Nesi’s Notes: April 17

Ted Nesi
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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 me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. What is Jim Langevin going to do? That question has Rhode Island politicos buzzing as they wait to learn if the state must surrender one of its U.S. House seats to Montana. Langevin and David Cicilline steadfastly refuse to discuss such a scenario until the Census Bureau makes it official, on track to happen by the end of the month. But don’t kid yourself: there’s plenty happening behind the scenes. In theory Langevin would have a claim on the new at-large seat — he’s been in the House since 2001, twice as long as Cicilline, giving him an edge in seniority. In practice, though, Cicilline is in a stronger position: he has a higher profile on Capitol Hill, just posted a record fundraising quarter, and is aligned with party activists on the issues. (Langevin would face trouble in a Democratic primary for being pro-life.) At the same time, the changed political landscape due to Gina Raimondo’s departure has complicated Langevin’s calculus if he takes a pass on the at-large seat. He’s certainly seen as a formidable Democratic candidate for governor next year, one who’d get a boost in a crowded primary from high name recognition, a base in Warwick and D.C. fundraising dollars. Now, however, a bid for governor requires Langevin to primary an incumbent Democrat, Dan McKee — a messier proposition compared with running for an open seat. (McKee’s team is certainly hoping Langevin takes a pass on the race.) There are of course the non-elected options for him, too: a nonprofit or academic perch, a defense or tech company board directorship, and so on. But leaving politics would undoubtedly be hard for Langevin; he’s been serving in public office for his entire adult life, ever since he was elected to the 1986 Constitutional Convention at the age of 22.

2. That said, political junkies would of course be fascinated to see how a Cicilline vs. Langevin primary battle would actually play out. And soon we could at least get a read on their current levels of support: two Nesi’s Notes tipsters report being surveyed Friday by the national outfit Public Policy Polling to find out which of the two congressmen they’d back in a hypothetical one-on-one Democratic congressional primary. No word on who’s paying for the poll. (The survey is being conducted via text message, an increasingly common practice, as well as landline.)

3. As it happens, both Jim Langevin and David Cicilline have carved out policy niches in technology, and both made news on the topic this week. Langevin hailed the White House’s appointment of the first-ever national cyber director, a position he successfully included in last year’s defense spending bill. Langevin told The Washington Post that President Biden’s pick, Chris Inglis, “has an incredibly clear vision of how much we need to work hand-in-hand with industry to get ahead of our adversaries.” Langevin’s support is no surprise: he suggested Inglis for the job way back in December. Meanwhile, the full House Judiciary Committee adopted the findings of Cicilline’s 16-month antitrust investigation into Big Tech, teeing him up to start drafting legislation that will rein in the companies. “Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook each hold monopoly power over significant sectors of our economy,” Cicilline said in a statement. “This monopoly moment must end.”

4. The Cook Political Report has given us fresh evidence of the political divergence between Rhode Island and Massachusetts in recent years. The Beltway forecasting group released a new edition of its Partisan Voter Index, which shows how each of the country’s 435 congressional districts votes at the presidential level compared with the rest of the country. No surprise: every district in this region leans bluer than the country overall. But Democratic strength still varies considerably. David Cicilline’s 1st District and Jake Auchincloss’s 4th District share a border and are nearly identical, leaning 12 and 13 points more Democratic than the national average, respectively, making them the 108th and 107th most Democratic districts in the country. But Bill Keating’s 9th District (which includes New Bedford and some of Fall River) is only 6 points more Democratic than average, and Jim Langevin’s 2nd District is only 4 points more Democratic than average; they are the 161st and 177th most Democratic districts. And while the two Massachusetts districts both trended more Democratic between 2018 and 2020, the two Rhode Island districts both trended more Republican.

5. Another interesting nugget from Cook: Jake Auchincloss was the fifth-biggest underperformer among Democratic congressional candidates in 2020. As the party’s nominee to succeed Joe Kennedy last November, Auchincloss trailed Joe Biden by nearly 9 percentage points — which may help explain why he’s already banked $857,000 in case he needs to fend off a progressive primary challenger next year. The only winning Democrats who ran weaker than Auchincloss in 2020 were Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, Maryland’s Kweisi Mfume, and two California lawmakers, Maxine Waters and Lucille Roybal-Allard.

6. For years, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed has warned that a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan would pose significant security risks. But when President Biden announced Wednesday he will withdraw all U.S. forces by Sept. 11, Reed went along, however halfheartedly. “I think this decision was, of the choices, appropriate,” Reed told me Thursday. “I think the spectrum of choices would be, one, to leave immediately, which would be a disaster given the ability just to logistically move troops out and move around; second, the choice of staying indefinitely would, I think, have encouraged direct attacks on U.S. forces by Taliban, and also would have prompted, probably, a request at least for a reconsideration of increasing our forces there and once again getting into a serious fight, with significant forces on the ground, and with the probability — given the past 20 years — that this would not solve the problem, it would merely buy more time. And so I think the president’s conclusion was, this is something that’s in the best interest of the United States. But I think he recognized that this is going to have profound consequences.” Our full conversation about the way forward in Afghanistan will air on this weekend’s Newsmakers.

7. Eli Sherman finds New Shoreham in first and Woonsocket ranked last for vaccinations locally.

8. As Rhode Island moves toward legalizing recreational marijuana, Tim White reveals how a mob associate’s alleged ties to a cannabis cultivator may cost that business its state license.

