Hillary Clinton's campaign is taking a tougher fight in her old stronghold of Rhode Island, Nick Black, a former staffer with Elizabeth Warren, has been hired to run things ahead of the April 26 primary.
7. Don't look now, but US Representative Jim Langevin has a challenger in CD2: Steven Archer of Warwick, who lists himself on FB as the president of Archer Anesthesia Providers. Archer ran as an independent against state Sen. William Walaska in 2014, attracting 40 percent of the vote.
8. If you want another example of the nerve struck by this week's tourism campaign mess, consider this: Scott MacKay's blistering commentary on the subject attracted far and away the most hits in the history of our Web site -- more even than our story on the death of RI icon Buddy Cianci. Then again, what does it say that the comments on Scott's piece devolved into off-topic sniping about President Obama?
10. TGIF reported last November (#2) on Warwick Councilor Camille Vella-Wilkinson's primary challenge to state Rep. Eileen Naughton (D-Warwick), one of the longest-serving House members. Vella Wilkinson's making her formal announcement this Sunday, April 3, at 2 pm, at 777 Airport Road in Warwick. In a release, she said, "Vella-Wilkinson is in the midst of successfully serving on the Warwick City Council for three terms. She has worked to promote her belief in term limits and has said, 'The citizen legislature was not designed for decades-long tenure. The seat belongs to the people not the politician.' "
11. In other General Assembly news, state Rep. Dennis Canario (D-Portsmouth) has a GOP challenger: Justin La Croix.
12. Is ProJo parent Gatehouse playing a little fast and loose in charging for unsolicited content with some of its other properties? Dan Kennedy reports.
13. Perhaps one day Governor Raimondo will be able to look back at this week and remember it more for the profile in Glamour of her husband, First Gentleman Andrew Moffit. Excerpt: "Glamour: How do you emotionally enable her? AM: She doesn't really need problem-solving help. I think men are raised to believe in some respects this social expectation that like, okay, there's a problem, let's solve it. But Gina’s got a great policy team. So when Gina comes home, and she starts talking about challenging issues, she doesn’t necessarily want me to help solve it. She really wants me to listen. The more important thing I can do is give her space to talk, to think things through, or to vent. The moment I turn to, 'Well, if you do this or that,' then she's back at work."
14. Daniel Denvir's take on film credits: "The number of states offering film tax credits mushroomed from four to more than forty between 2002 and 2012, according to Governing. Since then, however, multiple states have gotten wise to the swindle, ending or curtailing their programs. But tax-credit corporate welfare is still the cornerstone of economic development nationwide. Of 4,200 economic development incentives granted in 14 states analyzed by the advocacy and research group Good Jobs First, large companies received 90 percent of the more than $3.2 billion."
15. For two days this week, it seemed as if going from Democrat to Republican was the thing. First, Karen MacBeth. Then, Cranston Councilman Michael Farina. Still, two switches certainly does not make a trend. State GOP chairman Brandon Bell said he spoke with a few Democratic lawmakers around the time of the truck toll vote, about possibly joining the GOP. "I don't know that any of them would be huge shocks," Bell said, while acknowledging he doesn't expect any imminent crossovers. Still, one has to wonder -- particularly in a year of strong anti-establishment sentiment -- if a freak wave could dramatically increase Republican ranks on Smith Hill. It's worth acknowledging the possibility, however unlikely it may seem. (For the record, the GOP hasn't enjoyed an exponential boost in legislative ranks in more than 30 years. It was back in 1983 when a botched Senate redistricting plan and $1.5 million in additional taxpayer costs tripled, from seven to 21, the number of Republican senators.)
16. The pro-legalization group Regulate RI paid for this week's travel to and from Rhode Island by Colorado's top marijuana coordinator, Andrew Freedman. Yet Freedman maintained a neutral stance toward legalization, cautioning that it involves a lot of work and is not any kind of magic bullet for cash-strapped states. Some Statehouse sources, btw, still consider a non-binding November referendum on legalization about as far as the Ocean State will go this year.
17. Will ongoing controversies erode support for Donald Trump ahead of Rhode Island's April 26 presidential primary? It's possible, but Trump remains a strong bet to win the GOP side of the Ocean State primary, even without a visit to Rhode Island or much in the way of organized campaign activities. One of the few elected officials supporting Trump, state Sen. Edward O'Neill (I-Lincoln), likens the quiet undercurrent of backing to his own upset victory over then-Senate President Joseph Montalbano, a longtime power in North Providence, in 2008. "You know, it’s the old silent majority thing," O'Neill said. "You go to North Providence, people were never going to admit they were going to vote for me, ’cause they had a relative working for the state or they had someone on DPW." For more on why O'Neill and other Rhode Islanders are supporting Trump, tune to RIPR Monday morning to listen to my feature, or visit ripr.org.
18. Who says TGIF readers don't get crucial information first? Freakonomics Radio recently offered an informative episode, entitled, "Yes, the American Economy Is in a funk -- but not for the reasons you think." But we told you about Northwestern professor Robert Gordon's astute theory in February (#6) -- that growth is less robust due to the less impactful nature of contemporary innovations (although, admittedly, we found out about this by reading The New York Times). Still, hope is not lost for Rhode Island, even if Gordon's theory is spot-on. Since the state has under-performed for so long, it arguably has quite a bit of ground to make up.
19. Lou Papineau keeps a sharp eye on efforts to bring free trade to beer sales in Rhode Island, and he offers an update on a recent skirmish. Excerpt via an observation of one merchant, with Charlestown Wine & Spirits: "Ultimately, we are all in this together. When breweries increase production, they need restaurants, bars, and retailers to sell it. The establishments that care about having the best product need the best beers, wines, and liquors available from these small producers. It is only when our interactions become relationships that the craft beer scene in Rhode Island will reach the next level.”
20. Widespread declarations of an impending move to Canada come with just about every presidential election, but do people really follow through? NPR went looking for answers. Here's what was found.
21. Tony Lioce was a legendary reporter at the ProJo before taking his fortunes West, and later making the transition from reporter to bartender. So check out this video interview with the guy.
22. If you complain enough to the universe, sometimes your prayers are answered. So thank you, man about town Don Nguyen, for charting the Ocean State BBQ Festival, planned for The Steel Yard in Providence, this June 24-25. Now about that brick and mortar barbecue place with great craft brews .... Dare to dream.