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TGIF: 23 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media


October is here and the general election is slightly more than four weeks away. Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As uusual, your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1. Sure, independent candidate for governor Joe Trillo oversold the significance of his Thursday endorsement by Patricia Morgan, billing it in advance as an event that would remake the race for governor. Still, the 75-year-old Trillo is poised to have an impact on the November election, potentially a significant one. The former Warwick Republican polled just short of 7 percent in a WPRI/RWU poll last month, although Trillo tells me his internals put him closer to 20 percent. With just over four weeks until the November 6 election, Republicans remain troubled about his potential spoiler role in siphoning votes from GOP candidate Allan Fung. "If we do not unite, this state will suffer under four more years of progressive, liberal, and tax-hike friendly [Gina] Raimondo," RI GOP National Committeewoman Lee Ann Sennick wrote in a fundraising email after Morgan's endorsement of Trillo. (Elsewhere, the Tax Foundation lauded Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for cutting taxes.) Trillo, who backed Fung's 2014 gubernatorial campaign, said his current run doesn't reflect a personal clash with the GOP candidate. But he describes Fung as "a chameleon" and "a flawed candidate." Does Trillo have a plausible path to victory? "I think there are a lot of things that still haven't come out in this election, that could come out," Trillo said on Rhode Island Public Radio's Political Roundtable this week. Asked about his path to victory, Trillo said, "My path to victory is winning. I don't share strategy with anybody." Still, almost 44 percent of voters didn't know Trillo, according to the WPRI poll released in September, so it's unclear if he can surpass Rhode Island's last political surprise -- the almost 22 percent of the gubernatorial vote scored by Robert "Cool Moose" Healey in 2014.

2. Trillo points to how only about 12 percent of Rhode Islanders are registered as Republicans in describing the party as an anachronism. "Rhode Island is a severely blue state, it's heavily Democratic, so whatever comes out of the Republican recommendation, it really doesn't mean a lot, it doesn't carry a lot of weight," he said on Roundtable. But independents form the large group of Rhode Island voters, and the RI GOP had more success in winning elective seats back in the 1980s, through moderates such as Susan Farmer, Lila Sapinsley, Claudine Schneider and Barbara Leonard. Now, the longstanding split in GOP has turned into open hostility, and the House GOP caucus booted Patricia Morgan from her leadership post after she endorsed Trillo. The net effect is that local Republicans lack cohesion while struggling to increase their minimal presence in the General Assembly. (Rhode Island Democrats face their own divisions, of course, but that hasn't diminished the party's grip on Smith Hill). For his part, Republican-turned independent Trillo describes the fractious ranks of the GOP as just the way things are: "You know, when I first ran for election as a state representative, I used to meet once a week with six guys from Warwick who were all running for state rep. And I said, 'guys, we got to put together a platform that we can all run on -- six bullet points that we can put out there.' After three months, we couldn't agree on two bullet points without arguing. So that's what the Republican Party is, we're very independent thinkers and we just don't go along to get along, for the most part."

3. Coming at 5 p.m. Tuesday: With one month until the Novembr 6 election, RIPR, The Providence Journal and ABC6 will release a UNH Survey Center poll highlighted by Rhode Islanders' views of the race for governor and U.S. Senate. On Thurday at 5 pm, we'll have details on views of President Trump. And then on Sunday, October 14, the poll will reveal views on issues including guns, abortion rights, and Rhode Islanders' approval of Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin.

