Ted Nesi

Nesi's Notes: Dec. 1

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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. Sad news overnight - George H.W. Bush has died at 94.

2. Next year is shaping up to be a notable one for Rhode Island politicians on the national stage. In just eight years, David Cicilline has transformed himself from one of the House's most vulnerable Democrats into one of its most buzzed-about members. His anointing Thursday as DPCC chair signals he will be among those discussed when conversations turn to the Democrats' post-Pelosi leadership, though it remains unclear exactly how important the role will prove to be. This morning in New Orleans, meanwhile, Gina Raimondo became the new chair of the Democratic Governors Association, making her a key player in her party's strategizing for the 2019 and 2020 elections. Raimondo's office has already confirmed that her senior adviser Jon Romano, a savvy operative with experience in D.C. and other states, will be joining the DGA as her point man there. Both positions are noteworthy: Cicilline's appointment is the most prominent for a Rhode Island congressman since Patrick Kennedy ran the DCCC two decades ago, while Raimondo is the first Rhode Island governor in a half-century to lead either the DGA or its Republican counterpart. (The last one? John Chafee, who led the RGA during the tumultuous year of 1968; his successor was a California politician named Ronald Reagan.) One of the challenges for Cicilline and Raimondo will be balancing their responsibilities in Rhode Island with their national work, though arguably that will be a bigger concern for the governor than the congressman, since his job by definition requires him to spend a lot of time out of state. Meantime, the opportunity for both is obvious: a chance to raise their profiles and make a mark nationally.

3. With the 2018 election in the rearview mirror, who will lead Rhode Island's Republican and Democratic state parties next year? The Democrats' incumbent chairman, Rep. Joe McNamara, tells me he plans to seek a new term when the party's state committee meets in early February, noting "the success that we've had in this election." Nick Mattiello, who effectively controls the state party as House speaker, supports another term for McNamara, making it all but a done deal if the Warwick Democrat wants it. The Republicans' situation is more unsettled after the party struggled on Nov. 6. Brandon Bell, who is completing his second two-year term as chair, tells me he is "not likely" to run again. "I'm talking to people who may be interested, and hoping we have a strong candidate," he said. (Asked about succeeding Bell, Steve Frias said, "I have not made any plans to leave my position as national committeeman.") Apart from the chairmanship, there's talk among some Republicans that the party apparatus itself may need changes to make the GOP more competitive. "I think the Republican Party needs to revamp the way it looks at things," House GOP Leader Blake Filippi said on this week's Newsmakers. "I think it needs to double down on winning elections. It's not a social organization. It's not a debating society. The goal is to win."

4. The numbers are in on this year's voter turnout.

5. Rhode Island is almost a decade into an economic recovery, with an unemployment rate under 4%. Yet even that environment isn't putting the state budget into the black: the House Fiscal Office projects a $160-million deficit over the next 19 months, with even bigger shortfalls after that. To put that in perspective, it equals about 2% of expected general revenue for the current and next fiscal years. Deficits have been a perennial problem in Rhode Island for so long now that it's almost become background noise. But if the state is operating in the red in a good economy, what are the numbers going to look like when the next recession hits? The rainy day fund is only $199 million, and would be quickly exhausted in a downturn.

6. With 50 votes needed to pass the budget and only 44 Democrats supporting Speaker Mattiello's leadership team, GOP Leader Blake Filippi's nine-member GOP caucus could have more leverage than usual next year. "Are the Republicans more relevant because of that? Of course we are," Filippi said. "Would we band together with the progressives? I've said time and time again that this caucus will do whatever it takes and work with whomever to do what's in the best interests of the state of Rhode Island - progressive or conservative Democrat." Filippi declined to say whether he's had discussions with Mattiello about lending him Republican support. "I think all members of the General Assembly are always talking," he said.

7. Republicans won't be the only ones pressuring Rhode Island's Democratic legislative leaders next year. On the left, the increasingly influential Working Families Party will also be flexing its muscles after an election cycle that saw voters back multiple progressive candidates. Georgia Hollister Isman, the organization's Rhode Island state director, highlighted two priorities for the upcoming legislative session: raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2023, as is already planned in Massachusetts, and passing a law on equal pay for women. Isman talked about those efforts and more on this week's Newsmakers.

8. Dan McGowan breaks down the first-ever RICAS results. One thing to watch: Rhode Island Foundation CEO Neil Steinberg wrote in a June op-ed that his organization planned "to help lead, convene and provide financial support to chart the course, and stay the course" on a strategic plan for education (as well as another for health care) in Rhode Island. That effort is ramping up, with results expected in about six months.

9. More often than not, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse agree with Bernie Sanders: the two Rhode Islanders have voted the same way as the Vermont senator about 80% of the time during this Congress, according to a ProPublica database. So it was noteworthy back in March when the pair were two of just 10 Democrats who voted down a Sanders resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Reed's opposition was particularly damaging to Sanders - and helpful to the Trump administration - since he's the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. But with Sanders making a new push for the resolution this week, and the Saudis under fire for killing a Washington Post journalist, Reed and Whitehouse flipped and backed the measure - along with more than 60 of their colleagues.

10. Mayor Elorza vetoed the Hope Point Tower zoning change Friday, putting the spotlight back on the City Council for a potential override - and General Assembly leaders for a possible intervention by Smith Hill.

11. One year ago, Virgin Pulse struck a deal with the state to move its headquarters to Providence. So how does CEO David Osborne think the selection has worked out? "Outstanding," Osborne told me on this week's Executive Suite. "It was a bit of a risk. It was my decision, and I was ready to stand behind it." Virgin Pulse has been on an acquisition spree this year; Osborne said the company has already expanded from 30,000 to 50,000 square feet of space at 75 Fountain St., increasing its Providence workforce from 84 to 264. "I think it's a great town," he said. "It's a very hip town. Great culture. I think it's a town that can attract people. The train is fantastic, which can attract Boston people, as well." What needs to be worked on? "I think the area of improvement is maybe the direct flights out of the airport," Osborne said. "We probably spend more time driving up to Boston to fly direct and to connect. But I think the governor and her team are trying to work on that."

12. The CVS-Aetna merger may not be a done deal after all.

13. Tim White keeps fighting for public records on sheriffs out injured.

14. Narragansett may soon rival East Greenwich for Town Hall fireworks.

15. People are buying a lot fewer fiction books these days.

16. Should Twitter get rid of retweets?

17. Don't let an unexpected money disaster ruin your retirement.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – House Minority Leader Blake Filippi; Working Families Party state director Georgia Hollister Isman. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Virgin Pulse CEO David Osborne. 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. 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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