It’s all over but the crying, celebrating and who knows what else. Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As always, I welcome your tips and comments, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

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1) In the end, Democrat Joe Biden scored a big win over Republican Donald Trump in Rhode Island, with 59.1 percent of the vote, compared with 38.9 percent for Trump. Despite the pandemic, Rhode Island smashed the previous record for voting, with an unofficial total of 507,052 votes (turnout rate of 63 percent) compared with about 475,000 in 2008. Biden edged Barack Obama’s tally from ’08, while Trump got almost 16,000 more votes than he did in ’16 (although his proportion of the vote remained the same). While Democrats are over the moon over Biden’s presidential win, Trump attracted about 47 percent of the popular vote. Perhaps he’s the apotheosis of the celebrity candidate – someone who would have a sliver of the appeal without Twitter, his years on Apprentice, and a questionable narrative about his business career. Yet Trump once again won traditionally Democratic Johnston (54.1 percent) and a string of other Rhode Island communities. If the outgoing president is as bad as Democrats insist, why did almost half of voters across the nation support him? “I think it underscores the polarization of the American society,” U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said on Political Roundtable this week, “and President Trump has exploited this polarization in a very sophisticated way.” Reed said he believes a Biden presidency would help restore the center in American politics. Yet sluggish growth in wages and economic anxiety have helped fuel movements from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party. Without a brighter sense about the future, political parties will continue to reap the whirlwind.

2) In a Biden administration, “I will not be defense secretary,” Reed said flatly after our Roundtable taping. The senator’s lack of equivocation is unsurprising, given frequent speculation over the years about his possible place in a Democratic administration – and Reed’s demonstrated commitment to remaining in the Senate. The real question is posed by Gov. Gina Raimondo’s potential place in a Biden administration. One significant factor is how Lt. Gov. Dan McKee would take over if Raimondo departs -- and instantly boost his chances for retaining the governor’s office in 2022, thanks in part to a greatly heightened ability to raise campaign money. There appears to be little love lost between Raimondo and McKee, so the governor would almost certainly assess the balance between possible opportunities in D.C. with the effect that her departure would have in RI. On the flip side, Raimondo’s chances of joining the Biden team are on the rise since the president-elect won’t want to pull any Democrats from the Senate. (So much for Elizabeth Warren as Treasury secretary, and Joe Kennedy III running for her seat in Massachusetts.)

3) In seconding a nomination for House Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi to become the next speaker of the Rhode Island House, Rep. Katherine Kazarian (D-East Providence) didn’t mince words: “Joe has the utmost integrity and he is committed to making our chamber a more professional, welcoming and open-minded workplace. Under his leadership, the days of being bullied and ostracized are over.” Given the niceties of legislative culture, that was an unusually candid rebuke of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who faced criticism, particularly from female reps, for his handling of an alleged harassment situation involving former Rep. Cale Keable. Following the caucus Thursday at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick – the same place where Mattiello earlier this year staged one of the best-attended fundraisers of his tenure – there was a palpable sense of relief, even happiness for the female reps in attendance; they believe Shekarchi and his majority leader, Chris Blazejewski (D-Providence) will set a new tone and improve the culture in the House. For his part, Shekarchi said it’s too early to commit to any specific reforms, but he promises to listen to his members and to value their views. The amount of actual change in the House is a subject that bears watching. Another is the extent to which Shekarchi -- who has accrued few, if any, enemies in decades in politics and is known for his genial, even-handed disposition -- is changed by the crucible of the speakership.

4) It’s easy to forget, given the welter of controversies that accrued during Mattiello’s six years on the rostrum, but his speakership initially flowered as a new era of good feeling. He won plaudits for emphasizing Rhode Island’s business climate, after the fumbling leadership and corruption meltdown of Gordon Fox. In 2015, Mattiello’s first full year as speaker, the House passed the budget with broad GOP support and – even more incredible – while there was still daylight. But more gum stuck to his shoes the longer he was around, to the point where Mattiello squeaked through with an 85-vote victory over Republican Steve Frias in 2016. Various reasons explain why Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung scored an 18-point victory over Mattiello this week: HD15 leans conservative, SEIU 1199NE campaigned aggressively against Mattiello, he probably lost a lot of votes due to the abortion issue, and of course, the negative headlines arising from Jeff Britt’s money-laundering trial, including how Frias was surveilled by a PI working for Mattiello’s campaign in ’16. In sum, HD15 voters had had enough. Even their local representative’s hold on what is sometimes called the most powerful post in state government was not enough to get them to vote for Nicholas Mattiello. As far as the soon-to-be former speaker’s future, don’t be surprised if he lands as a successful lawyer-lobbyist, just like his friend, former speaker William Murphy, the only speaker in recent history to leave on his own terms and without scandal.

