Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com, with a closing item from a special guest — read on to find out who, and as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. Signature scandal? What signature scandal? The big national groups backing Sabina Matos for Congress remain firmly behind her as she fights back from damaging rounds of headlines over the forged nomination papers submitted by her campaign workers. First it was the Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC, which has spent $400,000 for Matos so far. Now comes word that Emily’s List and Elect Democratic Women are buying $376,000 of TV time for her starting next week. It’s vital support for the lieutenant governor, whose own campaign doesn’t have the money to be on the air right now. And it comes as observers are upgrading the chances that Aaron Regunberg could win the Sept. 5 primary by consolidating progressive voters, now with a TV assist from Jane Fonda. Rival Democrats are hoping to tarnish Regunberg’s image by highlighting the six-figure support he’s getting from a family-funded super PAC, a topic that turned him into a bit of a piñata at podcaster Bill Bartholomew’s debate Thursday. Yet with 12 candidates on the primary ballot, and turnout expected to be low, it’s certainly conceivable that another Democrat could edge out Matos and Regunberg, particularly if the pair are damaged by their respective controversies. The campaigns of Sandra Cano, Gabe Amo and Don Carlson all think they have strategies that could get them nominated on Sept. 5. While it’s tougher to see a path to victory for the other Democrats, it’s not hard to see a path for some of them to earn a meaningful percentage of the vote — which will affect the math for the leaders. And some of those ballots will start getting locked in just a few days from now, since early voting starts Wednesday.

2. This week offered a good example of how an independent-minded public official can make major waves in Rhode Island. Randall Jackvony, the newest member of the R.I. Board of Elections, forced his colleagues to reconsider their hands-off handling of the Sabina Matos signatures and won the argument on a 5-2 vote, defeating the board’s chair. The board will announce the results of its review on Tuesday, and it’s widely expected the final count will still show Matos easily clearing the 500-signature threshold to make the ballot. But to Jackvony, that wasn’t the point — the point was to show the public that the board took the issue seriously and wanted to ensure public confidence in the elections process. Not everyone agreed; longtime Democratic powerbroker Bob Walsh compared the timing to James Comey’s late-stage announcement regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails. But others like Common Cause’s John Marion and Secretary of State Gregg Amore suggested it was better later than never. And the board may even do Matos a favor if it puts the issue to rest for the remainder of the primary.

3. In such a crowded field, the biggest challenge for candidates with less money is breaking out of the crowd. Two of the underdog Democrats running serious campaigns, Providence state Sen. Ana Quezada and Woonsocket state Rep. Stephen Casey, joined me on this week’s Newsmakers and made the case that the unique dynamics of a special election could lead one of them to an upset on Sept. 5. “You don’t need money to work hard,” declared Quezada, who expressed confidence in the door-knocking efforts of her campaign team. “I hope people in Rhode Island don’t allow money to buy this seat, and I hope people in Rhode Island don’t allow big PACs to win this seat,” she said. Casey sees his opportunity in a combination of his Woonsocket base and his more moderate positions compared with the others. “For me, politics has always been grassroots,” he said. “I’m a person who goes out and shakes hands with people.” He also pointed out that he has endorsements from both public-safety unions and manufacturing leaders. “It’s uncommon, and I believe it’s historical,” Casey said.

4. Marvin Abney has apologized for taking a $50,000 campaign loan barred by federal rules.

5. Sheldon Whitehouse is up for re-election next year, and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in political science to know he’s a heavy favorite to win a fourth term. He’s a Democrat in Rhode Island; his job approval rating is a little over 50%; he has $2.5 million in his campaign account; and a non-Chafee Republican hasn’t won a Senate race in Rhode Island since 1930. Despite the odds, Whitehouse has already drawn two opponents who both plan to seek next year’s Republican nomination for U.S. Senate: Ray McKay, a veteran of the Warwick GOP, and state Rep. Patricia Morgan, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018. With Whitehouse’s national profile at an all-time high due to the debate over ethics at the Supreme Court, one thing to watch is whether any conservative groups decide to spend money against him next year just to make life unpleasant for the senator, even if they don’t think he’s in any jeopardy of losing. Also, one interesting nugget about Morgan: under state law, she can run for both U.S. Senate and her current state legislative seat next year if she so chooses.

6. The Pawtucket soccer stadium is back on track, with the bonds set to be floated this fall.

7. Gina Raimondo will be back at the State House next week for the unveiling of her official portrait, with the ceremony set for Thursday at 6 p.m. Per an advisory, she’ll be joined by her husband Andy Moffitt, Governor McKee, Senator Reed, former Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, her longtime aide Kevin Gallagher, and the portrait artist, Patricia Watwood of Brooklyn. Afterwards there will be a reception at One Citizens Plaza, paid for by Rhode Island NGA 2017, the nonprofit set up six years ago to raise money when Raimondo hosted the National Governors Association summer meeting.

8. The court fight over Buff Chace’s big Elorza-era tax break is starting to heat up.

9. Rhode Island has few assets more valuable than Brown University, a world-renowned educational institution that spends $1.69 billion a year and employs over 5,000 people. While there are inevitable tensions over how the growth of such a large tax-exempt organization affects city coffers, state leaders always tout the university as a key engine of economic development, just as Harvard and MIT are for the Boston area. And with 95% of undergraduate applicants rejected this year, there is plenty of untapped consumer demand for a Brown education — even with gross tuition and fees now topping $84,000 a year. All this came to mind after reading a thought-provoking Bloomberg column by Matt Yglesias making the case that Providence and other cities should welcome university expansions. “Quality universities are engines of economic development, and both their teaching and research missions are inherently tied to specific locations,” he wrote. “Letting them grow where they already are — and allowing new complementary residential and commercial development near campus — is too important to allow the people who happen to live close-by have veto power over the whole thing.” Worth pondering as Mayor Smiley negotiates a new PILOT agreement and as Brown contemplates its own future plans. The school has already hit on one solution, turning the Jewelry District into a secondary campus hub à la what Allston is for Harvard.

