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1) Go outside on a nice spring day in Rhode Island and you might be able to forget the pandemic for a few seconds. As the state moves ahead with the initial relaxation of COVID-19-related restrictions, becoming the first state in the region to do so, Gov. Gina Raimondo said the time is right. She points to a good stock of PPE, plans for a significant expansion of testing, a plateau in some key health indicators, and how the healthcare system has enough capacity to respond to a rise in cases. "I am leading from a position of confidence and strength and quite frankly, trust in the people of Rhode Island," Raimondo said Thursday. “I am trusting that people are going to do the right thing and use good judgment,” by wearing masks, maintaining social distance from others, and limiting their social contacts. Moving ahead, the proof will be in the pudding. If cases surge amid fewer restrictions, elected officials like Raimondo will be accused of moving too quickly. But if things stay stable, the process of slowly reopening Rhode Island’s economy will continue. For many, the longing for that is intense, particularly considering how more than 200,000 Rhode Islanders have applied for unemployment benefits since early March. But across the U.S. more than half the states don’t meet White House guidelines for reopening, and the nature of the virus suggests that America’s recovery will be a long time coming, with a series of stops and starts.

2) The May Revenue and Estimating Conference has found that state revenue is off by $280.9 million for the current fiscal year, and off by $515.8 for the fiscal year starting July 1. The House Finance Committee plans to kick off the budget process with a meeting at the Statehouse next Thursday, with some degree of remote testimony. The full House is not expected to gather until June, with smaller groups of reps taking turns in the chamber to accommodate social distancing.

3) Related: U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is proposing a new $600 billion relief package geared toward states, cities and towns. Reed said his proposal “makes it clear that lost revenue is a cost” and offers greater spending flexibility than the earlier CARES package. The senator points to a Slate analysis indicating that five of the top seven with COVID-19 related deficits are red states. “Nobody is immune from this crisis,” Reed said in a statement. “It’s great to hear some of my Republican colleagues urge flexibility for the funds currently available, but that’s not going to fill the widening budget black hole facing governors and mayors around the country. They’ll need more cash than we’ve provided so far. President Trump’s lazy, laissez-faire approach to this pandemic is leading the country toward mass layoffs, education cuts, and huge tax increases. We can’t let that happen. I urge Republicans to work with us to help protect the people they represent. Failure to respond in a timely manner will only result in more layoffs and a longer recession.”

4) About 60 of the 66 RI House Democrats took part in a closed virtual caucus Thursday via the Zoom video-conferencing app. Sources say the top concerns expressed by reps include the staff and patients at nursing homes and the fiscal challenges faced by the state’s cities and towns. Rep. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) delivered impassioned remarks describing the coronavirus-related hurt of people in her district, at a time when some people are fortunate to be distanced from the impact. A couple of reps floated the idea of overriding the governor’s emergency rule, but most believed such a move would cause far more harm than good. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello led the meeting from state Democratic HQ in Warwick, joined by Democratic caucus Chairwoman Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Providence). Mattiello outlined some of his views a bit earlier in the week during a conversation with Laure White of the Providence Chamber. The speaker said he opposes tax increases, hopes to maintain his signature phaseout of the car tax, expects a slow recovery of Rhode Island’s economy, and is strongly against voting the budget after the July 1 start of the next fiscal year. “Not doing a budget is not an answer, and it’s just a way to run out of money real fast,” Mattiello said.

5) T. Kevin Olasanoye, the former executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, was the person who invited Democratic state reps to the caucus via email. That shows how Olasanoye, who left in 2019 for a post with New Jersey Democrats, is advising the party while Ann Gooding serves as interim ED for the RI Dems. Meanwhile, Olasanoye’s successor, Cyd McKenna, who left in February to work on Mike Bloomberg’s ill-fated presidential campaign, is now chief of staff for the Collective PAC, which promotes African-American candidates like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. (Bloomberg has donated $2 million to support related efforts to register African-American voters in swing states.) 

6) Gov. Raimondo, who has long shown a penchant for attracting national media attention, has kept up a steady stream of media appearance with sources from outside in Rhode Island in recent weeks. She’s been on the BBC, CNN, WBGH’s Greater Boston, and Freakonomics Radio, to name a few. During a post-briefing conference call this week, I asked the governor why she’s making these appearances when she’s busy leading Rhode Island’s COVID-19 response. “It’s purposeful,” she said, pointing to how an earlier appearance with Wolf Blitzer, in which she outlined Rhode Island’s struggle to get PPE, sparked a call that night from the head of a large diagnostics company. Perhaps in part since little Rhode Island is leading the nation in per-capita testing, Raimondo’s office gets a lot of out of town media inquiries – about 20 to 40 a week. She said she rejects almost all of these. “But if I think there’s going to be value for Rhode Island,” Raimondo said, she’s happy to talk. Of course, the governor has also been touted for years as a Democrat to watch, so it’s not that surprising that she gets occasional mentions in outlets like The New York Times.

7) As the story of the pandemic developed in mid-March, I thought it would be a good idea to profile RI Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, an infectious disease specialist who has been front and center in leading the state’s response. My hope was to shadow her for a few hours to get a behind-the-scenes-look at things, but I could only get a quick interview, back when daily briefings still being done in-person at the state Administration Building on Smith Hill. A lack of access doesn’t necessarily impede a good profile, as evidenced by a long-ago piece on the young Arthur Gregg Sulzberger. But in this case, my efforts seemed better spent elsewhere -- until the confluence of Central Falls’ high infection rate, Alexander-Scott’s longstanding advocacy for health equity, and the challenge of making progress on that equity, emerged as a new focal point. According to DOH data, the infection rate in Central Falls is about 18 times that in Portsmouth, the town with the lowest rate. For a different finding, check Justin Katz. (Post-script: the Globe’s Ed Fitzpatrick smartly pursued the idea of doing a profile of NAS. Since I knew I might veer back in that direction, I avoided reading Ed’s story – until after my report was done this week – and of course he did an excellent job.)