5) The state name change (from ‘Rhode Island and Providence Plantations’, to ‘Rhode Island’) narrowly passed this year, 10 years after it soundly defeated. The proposal had strong support from Gov. Raimondo and a savvy strategist in Erich Haslehurst, who quarterbacked the campaign for passage. “We’re deeply grateful to Rhode Island voters for recognizing the importance of this historic change,” Neil D. Steinberg, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, which supported the drive, said in statement from the Yes on 1 campaign. “Words matter, the action of voting matters, and it’s clear Rhode Islanders understand that and are ready to move forward together.”

6) Are reports of Rhode Island’s super-scary $900 million deficit greatly exaggerated? Yes, an observation first noted by Ted Nesi and backed up by Michael DiBiase, executive director of the RI Public Expenditure Council, who commented, “Yes, the budget deficit is a large problem, but $900M is a large exaggeration of the problem.” Some Statehouse sources believe the actual figure could be closer to $500 million, a bit more in line with a standard deficit. If so, that may lessen the clash between progressive and establishment legislative Democrats on whether to raise revenue (through tax hikes on the affluent) or cut back spending, possibly on important needs.

7) Well, then, what about a lame-duck speaker presiding over the House session to close out this red ink? While speakers are conventionally elected on the first day of January session in odd-numbered years, would it make sense to expedite Joe Shekarchi’s election as speaker so that he might lead the budget debate? Here’s how Shekarchi answered when I asked about this after his caucus Thursday: “That is not a decision that I would make. I’d do that in consultation with Speaker Mattiello. It’s something that I have not discussed in any great detail with him. I think it depends on when we come back and what we come back for.”

8) Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Barrington) may have gotten only one vote – from herself – during the House Democratic caucus. But she’s continuing to speak out about where she sees the need for reform in the House and elsewhere (full statement here): “Restoration of the Committee Chair and membership appointments that were stripped in the 2019-2020 session as a result of the 2018 Speaker vote; Gender and racial equity, and inclusion across leadership and committees; Reform of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services (JCLS) so that the staff of the State House remains separate from elections and the political workings of candidates; Reform of Committee processes to empower Committee Chairs and depoliticize the decisions of which bills are heard in committee and which bills are voted out of committees; Refinement of the legislative process so that all substantive bills receive a timely and fair hearing and vote; Office space for all House members; Improved communication with House members regarding anticipated schedules; A democratic Speaker election process without undue influence on House members for their votes; Commitment to budgets that are not balanced on the backs of the vulnerable in our state.”

9) [update of a previous item] Senate President Dominick Ruggerio may be the longest-serving member of the General Assembly, but he still has some tricks up his sleeve. In the face of a progressive leadership challenge during a 5 pm Friday caucus at the Providence Marriott, Ruggerio not only had the winning votes in the bag (natch), but he and Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey unveiled their support for a series of left-leaning issues, including a $15 minimum wage, budget relief for distressed communities, “a more equitable tax structure,” and adult cannabis use.

What’s more, with legislative leaders facing criticism for an absence of meaningful General Assembly activity going back months, Ruggerio detailed plans for use of an off-site chamber starting in January at the Rhode Island Convention Center. “We are in the process of securing off-site accommodations in the spacious and well-ventilated Convention Center to enable us to meet regularly, and safely,” he said. In other business, Ruggerio announced a series of new committee chairs, including Sen. Cynthia Coyne of Barrington for Judiciary (succeeding the departing Erin Lynch Prata); Sen. Ryan Pearson for Finance (succeeding the departing Billy Conley).

At the outset, it was clear Senate leaders would not call the caucus if they didn’t have the votes to maintain their posts. That said, Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Providence), made her case for Senate president, and a late-entry, Sen-elect Jeanine Calkin of Warwick, campaigned for the role of majority leader. If nothing else, these challenges show how the level of progressive energy is rising on Smith Hill, possibly setting the stage for dynamic and more frequent debates on a range of policy issues, and moving the legislature to the left.

10) That change notwithstanding, the notable thing about the general election this week was the degree of stasis in General Assembly seats. Republicans are set for a net gain of one in their nine-member House presence, thanks to victories by Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung and former Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick), and a loss by Rep. Jack Lyle of Lincoln, a Republican-turned-independent. The good news for Republicans, who maintain a five-member presence in the Senate, is that beyond Lyle’s seat, they didn’t lose any races.