4. Robert Flanders, the Republican challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, is trying to capitalize on support for Brett Kavanaugh among the GOP base, launching a TV ad this week that mocks Whitehouse's Senate Judiciary Committee questioning of Kavanaugh. In an interview with RIPR's Chuck Hinman this week, Whitehouse said he has no regrets about his line of questioning. Rather, he said, it was "elementary lawyering" to ask Kavanaugh about yearbook details details that might shed light on allegations made by Professor Christine Blasey Ford. Whitehouse blamed GOP staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee for publicly releasing information about a Rhode Island constituent (who later walked back an unproven allegation against Kavanaugh). For his part, Flanders told Hinman that Kavanaugh's Judiciary testimony was "not the way you'd want a judge to behave," but that it was consistent with a man who believed he had been terribly wronged. Flanders, a former state Supreme Court justice, said Kavanaugh's record on the bench and a community member makes him an excellent choice for the highest court in the U.S. Whitehouse offered this statement after the FBI filed its report this week on Blasey Ford's claims: “If I had received a report like this when I was serving as a United States Attorney, I would have sent it back for more work. Clearly there were considerable constraints on the FBI, and those constraints have hampered the sincere and thorough investigation we need. This incomplete investigation does a tremendous disservice to survivors, who are bravely seizing this moment to tell their stories in an effort to effect much-needed and long-overdue change.”

5. Get ready for a gubernatorial debate featuring four candidates -- Democrat Gina Raimondo, Republican Allan Fung, Moderate Bill Gilbert and independent Joe Trillo -- at the University of Rhode Island at 7 pm on Monday, October 15. RIPR is partnering with the ProJo in producing this event, and I'll be asking questions, along with ProJo Statehouse reporter Patrick Anderson and a student journalist from URI. RIPR and the ProJo are also staging a U.S. Senate debate at 6 p.m. on October 20, with questions asked by myself, Michael McDermott from the ProJo, and a student journalist at URI. More details on the debates here.

6. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has always shown a keen interest in the I-195 District, and his support for the controversial 46-story tower proposed by developer Jason Fane is well known. It was nonetheless striking when Ruggerio used RIPEC 75th annual meeting, on Monday, to sound a dramatic call for change in how development happens in the district. "We need to move past nimbyism if we are going to grow and thrive as a state," he said, outlining plans to file legislation "that removes some of the impediments to re-developing the rest of our former highway land by granting more authority to the I-195 Commission, so the city doesn’t stand in the way of progress." To be more specific, a Senate spokesman said Ruggerio's concept involves giving zoning and possibly tax stabilization authority over state-owned land to the commission, due to the standoff on the Fane tower. While critics like Sharon Steele raise concerns of spot zoning and diminishing the appeal of a nearby park, Ruggerio sees the issue quite differently: "You might think that we would welcome a developer wanting to invest a quarter billion dollars in our capital city .... but we have done all we can to chase him away." Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and City Council President David Salvatore reacted by rejecting the idea that the city has discouraged development. Meanwhile, the Providence City Council's Committee on Ordinances has slated a hearing on the Fane proposal for 5:30 pm October 22 at City Hall. Yet a decision on the controversial tower will almost certainly play out some time after the November election.

7. More scenes from the race for governor: Allan Fung criticized Gov. Raimondo over DOT and his supporters launched a new ad hitting Raimondo on problems at DCYF .... Raimondo used an ad to resurrect the Cranston police controversy, and the Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy wrote,"Gov. Gina Raimondo has seen her prospects improve over the past 10 days, making that a more difficult target for Republicans." .... Moderate Party candidate Bill Gilbert released a tourism plan .... independent Luis Daniel Munoz objected to his exclusion from debates .... For details on the arrest involving independent candidate Anne Armstrong, see item #18.

8. Legendary reporter Bob Woodward's keynote address to RIPEC Monday night focused on his latest book, Fear: Trump in the White House, which offers a damning assessment of Trump's presidency. In short, Woodward said many people close to Trump consider him a threat to national and economic security -- and that Americans have become numb to the crisis in their midst. (He also gave poor reviews to Democrats, saying Barack Obama mailed it in in 2016, and that the party failed to recognize Americans' economic anxiety.) Wooward likened the current moment to the collapse of the status quo in the unwitting run-up to WWI, as described in historian Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, and he said Trump has seized history's clock. "The old order is dying and Trump figured out a way to push the buttons on people's consoles to win the presidency," Woodward said. "What others, and I don't mean just Democrat -- I mean people in the Republican Party, everyone has got to answer the question, what's the new order? What does it involve? And to me as a reporter, no one's really explained what it is, and somebody's got to figure out how to do that." (My story on Woodward's appearance includes the full audio of his address and his answers to audience questions.)

