Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to email@example.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
1. It’s now been seven weeks since release of the last public poll showing the state of Rhode Island’s Democratic primary for governor — and a lot has happened since then. Dan McKee has gone on TV with the best-received ad of the year, featuring his 94-year-old mother, and has been holding events nearly every day to keep himself in the headlines. Nellie Gorbea has released internal polling that showed her holding a narrow lead, and kept pace with McKee on fundraising. Helena Foulkes has continued to blanket the airwaves with TV ads, while picking up a high-profile endorsement from Jorge Elorza. The other two Democrats, Matt Brown and Luis Daniel Muñoz, also remain active. So whose approach is resonating the most with Democratic voters? We’ll find out Tuesday night at 5, when WPRI 12 and Roger Williams University will release our brand-new poll giving a fresh look at the primaries for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, and Congress. The survey will arrive exactly four weeks before the primary, and is likely to coincide with a shift into higher gear for all the candidates. One sign of that: data from a media-tracking firm shows Gorbea plans to triple her TV ad buy to nearly $100,000 next week, likely a sign she is readying a new spot. Foulkes is planning to spend roughly the same amount, while McKee is expected to spend well over $100,000 on the air for the week.
2. As the Democrats slug it out ahead of their primary, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus sails on, facing only token primary opposition as she looks ahead to November. Kalus is prepared to spend a huge amount of her own money in order to win the general election: she has now bought roughly $2.5 million of TV advertising time, between commercials she has already aired and reservations this fall. While there has been no public polling of a November matchup, the Kalus team points to Dan McKee’s last-in-the-nation job approval as evidence voters will be looking for an alternative if he is the Democratic nominee. And in a sign they don’t want to let one of his rivals pick up a head of steam, the R.I. Republican Party took aim at Helena Foulkes on Friday over her new pledge to lower health care costs.
3. It’s not often you see a major politician’s visit excite the other party more than his own. But that’s what played out after House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy visited Jamestown last Saturday to headline a fundraiser for congressional candidate Allan Fung. While McCarthy publicized the visit multiple times over the next 48 hours, and Democrats gleefully shared his photo of the pair together, the Fung campaign maintained total silence about the encounter until Monday night. (The event coincided with news of a new Democratic super PAC established to attack Fung; the McCarthy-Fung photo is likely to feature in its strategy.) Magaziner spokesperson Patricia Socarras was quick to seize on the issue, as well as Fung’s opposition to the Manchin-Schumer Inflation Protection Act. “The day after his exclusive, secret fundraiser with Trump loyalist Kevin McCarthy, Fung came out against a common-sense bill to lower gas and prescription drug prices for Rhode Islanders who are struggling,” Socarras said Friday. “This week, he’s reminded Rhode Islanders he is just an out-of-touch career politician who is not looking out for us.” But Fung spokesperson Steven Paiva rejected the idea that Fung’s alliance with McCarthy compromises his avowed moderation. “Unlike Magaziner who has supported adding a new tax on gasoline, Mayor Fung has always supported policies to lower the price of gas and prescription drugs,” Paiva said. “What Mayor Fung does not support is legislation that increases spending which will only make inflation worse or legislation that will increase taxes when we are entering a recession. While Magaziner just wants to repeat Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hyperpartisan talking points over and over again, Mayor Fung will actually work across the aisle in Washington to get results for Rhode Islanders.”
4. Of course, Seth Magaziner still has to win the Sept. 13 Democratic primary if he wants to be the party’s nominee for the 2nd Congressional District (where he has now belatedly established residency). There’s been a lot of focus on TV ads in the Democratic primary, with Magaziner and Sarah Morgenthau both currently on the air. But that’s not the only form of paid media 2nd District Democrats are using to get their names out there — two other candidates are investing in mailers that land in voters’ mailboxes. David Segal has been the most active on that front. He sent a classic Rhode Island “Mother T” letter to roughly 35,000 households soon after entering the race, and he’s followed up more recently with mailers that hit around 50,000 households, highlighting his support from Elizabeth Warren as well as the Bernie Sanders-founded group Our Revolution. Another Democrat, Joy Fox, dropped her first mailer on Friday, sending an introductory biographical flyer to about 30,000 households. By contrast, the two candidates who’ve run TV ads, Magaziner and Morgenthau, have sent no mailers so far. Omar Bah and Spencer Dickinson are also on the primary ballot for Sept. 13.
5. Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter takes stock of the evolving national environment for congressional races, with the November election now about 12 weeks away.
6. If you want evidence of how COVID-19 and new election rules have changed the way people vote, look no further than mail ballots. I asked numbers whiz Jessica Cigna, senior data analyst in the secretary of state’s office, for a comparison of how many people had applied for mail ballots at this point in the last three big statewide primary years. The 2014 and 2018 elections look quite similar: roughly 2,500 people had applied for a mail ballot as of 33 days before the primary, give or take a few hundred, in both election cycles. Fast-forward to 2022: over 6,000 people have applied for mail ballot as of now, more than double four years ago. The split between the two parties remains fairly consistent, however, with Democratic ballots requested by 87% of of mail voters this year versus 84% at this point in 2018.
7. Providence politics usually quiets down after the September primary, since the city is so heavily Democratic that general-election contests are an afterthought. But there will be at least one high-interest campaign to watch this fall: the fight over whether Providence should have a partly elected School Board, which will be one of 10 charter changes on the ballot after some last-minute City Council dramatics Wednesday. Mayor Elorza has already pledged to campaign against the elected School Board idea.