10. A welcome addition to Rhode Island’s political press corps is Nancy Lavin, a URI graduate who was among the first hires at the new nonprofit news outlet Rhode Island Current. Nancy built a strong reputation during her years at PBN, and she’s been burnishing it in her new job with unique story ideas on a beat that has plenty of competition. A recent example: her profile of Ric Thornton, the Board of Elections’ feared campaign-finance enforcer, and how the reforms put in place after Gordon Fox’s downfall have paid dividends (literally). Read it here.

11. So far about 7,000 Rhode Islanders have lost Medicaid coverage due to recertifications.

12. Housing may be the issue most closely associated with Speaker Shekarchi these days, but animal welfare has always been another one of his passions. On Monday, he hosted his third annual Speaker Shekarchi Scramble golf tournament, raising more than $40,000 to benefit the Warwick Animal Shelter, with additional proceeds going to Vintage Pet Rescue of Foster and Anchor Paws Rescue of Coventry. “As the proud owner of Merlin, my rescue dog who brings so much joy to my life, I am very passionate about assisting the Friends of the Warwick Animal Shelter,” Shekarchi said in a news release. “The shelter must often provide medicines, foods and veterinary care for animals in bad health that have been abandoned or have been rescued from dangerous hoarding situations.” Indeed, the need for support is greater than ever: my colleague Kayla Fish reported this week that local animal shelters are filled to capacity right now.

13. Monday is a holiday in Rhode Island — and only in Rhode Island. Here’s why.

14. And finally, a special treat — from retired Providence Journal political columnist M. Charles Bakst comes this reminiscence of former Republican state chairman John Holmes, who died this week at age 74:

“With Holmes as a hard-driving, witty, battering ram of an organizer, the RI GOP flourished in a golden era of the 1980s. He also enjoyed some heady moments as a 1986 congressional candidate, only to endure a devastating setback when he set out in 1988 to run again.

After courts struck down a redistricting plan passed by the 1982 Democratic General Assembly, elections for what was then a 50-seat state Senate were postponed until 1983. In a startling development, Chairman Holmes recruited candidates for the 50 seats and orchestrated a coordinated campaign ridiculing Democratic senators as “Rocco’s Robots” who blindly followed Senate Leader Rocco Quattrocchi on reapportionment, taxes, and other votes. The GOP tripled its seats from a pathetic 7 to a robust 21. The embarrassment spelled the end of Quattrocchi’s tenure as Senate leader and Democratic state chairman.

After the 1984 general election, Republicans held a U.S. Senate seat, the 2nd District U.S. House seat, and the posts of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state.

In 1986, Holmes left the chairmanship to challenge veteran 1st District Congressman Fred St Germain, who was starting to wear out his welcome. Holmes was a substantial enough candidate that former President Gerald Ford and Vice President George Bush, accompanied by Barbara Bush, came to stump for him. These were glamorous moments. It brings a smile to my face to recall the Bush event because it reflected Holmes’s irrepressible energy: When he finished speaking, he rushed over to Mrs. Bush, then to 2nd district Congresswoman Claudine Schneider. The VP kidded him: “We’re all for you, John, sit down.”

Holmes lost that race but launched a 1988 bid. And then – disaster. A campaign aide failed to file his candidacy papers on time, and a humiliated Holmes was sent to the sidelines, a wound that would haunt him for years.

But he returned for a second stint as state chairman in the 1990s. His explanation was the essence of Holmes:

“I have often said to people, with a smile on my face, that were one to be addicted to drugs or to alcohol, you could go away and presumably get cured 28 days later, that politics and public service is something there is no cure for. I love it.”

He emerged as a close ally of a new Republican governor, Lincoln Almond, a friendship that would endure long past Almond’s time in office.

Over the years, I’d see Holmes amid the hoopla of Republican national conventions, and he could hobnob with the swells of Newport, and he was a master of the media. And yet his early background was anything but promising. I’m sure most people are unaware of it, and I actually forgot it myself until I came upon an old column the other day in which he had described his upbringing. His parents had split and money was tight. And one day the repossession people came. “I remember they’re putting my bike and my sister’s tricycle in the back end of a truck and driving them away.”

I often got a kick out of Holmes, who was the personification of a pol and their sensitivities. Back in the day, they read every word of every story written about them. I chuckle at a memory of that Ford visit for Holmes, which I suggested in print beforehand might be designed to prop up a sagging campaign. And now here were the former president and the candidate in a grand procession through a hotel function room – an excited crowd at a fundraiser rally, music playing and balloons bobbing, and Holmes passing by me and announcing, “A sagging campaign, indeed!”

And I will remember his sense of humor, exemplified by something he told me during that ‘86 campaign. His daughter Dana, a Barrington High School sophomore who bused tables at a Warren restaurant, had recently made pancakes for him at their home. “The two of us sat down and she said, ‘Dad, I made $85 this week. Do you know how much they took out of my pay!’ I think it was $18. She said, ‘What are you going to do about that when you’re elected to Congress?’ And I said, ‘The first thing I’m going to do is take you out to breakfast!’”

15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Democratic congressional candidates Ana Quezada and Stephen Casey. 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.

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.