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. Just a few months ago, nobody would have predicted that the first gubernatorial candidate to start airing TV ads would be Ashley Kalus. But the hitherto unknown Republican — who only registered to vote in Rhode Island in January — has seized an opportunity due to the state GOP’s lack of a deep bench, quickly establishing herself as the party’s expected nominee for the November election. One reason: money. The 39-year-old says she’s already written a $500,000 check to her campaign, and is currently shelling out $109,000 of it for a one-week ad buy to start introducing herself to voters. Appearing on this week’s Newsmakers, Kalus reiterated her message that Rhode Island needs “a fighter” during a time of widespread voter discontent, and that she is “threatening the status quo” at the State House. “The insiders are afraid of my candidacy,” she declared. Kalus says she wants to be “the education governor,” urging higher pay for teachers and school choice for parents whose neighborhood schools are failing. She also supports legalizing recreational marijuana, opposes the Superman building deal, and wants no changes to gun laws. On other issues, Kalus avoided specifics — including income tax rates, the new Zambarano hospital, and right-to-work. (She also said she has yet to speak with any of Rhode Island’s living GOP governors, Don Carcieri, Linc Almond and Ed DiPrete.) Kalus’s unexpected TV buy caught Democrats’ attention this week; if the political environment for the party stays this bad through the fall they won’t be able to take the November outcome for granted. And then there’s the most important unanswered question: which Democrat will she face?

2. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “A higher profile often brings heightened scrutiny, and Ashley Kalus experienced that this week. As Target 12 first reported on Wednesday, the R.I. Department of Health in January decided against extending a nearly $8 million state contract with the political newcomer’s COVID-19 testing company, Doctors Test Centers. And the relationship between Kalus and state health officials — including COVID operations chief operating officer Kristine Campagna — ended so badly that the dispute resulted in a police report, as both sides threatened legal action. During Friday’s taping of Newsmakers, Tim White asked Kalus multiple times whether she’s still considering a lawsuit against the state, a possibility she raised in emails obtained by Target 12. But she deflected and ultimately declined to say. ‘My concern has always been making sure that Rhode Islanders are safe, and patient safety – if you’re a health care provider – is something that you fight really hard for,’ she said. (The Projo’s Kathy Gregg reported Friday evening that the company has indeed sought court-ordered mediation with the state.) It’s too early to tell if Kalus’s tensions with health officials will cause her any political problems; on the flip side, it might help her bolster the image of a fighter that she’s trying to project.”

3. Politico is out with its 2022 Election Forecast, and the Rhode Island outlook is about what you’d expect: Democrats are overwhelmingly favored to hold David Cicilline’s 1st District seat, strongly favored to hold the governor’s office, and somewhat favored to hold the 2nd District seat being vacated by Jim Langevin. It’s the same story in Southeastern Massachusetts, with Democrats overwhelmingly favored to hold Jake Auchincloss’s 4th District seat and strongly favored to hold Bill Keating’s seat in the 9th. (Democrats are also strongly favored to win the governor’s office — a pickup for them if it happens, as Republican Charlie Baker leaves office.) Thus, even if Republicans manage to flip Langevin’s seat, Democrats will continue to dominate the region’s congressional delegation. But it’s possible that could leave the region’s lawmakers on the outside looking in for an extended period of time down in Washington. A growing number of Democrats are expressing concern that demographic and structural factors mean that after this year, their party might not possess full control of the federal government again until 2028 or 2030. Something to keep in mind: a long spell in the minority might change the calculus about whether to seek re-election for the region’s incumbents.

4. Newly filed FEC reports show those incumbents are sitting on plenty of campaign cash at the moment. Jack Reed, who isn’t up for re-election until 2026, had $2 million on hand as of March 31. Sheldon Whitehouse, who faces voters in two years, had $1 million. Among the House members — all of whom are up in November — David Cicilline had $1.4 million, while Jake Auchincloss had $2.4 million and Bill Keating had $1.5 million. And despite his looming retirement, Jim Langevin was still sitting on $811,000 at the end of the quarter — even after refunding about $28,000 in contributions.

5. Eye on the 2nd Congressional District race … Republican Allan Fung will kick off his campaign next Tuesday afternoon at the Varnum Armory in EG … David Segal formally entered the Democratic primary after raising about $250,000 during an exploratory phase; he quickly touted an endorsement from Elizabeth Warren … Democrat Seth Magaziner is holding his first in-person campaign event next week, a “Women for Seth” gathering at Tavolo in Warwick … Democrat Sarah Morgenthau was the focus of a New York Times piece examining “carpetbagger” candidates … other campaigns quickly flagged that Segal and Morgenthau raised only a small slice of their first-quarter donations in Rhode Island … Democrat Omar Bah scheduled a kickoff event for May 12 at the Cranston Portuguese American Club.

6. Despite a vote in March, the state pension fund hasn’t sold its Russian assets.

7. Here’s another dispatch from Target 12’s Eli Sherman: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the state agency overseeing Eleanor Slater Hospital has hired a consultant to help deal with its regulatory woes. That makes at least eight consultants hired since 2015. The latest one to surface is David Longmore of Pinnacle Healthcare Solutions Inc., who was given a no-bid $52,000 contract last August by R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals Director Richard Charest. The consultant — described in procurement documents as an expert at ‘turning around financially troubled’ long-term acute care hospitals — had his contract extended last month for an additional $88,000. ‘This contractor is helping with Medicaid and Medicare billing questions, among other operations and strategy questions related to ESH, and the expectation is that this work will help the department secure all appropriate federal reimbursements available for ESH services,’ spokesperson Randy Edgar explained in an email. Longmore made a brief public appearance when Charest presented his proposal to spin off one Slater unit as a standalone psychiatric hospital. He joins a lengthening list of consultants recently hired at the state-run hospital, where costs have now hit upwards of $600,000 per patient per year. Longmore’s contract extension runs until July 30.”

8. Bad news for Governor McKee’s cabinet directors: your raises are on hold for now. The Department of Administration had scheduled a public hearing for March 23 to give 5% pay bumps to 13 directors. Five were set to see their pay go from $155,000 to $162,750 (Public Safety, RIDOT, EOHHS, DLT, Administration); one from $140,000 to $147,000 (Health); and seven from $135,000 to $141,750 (Corrections, BHDDH, DEM, DHS, DBR, Revenue, DCYF). But the hearing was scrapped and has yet to be rescheduled. Asked if the raises are still on the table, state spokesperson Laura Hart said, “The public notice for the March 23 hearing was taken down shortly after it was posted in order to allow for further discussion of the issue. Those discussions are ongoing at this writing.”

9. Providence leaders have rolled their plan to allocate $124 million in American Rescue Plan funds, with nearly $37 million of the money going to “revenue recovery” — that is, backfilling the city budget, which effectively gives city leaders more flexibility in how to use the funding. The council already approved $42 million in ARPA funding last year. Will it turn out to be money well spent?

10. Doctors have declared a state of emergency over Rhode Island kids’ mental health.

11. UMass Dartmouth’s Lucas Mann offers a different view on campus free speech.

12. Two smart reads on the war in Ukraine: Fred Kaplan explains the risks Russia faces in its new focus on the Donbas, and Paul Elie examines the overlooked religious aspect of the conflict.

13. From ProPublica tax reporter Paul Kiel: “If you’re getting a W-2, you’re a sucker.”

14. Jackie Polzin makes the case for still writing letters in the digital age.

15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus. 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. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday.

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 and Facebook

An earlier version of this column misstated the type of event being held by the Magaziner campaign.