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STORY OF THE WEEK: Did you hear about the accomplished out of town woman who moved into Rhode Island in pursuit of a top political office? That description might conjure thoughts of Ashley Kalus, who formally announced her GOP run for governor this week, but it can be applied just as easily to Sarah Morgenthau, one of the many Democrats running for the seat being vacated next year by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin. (Morgenthau grew up in RI, although she has spent years in the DC orbit.) Some of the CD2 candidates – Democratic General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Republican state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz – do not currently reside in the district. We can wonder if these are serious concerns for voters. What do they consider more important – how long Kalus has lived in Rhode Island, or how she comes across and what she has to say? (As one longtime local observer notes, Mitt Romney and Ron Matchley enjoyed electoral success as transplants in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, respectively). Congressional candidates must reside in the state in which they seek office, but they are not legally required to live in their district. Magaziner and de la Cruz each reside close to CD2 (both say they are seeking a home in the district), so other issues will probably overshadow the question of localism. For all the intense attention paid to Twitter and political minutiae by reporters, staffers and others, most voters won’t tune in to what is happening until later in the year. In the case of Kalus, it’s worth remembering how Republican John Robitaille – hardly a brand name in Rhode Island politics – came *very* close to winning the race for governor in 2010. The global stage is marked by heightened uncertainty right now, and who knows what things will change between now and Rhode Island’s September 13 primary? The ability to make a compelling case (along with having the requisite funds to reach voters – see another item later in this column) arguably matters more to Rhode Islanders than whether someone was until recently a resident of Illinois or greater Washington, D.C.

MCKEEWORLD: When it comes to the Democratic race for governor, Gov. Dan McKee had a mixed week. The latest report from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training pointed to an ongoing economic recovery, with the state unemployment rate falling to 3.9% in February, down from 4.2% in January, and a rise in the number of employed Rhode Islanders by more than 100,000 since April 2020. But the move by the FBI to join an investigation of the controversial contract awarded to the ILO Group by McKee’s administration offers more grist for criticism by McKee’s rivals. (McKee’s office did not respond to a request for comment in response to criticism by the state GOP.)

CAMPAIGN CASH: Democrat Sarah Morgenthau is expected to post a big fundraising number in an upcoming filing. The theory of the case for some Morgenthau supporters is that capacity will help her to emerge as a top rival to General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, the only Democratic candidate in CD2 who has won two statewide elections and no slouch himself when it comes to fundraising. In related news, another Democratic candidate, former state Rep. Ed Pacheco, dropped out of the race this week. Pacheco, a former state Democratic Party chairman, pointed to his conclusion that “it would be extraordinarily difficult to raise the money in this election cycle.” Another Democrat, Joy Fox, echoed Pacheco in lamenting the influence of money in politics: “When millionaires can just move in and decide they’ll speak for us, how can we expect everyday Americans to make our voices heard?” (Fox was a longtime staffer for Gina Raimondo, who prioritized the importance of fundraising during her campaigns for treasurer and governor.) When it comes to leveling the influence of money in elections, the outlook appears bleak, in part since court decisions have undermined efforts to create more financial parity in state elections. Morgenthau, meanwhile, was accompanied during a Statehouse visit this week by an experienced local political hand, lobbyist George Zainyeh, who served as chief of staff during Lincoln Chafee’s time as governor. Zainyeh said he considers Morgenthau the best candidate in the CD2 race.

SCOTUS: Rhode Island had time in the spotlight during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, mostly in the form of U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. When Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham framed part of his questioning on faith as an appropriate response to an earlier hearing featuring SCOTUS Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Whitehouse cried foul over the most persistent line of questions from his GOP colleagues. “So what’s the game here?” Whitehouse tweeted. “1. It’s an ugly dog whistle. 2. It’s the convergence of right-wing donors’ anti-government agenda and a need to distract from a qualified, experienced, skill nominee.” With a key Democratic swing vote, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, now backing Brown Jackson, her confirmation appears assured.

MEET ASHLEY: How Ashley Kalus translates as a flesh and blood GOP candidate for governor remains to be seen, as does her specific approach for tackling different issues. For now, Kalus, 39, offers strong academic credentials, experience in business and politics, and according to her bio, the fighting spirit of a Golden Gloves boxing champion. In an open letter that accompanied her media rollout, Kalus said she would look to different states for smart policy – Florida for tax competitiveness, Ohio and Pennsylvania for boosting affordable housing, and Massachusetts for improving public schools.

CANNABIS: Here are a few highlights from State Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston), Senate sponsor of the bill to legalize and regulate marijuana, on related questions during an appearance on Political Roundtable.