9. Rhode Island’s housing crunch shows no signs of abating. The R.I. Association of Realtors says there were only 1,192 single-family homes on the market in the state during the first quarter, a record low. “Right now we have the perfect storm of high demand and low supply,” said Realtors President Leann D’Ettore. “Unfortunately, our supply has been constricted by a history of constrained housing construction, especially at the low end,” she added. “Builders have faced too many costly zoning regulations and now they’re also facing unprecedented prices for materials.” The situation has pushed housing from a second-tier State House policy issue to a front-burner topic, with new Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos saying it will be a key priority for her. “Sometimes we get some pushback from some communities about housing, and we have to make sure that they understand that the housing we want to create is to serve their own community,” Matos told reporters after her swearing-in Wednesday. Meanwhile in the House, Speaker Shekarchi is pushing through a package of housing-related bills, and Rep. Brian Newberry recently pointed out that only six of the 39 municipalities are currently meeting the 10% affordable housing mandate. (East Providence will soon be the seventh.) Governor McKee’s budget also proposes a new permanent funding stream to support housing production. And President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan includes $5 billion to incentivize local governments to allow the construction of more homes.

10. Voters in Silver Lake, Olneyville and Valley will now need to choose a successor to fill Lt. Gov. Matos’s old Ward 15 seat on the Providence City Council, with the dates for a special election this summer expected to be set next week. That will make Providence the seventh Rhode Island municipality holding a special election over the next few months. On May 4, voters in Coventry, South Kingstown, West Greenwich and Westerly are all going to the polls to fill council vacancies or approve bond borrowing. Then Pawtucket and West Warwick have their own council seats to fill, with a June 8 primary and July 6 general election. (More information is available at vote.ri.gov or from local boards of canvassers.)

11. Once Sabina Matos’s successor is sworn in, six of the 15 members of the Providence City Council will have originally won their seats in a special election rather than a regular November election, the others being Carmen Castillo, Pedro Espinal, John Goncalves, John Igliozzi and Nirva LaFortune. (Thank you to our City Hall ace Steph Machado for the list.) That raises some interesting questions about civic participation, since off-cycle elections inevitably draw less attention and lower turnout; it’s a key reason both Central Falls and Woonsocket moved from odd-year mayoral elections to even-year ones in the last decade. That concern is even more relevant in Providence, where the Democratic primary is usually the decisive contest while the general election is just a coronation. Common Cause’s John Marion notes as well that the council’s current dynamics are still being affected by the long rollout of new term-limit rules adopted back in 2006.

12. As Ian Donnis noted Friday, AG Neronha seems to be increasingly comfortable flexing the muscles of his office as he settles into his third year as Rhode Island’s top prosecutor. This week alone, Neronha issued two key public-records decisions (one against the Convention Center, one against Narragansett Police), weighed in about the controversial Medrecycler-RI proposal, and chastised the Coastal Resources Management Council over the Champlin’s Marina expansion on Block Island. The latter wasn’t the first time Neronha has criticized the CRMC of late — which is something Rep. Deb Ruggiero noted Thursday in announcing legislation that would explore whether the powerful agency should be reorganized. (Ruggiero represents Neronha’s hometown of Jamestown, where the CRMC’s handling of the Jamestown Boatyard has been a source of controversy.)

13. When will the public be allowed back into the Rhode Island State House?

14. Some illuminating findings from the new RIPEC report on municipal finances in Rhode Island: “Property tax is the single largest local revenue source in Rhode Island (60.4% of all local revenues) and a staggering difference in property wealth among municipalities significantly impacts local tax rates. The gross assessed property value per capita of Central Falls ($26,427) is less than one-quarter of the statewide total ($120,716), Woonsocket is well below half of the total ($55,058), and Pawtucket ($61,390) is only slightly above half of the total. At the other extreme, seven communities with high proportions of non-resident homes have gross assessed value per capita of more than twice the statewide total: Westerly, Newport, Narragansett, Charlestown, Jamestown, Little Compton, and New Shoreham.”

15. Jon Romano, who was a top political adviser to Gina Raimondo both as governor and when she led the DGA, sends along word that he’s launched a new communications firm called Department of Here along with his friend Lev Kushner. The pair collaborated on a Projo op-ed this week making the case that Rhode Island can benefit from the pandemic-fueled boom in remote work.

16. The Fall River Herald News’ Dan Medeiros recaps the rise and fall of former Mayor Jasiel Correia, whose corruption trial begins Tuesday.

17. WPRI 12 is co-hosting a blood drive on Monday at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, and appointments are still available — you can sign up here.

18. In The Atlantic, Helen Lewis unpacks why people fake their identities.

19. Joshua Rivera on why the Muppets are struggling under Disney’s ownership.

20. True bravery from NBC Boston anchor JC Monahan, who just published an essay in Boston Magazine about her struggles with depression, anxiety and addiction: “I learned from my experience that people really do want to help — they often just don’t know how,” she writes. “And they never will if those of us who have been to that dark place don’t start talking about it. If we don’t normalize mental illness, who will?”

21. Here’s a rabbit hole well worth falling down: the Boston Public Library has digitized 34,000 LP records from its collection and posted them all on the Internet Archive. Many of the albums can be played in full, for free, and there is a huge amount of music you won’t find on Spotify or other streaming services. A jazz gem I discovered the other day: this 1967 RCA record by Ram Ramirez, who co-wrote the Billie Holiday classic “Lover Man.”

22. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersSenator Reed on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan; week in review. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 or 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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