Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
1. When I started writing this column back in January 2012, I was still trying to find my place in the Rhode Island news firmament. My job was unusual: WPRI’s general manager, Jay Howell, had plucked me out of newspapering to write for the station’s website, but many people still weren’t in the habit of seeking out “print” articles from a local broadcaster. The thought was that a regularly published feature might build a loyal audience, hopefully also drawing people back throughout the week, too. I picked Saturday mornings because it seemed like the time slot where people might have time for a new addition to their news diet (cheerfully accepting, of course, that Bill Reynolds got there first). It’s worked out better than I ever expected. Few things are more gratifying than hearing from those of you who say the column has become part of your Saturday routine, and I’m grateful. I’ve published 559 editions of Nesi’s Notes over the last 11 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever missed more than two Saturdays in a row. Thus it’s a little hard to fathom that I won’t be writing another one until June — but for a good reason: I’m taking a long-delayed paternity leave to spend six weeks with my 10-month-old daughter. (I’d put off my leave until this spring so it wouldn’t come during election season — so much for that, David Cicilline!) Don’t fear, however; Nesi’s Notes will continue in my absence in the capable hands of Eli Sherman, assisted by Tim White and Steph Machado. I’m looking forward to keeping up with the news by reading them each Saturday until I’m back in the saddle on June 3. Enough of all that, though — let’s get to this week’s headlines!
2. Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District still has a long way to go to draw as many candidates as last year’s race in Alaska, where 48 candidates were on the ballot in the first round. But with Rhode Island now up to 12 Democratic primary candidates — and two more set to join them — the state is certainly seeing its most crowded field in a long, long time. This week’s entrants were former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, state Rep. Marvin Abney and state Sen. Ana Quezada. Regunberg has established himself as an early financial leader, taking in over $150,000 during the first 10 days of April as he seeks to become the choice for progressives. But the next two candidates expected to join the race should have solid financial resources, too. First will be Jamestown’s Don Carlson, who is announcing his campaign on Sunday and can tap both his own personal wealth as well as a solid Rolodex from his years in business and, before that, as a congressional aide to Joe Kennedy II. (That’s the father — “Joe for Oil” — not his son Joe Kennedy III, who represented Southeastern Massachusetts from 2013 to 2021.) And the news that Gabe Amo has resigned his White House position indicates he could be in the race by the end of April, too. Meanwhile, the candidates who’ve already announced are doing their best to position themselves for the summer’s sprint. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos announced her campaign team, led by Dan McKee’s 2022 campaign manager Brexton Isaacs, while state Sen. Sandra Cano landed a key endorsement on Aquidneck Island from her colleague Dawn Euer. And one big name who made a splash as a potential candidate took herself out of contention: former Attorney General Arlene Violet says she won’t be on the ballot.
3. There’s no issue Dan McKee has been more closely associated with during his years in Rhode Island public life than education. He has repeatedly looked for ways to bolster educational outcomes outside the state’s traditional K-12 system, most notably through his advocacy of public charter schools. The same approach was in evidence this week as the governor unveiled his long-awaited plan to ensure Rhode Island matches Massachusetts on educational outcomes by 2030. It’s called Learn365RI, and it asks mayors to create out-of-school programs that McKee clearly hopes will have a major impact. The concept isn’t a new one for his administration: the ILO Group was awarded its infamous state contract in part to help McKee establish a proposed network of Municipal Learning Centers; the controversy over the ILO deal, combined with legislative skepticism, caused his administration to regroup. McKee declined to answer questions from reporters after his speech laying out Learn365RI, but he did tape Dan Yorke’s TV show a day later to make his case. “It’s about the enjoyment of learning, and having mayors really use that bully pulpit to convene their community and every family looking at education being important every day of the year,” McKee said. Unfortunately for McKee, many people’s first impression of the program was formed by a brutal Dan McGowan column that was quickly the talk of the State House set. And McGowan’s skepticism was shared by Jonathan Collins, who teaches education at Brown University. “Gov. McKee’s plan gets this all wrong,” Collins tweeted. “There are ways to raise student test scores. After-school programs is not the way. It’s not because we shouldn’t invest in [after-school] programs. We should. But, after-school programs should be safe and fun, not academically rigorous.”
4. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “Remember that hidden email alleging a high-paid member of Governor McKee’s administration – DCAMM chief David Patten – acted inappropriately last month while on a business trip to Philadelphia with Department of Administration Director Jim Thorsen? On Friday, both McKee and Speaker Shekarchi officially moved to use legal exemptions allowed under the Access to Public Records Act to keep the email under wraps. The two Democrats issued decisions within minutes of each other late Friday, when fewer people are typically paying attention to the news cycle. But it’s clear they didn’t talk to each other ahead of time about how to argue their legal positions. Team McKee said they wouldn’t release the email in part because it represented ‘investigative records’ and would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy, ‘as it identifies the two state employees by name.’ (The two men are named above, in case anybody is wondering.) Team Shekarchi, meanwhile, argued first that the email is ‘neither public business nor a public record,’ and otherwise would be exempt from public release because it’s an email sent to lawmakers ‘in their official capacities’ by those they represent. How an outside email to a public official isn’t a public document tests the imagination. But more importantly, the denials show how different elected officials don’t even agree on why they’re refusing to release an email of public interest.”