11) Speaking of Fenton-Fung, she’s a bright spot for the long-suffering Rhode Island GOP. Speaker Mattiello campaigned on the notion that if Fenton-Fung won, she’d just be part of the small GOP presence in the House. But she’s gained a bigger profile by defeating the speaker, and is not shy when it comes to making herself heard. You can listen to the full audio from Fenton-Fung’s post-Election Day news conference in this post, and here’s a backgrounder on her that I wrote earlier this year. Fenton-Fung will also help to keep in the news of her husband, outgoing Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, as he mulls the possibility, in 2022, of a third bid for governor.

12) The House Democratic caucus on Thursday had been over for a short time when the RI Political Caucus announced that Rep-elect Brandon Potter (D-Cranston), who ran as Co-op candidate, was being bounced from the group. The offense? Supporting Joe Shekarchi, “Mattiello’s number 2 and part of his leadership team. The Co-op ran on getting new leadership in the GA, therefore Brandon is no longer associated with the Co-op.” Shekarchi, of course, is new leadership. And it’s worth remembering that legislative leaders, even those with a more conservative bearing, have supported some progressive measures to maintain backing among their ideologically diverse coalitions.

Potter, meanwhile, issued a statement on what happened, saying in part that his commitment was to not back Mattiello for speaker: “That is what informed my decision in last night’s House Democratic Caucus meeting. Before deciding to vote in support of Joe Shekarchi for House Speaker and Chris Blazejewski as Majority Leader I spoke with both about the need for a change of culture in our State House and a shift in our policy priorities. Based on their commitment in those conversations to passing substantial rules reforms, I felt confident that the best approach to keep my campaign promise of making real change in people’s lives was to make a good-faith effort to work with this leadership team and the dozens of progressive legislators who are supporting them. At no point during these conversations did anyone attempt to intimidate, threaten, or pressure me in anyway. In fact, it was just the opposite -- I was assured there would be no retribution for any decision that I made. I understand that my friends in the RI Political Coop would have preferred me to abstain from this vote and outwardly oppose leadership as a symbolic gesture. That would have been an easier path for me to take, and if I thought it was the right decision and would have moved us closer to the changes we need -- universal healthcare, a state-level Green New Deal, and a living wage for every Rhode Islander -- I would have done just that, but I don’t think that is the case.”

13) In The Wire, the great HBO crime drama, Tommy Carcetti learns the parable of the bowls of dung: after staging a dramatic upset victory to become mayor of Baltimore, the realization dawns that he’s inherited a crappy situation with little real opportunity to change it. So while Democrats may be elated about ousting President Trump, getting certain stuff done could be between difficult and impossible if the GOP maintains control of the Senate. Under that scenario, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said, “We’ll have to work with [Mitch McConnell] and through him and around him as necessary to try to get to things done. One of the things we’ve seen is a lack of concern with a lot of issues that are important to people. I mean, they spent a huge amount of time trying to undo the Affordable Care Act. That Act will be before the Supreme Court on November 10. If the Affordable Care Act is taken out by the Republicans, it’ll be chaos in our healthcare insurance system. The question is, would he [McConnell] rise up and try to repair the damage he’s done? I hope he does.” Democrats also face crosswinds on redistricting and possible resistance on getting their choices into the administration.

14) Former Brown University professor Darrell West (from 2019) on why he favors eliminating the Electoral College. Excerpt: “Several developments have led me to alter my opinion on this institution: income inequality, geographic disparities, and how discrepancies between the popular vote and Electoral College are likely to become more commonplace given economic and geographic inequities.”

15) If Rhode Island wants to reel in the bite of payday loans – which critics say harm poor borrowers -- Virginia offers an example of how to do that.

16) Massachusetts lawmakers are now talking about taking up a bill to protect abortion rights. Rhode Island passed a law on that issue in 2019.

17) Tough election for former Rhode Islanders: Martha McSally lost her U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, while Sara Gideon unsuccessfully challenged GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in Maine. Meanwhile, another former Ocean Stater, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was among the small number of Republicans publicly rejecting President Trump’s false commentary about the election.

18) Back in 2010, Patrick Lynch offered some prophetic words during his short-lived run for governor: polls are like perfume – lovely to admire, but hazardous to swallow. So after the presidential election turned into another nail-biter, some pollsters were taking it on the chin. But while cell phones certainly have upended the polling world, many pollsters had predicted something between a blowout and a close race. And depending on how things end up, Joe Biden might have the same number of electoral votes initially won by Donald Trump in 2016.