Nesi’s Notes: Feb. 3

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Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. How much will money matter in this year’s race for governor? That question looms large for those trying to handicap the November election, first and foremost because Governor Raimondo has such a massive advantage. The Democratic incumbent’s campaign finished 2017 with more than $3.3 million in the bank, about 14 times more than her leading Republican rival, Allan Fung – and that was after she shelled out $300,000 on polling and other expenses. Some perspective: at the same point in the 2006 cycle, incumbent Don Carcieri had $514,000 in the bank, and challenger Charlie Fogarty had $334,000. Money is far from the only important factor in politics, and there are only so many ways to spend it in a small state. But there’s no denying that level of cash will give Raimondo’s team more options and flexibility down the stretch. That’s hardly the end of the story, though. The eventual Republican nominee will have the option of tapping into up to $1.18 million in public matching funds, as Fung did in 2014. The Republican Governors Association raised significantly more money than its Democratic counterpart in 2017, and a small investment by the national GOP could have an outsized impact in tiny Rhode Island. Super PACs and other outside groups that don’t even exist yet could appear overnight and drop big money into the race. And in this unsettled and highly charged political environment, some of the old rules may no longer apply. “I doubt any gubernatorial race will be won or lost this cycle because of money,” the Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy tweeted this week.

2. Think $3.3 million is a lot? Over in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker is reportedly looking to raise $30 million for his re-election bid. Of course, he’s also running in a much larger state; adjusting for size, Baker’s goal would give him about $5 per state resident, while Raimondo currently has a bit more than $3 per resident.

3. Job approval watch: new polls of Rhode Island voters released this week put Governor Raimondo’s rating at 40% and President Trump’s at 32%. Key caveat: neither poll was a traditional survey conducted over a few days to get a current snapshot. The Raimondo number, from Morning Consult, came from online polling done over three months last fall. The Trump number, from Gallup, came from telephone polling on landline and cells, but was an average for all of 2017. (Neither firm released detailed crosstabs showing the makeup of their samples.)

4. The Fung and Raimondo campaigns are trading barbs over crime.

5. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio is our guest on this week’s Newsmakers, and we cover plenty of ground – not least his seemingly strained relationship with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Ruggerio suggests reports of House-Senate feuding are “overblown,” and he sees plenty of room for compromise. The North Providence Democrat also said he expects the Senate to approve a line-item veto bill this session; in addition to sports betting, he’s all in favor of Rhode Island getting into the online gaming business; and senators are concerned about the Medicaid cuts Governor Raimondo proposed in her budget. And he confirmed he’s hired a former Republican state senator, John Pagliarini, as the chamber’s new parliamentarian. As for his own political future, the 69-year-old said he will seek another term in November. After that? “I’ve always said that [leadership] positions don’t have a long shelf life. So I would like to run for Senate president again if I get re-elected, and we’ll see where it goes from there,” he said.

6. One of Rhode Island’s most important news stories this year could be what happens to Care New England. Will the state’s No. 2 hospital chain succeed in becoming an arm of Boston-based giant Partners? This week I sat down with Brown University President Christina Paxson, who opposes the Partners deal and is offering a “Plan B,” as well as Care New England CEO James Fanale, who thinks a Partners tie-up is the best bet for his hospitals and for the state. Don’t miss my 2,000-word opus on this high-stakes debate.

7. Partners also plays a prominent role in this new examination of how big hospital chains use their power, written by Stat’s Casey Ross. And back here in Rhode Island, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey wants tighter rules on how much the state’s hospital executives get paid, including restrictions on “golden parachutes” for Care New England executives if a merger goes through.

8. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “Between the 18-month war he had with Providence’s firefighters, a low-key battle with the school clerical workers and the ongoing dispute with rank-and-file cops over the city’s police reform ordinance, Mayor Elorza has had more than his fair share of labor strife during his first term in office. Next up: the Providence Teachers Union. The teachers plan to picket the mayor’s State of the City address Tuesday after their contracts talk fell apart in recent weeks. Union members have been working without a new contract since Aug. 31, and the two sides don’t appear to be close on an agreement. The mayor points to projected out-year deficits in the school department as one reason he’s hesitant to provide raises to the teachers, but the union has blasted district leadership for seeking raises for high-level central office staff. (The council has not signed off on that plan yet.) Elorza would rather not find himself in a standoff with any union in an election year, but when fewer than 25% of Providence’s teachers actually live in the city, it’s unlikely he’s fearing repercussions at this point.”

9. The Boston Globe’s well-sourced business reporter Jon Chesto suggests Worcester “has a real shot at luring away the PawSox.” And, he notes, “Worcester officials have an important advantage: They don’t need to go through our Legislature.”

10. The ribbon was cut on a high-profile RhodeWorks project before the project was actually finished, Walt Buteau reports.

11. Kim Brace, who for years has been redrawing district lines in Rhode Island following the once-a-decade Census, talks to The New York Times about the dark art of gerrymandering: “Redistricting that begins in 2021 is likely to be even more finely tuned, Mr. Brace said, relying on the explosion of marketing and online information that can infer personal preferences down to individual households.”

12. On this week’s Executive Suite, we have something old and something new. First up is Tracy Daugherty, the new co-owner of Munroe Dairy, along with the milk company’s GM Mat Levin. Munroe Dairy is 137 years old this year and sounds like a throwback to the 1950s, with its fleet of milkmen delivering glass bottles. But it appears to be back on the cutting edge these days, as more people embrace locally grown food and as delivery becomes a bigger part of consumer habits in the age of Amazon. Daugherty, a Barrington resident, said her plans for Munroe include a smartphone app so customers can place orders with their milkmen anytime, anywhere. Second up on the show is Robert Rabiner, chief technology officer at IlluminOss Medical, which just got FDA approval to market its innovative Bone Stabilization System in the U.S. How big is the opportunity for EP-based IlluminOss? Rabiner notes orthopedics represents about a $3.5 billion market nationally, “and we can certainly play in about a $1-billion segment.”

13. Another study finds Rhode Island puts heavy regulations on development.

14. Josh Brumberger, a former top aide to Gina Raimondo who played a key role in her political rise as general treasurer, has a new title: CEO of Utilidata, the Providence tech company that makes software to upgrade the utility grid. Brumberger, who also serves on the RIPTA board, had been serving as the company’s chief commercial officer. His predecessor, Ed Hammersla, talked about Utilidata on Executive Suite last fall.

15. It’s not every day the death of a Rhode Islander merits an editorial in The Washington Post. That honor was paid this week to Ed Lorenzen, the former congressional staffer who died in last week’s tragic house fire in Coventry. “Mr. Lorenzen, in short, was the sort of person Washington always needs but too rarely appreciates,” The Post wrote. Nancy Pelosi was also among those who paid tribute to Lorenzen, whose wonk-tastic Twitter handle was @CaptainPAYGO (a nod to “pay-as-you-go” budget rules).

16. AOL co-founder Steve Case has some ideas for the cities Amazon passed over in its HQ2 sweepstakes.

17. Nick Bilton suggests Facebook is in a downward spiral.

18. “Can Planet Earth feed 10 billion people?”

19. Food for thought: Megan McArdle offers 12 rules for life.

20. GO PATS!

21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. This week on Executive Suite – Munroe Dairy managing partner Tracy Daugherty and general manager Mat Levin; IlluminOss Medical chief technology officer Robert Rabiner. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. And you can subscribe to both shows as iTunes podcasts – click here for Executive Suite and click here for Newsmakers. See you back here next Saturday morning.Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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