5. Gina Raimondo’s rise on the national stage continues. Time magazine has just named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people for 2023, in a short article penned by fellow Rhode Islander Jack Reed, who got another chance to tell the story of when he babysat Raimondo as a young West Point cadet.
6. Eye on the skyline: Steph Machado has details and renderings of an 11-story apartment building that CV Properties wants to build on the old 195 land.
7. Senator Whitehouse’s battle against the U.S. Supreme Court majority escalated on Thursday night after ProPublica published another investigation into Justice Thomas’s ties to billionaire GOP donor Harlan Crow. The new ProPublica story documents how Crow purchased property from Thomas, a transaction the justice never disclosed in ethics forms. Whitehouse is now asking the Judicial Conference — the federal judiciary’s policymaking body — to refer Thomas to the attorney general for an investigation. Speaking to local reporters earlier in the week, Whitehouse said he’s witnessed a sea change in views of the court among his fellow Senate Democrats, with all of them now sharing his skepticism of the justices in a way they didn’t when he began making his critique. Whitehouse also said he thinks more Republicans are disturbed by the ProPublica revelations than have said so publicly. Of Thomas himself, Whitehouse said, “The heat is on, and he’s feeling it.” The New York Times editorial board is now calling for passage of Whitehouse’s SCOTUS ethics bill, yet he’d actually prefer a different solution. “I think the best thing the court can do is to actually police itself,” Whitehouse said. “In fact, in my legislation we give them a 180-day grace period to settle their own rules before ours kick in, because of the recognition that them behaving properly by themselves is the best outcome.”
8. One person Senator Whitehouse isn’t ready to cross: Dianne Feinstein, his 89-year-old colleague from California. Feinstein is under increasing pressure to resign, amid a lengthy absence due to shingles and years of stories about her mental decline. One reason for the angst: without Feinstein’s vote, Senate Democrats have been unable to confirm judges, a key priority with a narrow majority. When I asked Whitehouse on Wednesday whether Feinstein’s situation was hurting the party, he said, “She’s entitled to enormous respect. … Given what she’s accomplished in her life and her stature, I think she’s entitled to make those decisions without me poking at her.” (He did suggest she may decide to step back from her committee roles, which she offered to do soon after his comments.)
9. It’s safe to say no local reporter was expecting the investigation into the leaked classified Ukraine documents would lead to a rural town in Bristol County, Massachusetts. But on Thursday afternoon, all eyes were on Dighton as law enforcement arrested Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira under the watchful eye of news helicopters. “Let’s be clear: this is embarrassing and distracting for the U.S.,” Congressman Jake Auchincloss, who represents Dighton and is a veteran himself, told Tim White during Friday’s taping of Newsmakers. “The Pentagon needs to come to the Hill and answer some very tough, pointed questions about why it is a junior enlisted Air National Guardsman had need-to-know access to highly sensitive documentation.” Also weighing in was Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, who said he wasn’t necessarily surprised that the 21-year-old had access to such important information. “It’s the nature of military service — they’re relatively young,” said Reed, who is expecting a classified briefing on what happened next week. At least one lawmaker wasn’t upset by Teixeira’s actions, though. Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green – an increasingly influential member of the House GOP majority thanks to her relationship with Speaker McCarthy – argued on Twitter that Teixeira was only sharing the truth about the Ukraine situation with Americans.
10. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey was quick to take action after a federal judge’s initial ruling against the legality of the widely used abortion pill mifepristone. She called a news conference Monday where, flanked by other state officials, she took steps to preserve access to the pill including by signing an executive order. In Rhode Island, the most vocal response has been from Attorney General Peter Neronha, who quickly joined a multistate lawsuit to challenge the judge’s decision. His side won a temporary victory on Friday when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito kept the status quo in place for a little longer.
11. What’s rarer than an 85-degree day in April? An actual meeting of the General Assembly’s powerful Joint Committee on Legislative Services. The Projo’s Kathy Gregg has details on the panel’s first gathering in 14 years.
12. Rhode Island history buffs will enjoy this new online resource from House Minority Leader Mike Chippendale: a timeline of every Republican who has served in the House since the GOP’s creation in 1854. The grand total is 869 representatives over 169 years, including the state’s first Black elected legislator (Rep. Mahlon Van Horne), the first Black woman elected to the House (Rep. Mary Ross) and the eventual first woman senator (Rep. Lulu Schlesigner). “We often talk of the Rhode Island State House as a ‘working museum’ and the ‘Lively Experiment’ that is our state, wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of the men and women who served in the legislature,” Chippendale said in a statement. “We should celebrate their contributions and history.” Although he’s a Democrat, Secretary of State Gregg Amore took a personal interest in the project: “I’m proud to see my own great-grandfather on this timeline, Representative John Gregory, who represented East Providence from 1937 to 1940, and that his service continues to be honored to this day,” Amore said.
13. Did you know New England power demand hit an all-time low on Easter Sunday?
14. A provocative Atlantic piece argues the age of American naval dominance is over.
15. Rebecca Fishbein asks, is “therapy-speak” making us selfish?
16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Congressman Auchincloss. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sunday at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.