9. Have we learned anything from the 2008 fiscal crisis?

10. For a guy who served as honorary chair of Donald Trump's RI campaign in 2016, Joe Trillo is stopping short of a total embrace of the polarizing president. "Well, I don't think I want to be charged with carrying his banner," Trillo said on RIPR's Bonus Q&A, after being asked if he's the Trump candidate in the race for governor. "I agree with a lot of his policies, I agree with some of the things he's been able to achieve for this country, and I think if it weren't for his policies, Rhode Island would be in serious financial trouble right now. I know that Gina Raimondo tries to take credit for it, but it would have never happened without Trump's policies." Trillo characteristically declined comment on whether he has reached out for Trump's support and whether the president will visit Rhode Island to endorse him ahead of the election. "I don't talk about any conversations I have with anybody, let alone the president," Trillo said on Roundtable.

11. Sunday, October 7 is the deadline to register to vote in the November 6 election. More details, including where you can drop off the form if you're not registering online, is available here

12. As Rhode Island continues to face a housing crisis, a coalition in the Boston area hopes to create 185,000 new units of housing by 2030. Via WBUR's Benjamin Swasey: "The Metro Mayors Coalition, which its participating municipalities introduced in December, announced the housing target Tuesday. The group says the goal is needed to keep up with the region's strong job and population growth. 'Since 2010, the 15 cities and towns of the Metro Mayors Coalition have added nearly 110,000 residents and 148,000 new jobs, while permitting only 32,500 new housing units,' according to a statement from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), which staffs and facilitates the coalition. 'Intense competition for the limited available housing drives up prices, makes it difficult for people to find homes they can afford, and increases the potential for displacement.' The MAPC says the 15 municipalities are on track to add 235,000 net new jobs from 2015 to 2030. The group has projected that all of eastern Massachusetts will need 435,000 units of new housing by 2040 to meet demand."

13. While General Electric faces a lot of questions, state officials say there's been no fallout at GE Digital, which employs about 60 people in Providence. "We are in regular contact with the company," said Commerce Department spokesman Matt Sheaff. "They tell us that they continue to be pleased with their digital office in Providence. All signs remain positive." It remains unclear, though, if the hundreds of prospective jobs envisioned back in 2016 will materialize.

14. Brown University economics professor John N. Friedman was among those who helped produce an information-rich examination in The New York Times -- dubbed the #OpportunityAtlas -- examining how some places lift children out of poverty and others trap them there. Excerpt: "The researchers believe much of this variation is driven by the neighborhoods themselves, not by differences in what brings people to live in them. The more years children spend in a good neighborhood, the greater the benefits they receive. And what matters, the researchers find, is a hyper-local setting: the environment within about half a mile of a child’s home. At that scale, these patterns — a refinement of previous research at the county level — have become much less theoretical, and easier to act on."

15. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are best known for breaking the Watergate story that brought down Richard Nixon's presidency. That was a high point for American journalism, boosting trust in the media, elevating the watchdog role of the press, and influencing scores of young people (myself included) to pursue reporting careers. To bring things up to the present, here are some of Woodward's observations about the media from his RIPEC appearance on Monday. Just a few hands went up when he asked how many people distrust the news media. "Wow, I'm going to sell you subscriptions to the Washington Post," Woodward joked, noting that some of his previous audiences have indicated a 90 percent level of distrust. "If you're in a business and you have a product that is distrusted, you have to fix it," he said. ".... How do you do it? You do factual reporting and overwhelm people with that."

15B. Woodward said that ahead of Watergate, there were considerable rumors of shady activity by Nixon, but that the conventional wisdom held he was too sly and crafty to get caught. The publisher of the Post, Kay Graham, pushed him to find the truth, and asked when he would have it. Woodward responded, "Never," because of the difficulty of getting answers from hostile administration sources and other factors. "And I will never forget looking across the lunch table at her face, which was pained and wounded -- the look you never want to see on your boss's face," Woodward said. "And she said the following: 'Never? Don't tell me never.' I left the lunch a highly motivated employee." (Later, after the Post broke the Watergate story, significantly raising the paper's own standing, Graham told Woodward to "beware the demon pomposity," lest he become too impressed with himself, he said.)