8) “Scandal finds money,” as former RI House Minority Leader Robert Watson once presciently observed ahead of the 38 Studios debacle. It was a timeless observation: whether it’s related to the war in Iraq or the pandemic, there are those who try to reap profits in illicit ways. Now, a Rhode Island man is among the first in the nation charged for stimulus fraud.

9) During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about eight years ago, then-Chairman Michael McCaffrey (D-Warwick) praised the tradition of Rhode Island lawmakers becoming judges. The strong legislative-judicial link can be seen in other ways, including the various legal counsel who have moved up to the bench and how former Senate President Joseph Montalbano, now a Superior Court judge, gets a very warm reception whenever he returns to the Statehouse. RI GOP National Committeeman Steve Frias took up a related theme when he submitted a 12-page letter to the Ethics Commission regarding Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata’s interest in becoming a state Supreme Court justice: “This is not about the qualities or qualifications of Senator Lynch Prata to be a judge,” Frias wrote. “This is about requiring all legislators to follow an ethical requirement: the revolving door prohibition. If Lynch Prata is permitted to seek and be appointed to the Supreme Court, legislators who are more powerful and less principled than her, more questionable and less qualified than her will seek a seat on the Supreme Court in the future. In recent years, Rhode Island has seen powerful legislators, who were attorneys, engage in unethical conduct. If the revolving door to the Supreme Court is open to these type of legislators, one can imagine the type of unethical lengths they would go to secure themselves a position at the Supreme Court if they wanted it. Furthermore, once the Ethics Commission interprets the law to permit sitting legislators to seek a Supreme Court appointment, undoubtedly other legislators will seek to extend that interpretation to other courts. The more often the revolving door swings open for legislators, the more likely the trading of votes for judgeships will creep back into the legislature. Rhode Island cannot move forward by going backwards on ethics.”

10) Three takes on the Democratic side of the presidential race: 1) Phoebe, the smartest dog in Newport, doesn’t think Joe Biden has what it takes: “Joe Biden is a disaster. He’s too mediocre, too burdened by his past failures as a presidential candidate, as a Senate committee chairman, as a person of no memorable ideas, no ability to inspire, encourage and excite voters. Yes, he seemed a good vice president for President Barack Obama – that's because Obama is that good. Biden will be outgunned, out-talked, outfoxed and outspent by Donald Trump, and the result will be that early in the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 3, the world as we know it will come to an ugly, tortured and nasty end. We need to get rid of Biden, and tomorrow isn’t too soon.” 2) Former Obama advisers David Alexrod and David Plouffe on Biden needs to do: “In order to break through and be heard, he will have to up the tempo of his campaign, fully utilize his army of powerful surrogates and embrace a new suite of virtual, data-driven tools and creative tactics.” 3) Brown U alum Anna Galland, a former head of the progressive group MoveOn, via Twitter: “Glad to see this endorsement from @IndivisibleTeam for @JoeBiden I agree: I believe Biden is compassionate, capable, will listen & grow, & deserves our collective support. And he needs the grassroots & visionary progressive flank of the Dem coalition. Gotta unify, fight, & win.”

11) Thomas Hodgson, the controversial sheriff of Bristol County, Massachusetts, believes he was on the right side of a recent disturbance at the county jail. For now, Massachusetts AG’s office is looking into conflicting claims about what happened.

12) RIDOT says more than 400 people took part in a virtual town hall this week about the remaking of the Henderson Bridge linking Providence and East Providence. DOT says the plan is meant to calm traffic, accommodate different users and make more land available for development. Six lanes will be cut to three, with two of those going from EP to Providence, and there will be a roundabout on the EP side. Some transit activists remain skeptical about the merits of the $88.5 million redesign, believing that it maintains too much of an emphasis on cars at the expense of other uses.

13) Via AP: “Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming are not epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet these four states scored big this spring when Congress pumped out direct federal aid, while the two hardest-hit states, New York and New Jersey, got comparatively little given the vast numbers of cases and deaths they have seen.”

14) Why fake video and audio might not be that effective in spreading disinformation.

15) Critics of Gov. Raimondo’s approach to responding to the pandemic plan a motorized protest outside the Statehouse from noon to 2 p.m. Monday. The organizers and participants include former RI GOP chairs Mark ZaccariaMark Smiley and talk-show host John DePetro.

16) Congrats to Brown University alum Ira Glass and his team at This American Life for winning a Pulitzer. You can hear This American Life on The Public’s Radio every weekend. And at the end of each show, Ira mentions our GM, Torey Malatia, as a bit of a homage to their time spent working together in Chicago.

17) Four tough issues with distance learning, which could gone on for years in some places.

18) Food maven David Dadekian shares word that Yacht Club Bottling Works is getting back into the political spirit for the 2020 season: “This year people have the choice of two new Limited Release flavors to show their presidential preference: Donald’s Big League Punch and Joe’s Berry-Blue Lemonade. As with the last presidential Soda Pop Poll, Yacht Club will release the results of the poll this fall to see which political pop New Englanders like best.” Meanwhile, RI native Pete Wells contributed to a NYT story looking at the pandemic’s toll on restaurants. Excerpt: “As valuable as independent restaurants are to their cities, though, owners say that most of the federal relief passed so far does not take their needs into account. The government has shown little interest in compelling or helping insurers to pay claims for business interruption caused by the pandemic, something restaurant owners desperately want.”