Equity: “Starting off with a fund, funded by the hybrid fees that will [come] from the nine licenses for compassion centers – either the three that exist or the six that are won in a lottery – sets up a fund with more than a million dollars to subsidize assisting people with the social equity and the co-op licenses. And I think that’s a great start. And going forward indefinitely, licensing fees will also support those efforts and keep revenue for potential future licenses to do the same.”

Expungement: With advocates calling for automatic expungement for past possession convictions, and possibly some other marijuana-related charges, “I think we’re committed to as automatic as Rhode Island law will allow, and what the Rhode Island courts and the attorney general say they can do.”

Why the bill was written to offer opt-out, rather than opt-in for local communities: “Most communities want it [a cannabis shop]. And so it’s just a matter of what’s the easier process to have what will be a few out of 39 communities to opt out or have everyone start a process that they’re not necessarily interested in.”

Separation of Powers: With the McKee administration opposing the legislature’s approach for forming a Cannabis Control Commission, Miller opposes seeking a state Supreme Court advisory opinion on the issue: “I don’t think we need a court to chime in on this,” since a court addressed a similar issue, possibly involving the Coastal Resources Management Council, “and we designed the legislation based on that decision.”

REDISTRICTING: Harrison Tuttle, head of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC, is among the progressives who criticized the General Assembly’s redistricting process. “The redistricting committee ignored our testimony,” Tuttle told the Cranston Herald. “Months after I had declared my intention to run for office, my street was surgically carved out of Miller’s district,” and into that of Sen. Kendra Anderson (D-Warwick). Asked about this, Miller rejected the idea that this reflects critics’ view of redistricting as an incumbent-protection plan. “There’s no way that I had any influence or anybody I know had any influence on specifically redistricting anybody out, including him, because I don’t know where he lived and I still don’t know where he lived.” Miller said part of Cranston that used to be in his district became part of Anderson’s district because of the latest Census and how he advocated for not making changes to Pawtuxet Village.

HUMAN SERVICES: Miller said a legislative review on revising the structure of the Executive Officer of Health and Human Services – which encompasses the state departments of Health; Human Services; Children, Youth and Families; and Behavior Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals – is approaching completion.

MEDIA: Pulitzer winners Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi will be the headliners for the annual Taricani Lecture Series on First Amendment Rights, coming up at 5 pm on Tuesday, April 5, via URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media. CNN’s John King, a URI, alum, will moderate the discussion (free and open to the public) on “Finding the Truth: Investigative Journalism in the Digital Era.” At the Tampa Bay Times, McGrory and Bedi – both now with ProPublica – exposed a high rate of fatalities at a pediatric heart surgery center. They later won a local reporting Pulitzer for reporting on a Florida sheriff who used data-driven policing to predict “potential criminals.”

TAX FIGHT: The battle has resumed over whether Rhode Island’s wealthiest residents – people with an adjusted gross annual income above $500,000 -- should pay three percentage points more in the state income tax, or whether they would send the wrong signal for the state’s business climate. Supporters say this would affect a small number of people who are unlikely to move elsewhere while making the state’s tax policy more equitable. Opponents generally point to Rhode Island’s longtime status as an economic laggard, and they say more taxes for the wealthy would be a bad move. For now, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi is reserving judgment, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said it’s not the right time to hike taxes, while Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey – facing another challenge from progressive Democrat Jennifer Rourke -- backs the plan to boost taxes.

CITY HAUL: Three of the four Democrats running to succeed Jorge Elorza as mayor of Providence – Gonzalo Cuervo, Nirva LaFortune and Brett Smiley – took part in a forum at RI College this week. Here’s my recap.

RI POLI-MEDIA PEOPLE ON THE MOVE: Kristy dos Reis, the genial and hardworking comms director for Attorney General Peter Neronha, is leaving for a gig doing comms for the provost's office at Brown University …. Congrats to one-time WPRO reporter Allison Gaito, a Barrington native, who is returning from the Lone Star State to be the news director for WLNE-TV, ABC 6.

A NEW BREEZE: Via my colleague Ben Berke, Gov. McKee this week announced legislation that would more than double the amount of renewable energy purchased by the state from wind farms being developed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

KICKER: Knowing you could still have a beer, glass of wine or stiff drink helped to offer a bit of psychic relief as the pandemic settled over America. That’s part of why liquor stores were declared an essential business in Rhode Island. As Elliott Fishbein of Town Wine & Spirits in East Providence told me back around April 2020, “Honestly, if they closed all the liquor stores in Rhode Island, I think it would be an issue for the police. I think there would be a strong possibility of some civil unrest, people trying to break in. It could become that kind of severe backlash, not that I would want to think it would happen, but I almost guarantee it would.” But a new study shows that alcohol-related deaths climbed by 25% in 2020, underscoring how COVID caused a series of adverse health impacts beyond the virus itself.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org