16. Scott MacKay commentary on what the right can learn from progressives: "Why have progressives and liberals and been successful in winning elections? It’s simple -- they don’t view politics as a spectator sport. They build coalitions, run energetic candidates and turn out voters. Controlling the talk radio chatter and musing on the Journal editorial page musings may make some conservatives feel good. But it’s not a blueprint for change in a one-party state that would benefit from a vibrant two-party system."

17. What happens when an unabashed progressive wins a seat in the Rhode Island Senate -- a highly collegial chamber where sharp debates are rare and where most of the tiny GOP caucus usually seems on the same page as the Democratic majority? So far, Sen-elect Sam Bell (D-Providence) has raised a constitutional point about Senate President Dominick Ruggerio's comments on the I-195 District, while also keeping up his criticism of tax deals in Providence.

18. Just your standard arrest of offbeat candidates for governor and attorney general, who stand accussed of possessing 48 pounds of marijuana.

19. Three New York Times reporters spent month examining the Trump family fortune. The summary of their findings: "The president has long sold himself as a self-made billionaire, but a Times investigation found that he received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through tax dodges in the 1990s." (Equally intriguing is the story of how three reporters spent more than a year uncovering the tale.) The findings offer a sharp contrast to the Trump supporters who perceive him as a self-made man and who pointed to his business background as a key reason for backing Trump in 2016.

20. Republican U.S. Senante candidate Robert Flanders' first television ad attempted to paint Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse as a one-note guy fixated on climate change. It's worth noting, though, that the one question asked by a Roger Williams University student, Kaylee Pugliese, during WPRI-TV's recent gubernatorial debate focused on the threat posed by rising seas. Meanwhile, reports the New York Times' Trip Gabriel, "In an election year that has included alarming portents of global warming — record wildfires in the West, 500-year floods in the East, a president walking away from a global climate accord — the one place that climate change rarely appears at all is in the campaigns of candidates for the House and Senate. The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans running for federal office do not mention the threat of global warming in digital or TV ads, in their campaign literature or on social media. Environmental activists and political scientists say it is a reflection of the issue’s perpetual low ranking among voters, even Democratic voters, and of the intense polarization along party lines that has developed around global warming, even as the science of human-caused warming has become overwhelming." Whitehouse, of course, has had a sharp focus on climate change as a senator, making more than 200 speeches on the subject.

21. The ACLU of RI weighed in this week in the ongoing battle between Patricia Morgan, outgoing GOP leader in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. Via news release: "The ACLU of Rhode Island [on Wednesday] issued a critical analysis of the Attorney General’s (AG) response to State Representative Patricia Morgan’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request for documents pertaining to the AG’s expenditure of more than $50M in funds from the settlement of a recent Google lawsuit with the State. Representative Morgan has thus far been charged more than $3,700 for partial release of the records, some of which are heavily redacted. The ACLU’s analysis highlights “the clear need for legislation to strengthen the law.” The ten-page analysis expressed particular concern over the complete redaction of a seemingly innocuous document addressing a purchase order for lapel pins. The AG’s justification for this wholesale redaction was that APRA allows public bodies to withhold any documents that are considered “memoranda.” The ACLU’s report claims that no public body has every interpreted the cited exemption “in this extraordinary manner.” The report also took issue with a pattern of redacting invoice and purchase numbers from hundreds of documents. While they are seemingly minor, the ACLU noted that those redactions make it difficult to follow requisition orders across documents, which Rep. Morgan expressed an interest in doing, and likely added substantially to the fees she was charged, since APRA allows agencies to charge for the time it takes to redact records."

22. Give a listen to this love letter to Rhode Island from Llewellyn King, who traveled the world before settling here, so he's got a strong foundation for drawing comparisons.

23. Go Sox!

TGIF: 23 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media
TGIF: 23 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media