8. Don’t forget, and remind friends and family: Sunday is the deadline to register to vote in Rhode Island for the Sept. 13 primary, and you can now do that online. (Check your voter registration status here.) If you live in Massachusetts, you have until Aug. 27 to register for the primary.
9. Over the last two weeks, my colleague Eli Sherman has doggedly unearthed information from the state and the city of Pawtucket to get a clearer sense of taxpayers’ exposure for building the new Pawtucket soccer stadium. The takeaway: the public is on the hook for at least $60 million to fund the $124 million stadium, and the tax revenue generated there won’t come close to covering the bond payments for the facility. Eli’s report led to significant criticism of the financing plan, agreed to by a one-vote majority of the R.I. Commerce Corp. board. But at Friday’s groundbreaking for the project, Governor McKee dismissed the concerns. “All the information that we have gets filtered through in a way that we would make decisions that way,” McKee told reporters. “Up to a point I certainly take the input as being valuable. But at some point it’s no longer valuable when you’re pushing back against moving forward with a project as important as this. I think we’re at that point, where some of the pushback that’s coming, that you’re hearing, is centered around trying to submarine a project that we actually need to get done.” Those comments drew a pointed response from McKee challenger Matt Brown: “This is bizarre. These words make no sense. Total gibberish. I guess it’s what you say when you’re trying to defend the indefensible: giving our money away to for-profit developers who are donors to your campaign.”
10. The folks at the R.I. Commerce Corp. are apparently working some unusual hours these days. As you’d expect, the controversy over the Pawtucket stadium financing plan has led to a flurry of requests for information under the Access to Public Records Act. State officials can, of course, decide when to respond (within the limits set by law). The leadership at Commerce chose to begin responding just after 9 p.m. on Friday night — hours after the groundbreaking where officials were available to field questions about the project. Eli Sherman and I received a response to our requests for documents at 9:14 p.m.; a glance at Twitter revealed that The Boston Globe’s Brian Amaral, The Providence Journal’s Patrick Anderson, and Senate Oversight Committee Chairman Lou DiPalma all got responses late Friday night, too. (Anderson flagged that some of the documents were, as Tim White likes to put it, “assaulted with a magic marker” to allow heavy redactions.) Longtime observers of state government will suspect an old-fashioned “Friday night news dump,” but Matt Sheaff, a spokesperson for Governor McKee, insisted otherwise. “From what I understand the lawyers have been working on them all week including today and sent as soon as they had finished them,” Sheaff told me late Friday night.
11. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Tolly Taylor: “Rhode Island school districts have had an extra $374 million to spend since December, federal funding that came from the American Rescue Plan Act. But when Target 12 started looking into how the money was being spent, we learned that information isn’t publicly available. True, each district’s plan for spending its portion of the money is available on RIDE’s website. But there’s currently no way for parents to find out how much each district has actually spent. So we contacted 10 of the largest districts in the state — Johnston, South Kingstown, North Providence, Coventry, Cumberland, Woonsocket, East Providence, Pawtucket, Warwick and Cranston — to find out how much they’ve spent so far, and what they’ve spent it on. It took weeks to get responses, and four districts failed to answer how much they had spent so far. (After the story was published, two of those districts provided answers, dropping the number of non-responses down to two districts.) In all, the 10 districts received about $130 million in ARPA funds, and factoring in the new information, the districts have spent less than 10% of those dollars so far. RIPEC CEO Michael DiBiase said he wants to see a lot more transparency around how and if the money is being spent. ‘It’s a mistake that we’ve left it to every district — we have 30-something districts — to figure this out,’ he said. ‘Our schools are arguably in crisis, they were in crisis before the pandemic.’ Concerned about students who have fallen behind during the pandemic, DiBiase called on districts to prioritize getting students up to grade level and advocated for more oversight in how the dollars are spent. Districts are required to decide what their portion will be spent on by September 2024.”
12. Massachusetts voters have to look further down the ballot than Rhode Islanders to find exciting primary contests, with one of the most contentious contests being — believe it or not — the race for state auditor. The Boston Globe’s Samantha J. Gross joined me on this week’s Newsmakers to take a closer look at this year’s key Bay State primaries, and she acknowledged the dominant position of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey has taken a lot of the excitement out of the race to replace Charlie Baker. “I think what’s really interesting this year is that the most crowded, most contentious, most interesting races are not necessarily at the very top of the ticket,” she said. One to watch: the Democratic primary to pick Healey’s successor as attorney general, a face-off between Democrats Andrea Campbell, Quentin Palfrey and Shannon Liss-Riordan. Local race to keep an eye on: the three-way Democratic primary for Bristol County sheriff, which will decide who takes on longtime Republican incumbent Thomas Hodgson in November.
13. Speaking of Massachusetts, is the state losing its competitive economic edge?
14. Do you know a deserving public servant in Rhode Island? RIPEC is seeking submissions for its 46th annual Public Service Awards, which will be given at its annual meeting on Oct. 24. Previous recipients include luminaries like Rosemary Booth Gallogly, Hugh Clements and Michael O’Keefe, as well as current General Assembly budget savants Sharon Reynolds Ferland and Steve Whitney. More information on nominations and deadlines is available here.
15. Vox’s Rachel M. Cohen took a closer look at how state governments are reassessing public housing, with cameos from Speaker Shekarchi and Sen. Meghan Kallman.
16. Isobel Whitcomb examines the risks of making chronic pain core to your identity.
17. Kim Kalunian flags a smart Atlantic piece, featuring URI’s Diane DiTomasso, that asks why society views labor pain during childbirth so differently from other kinds of pain.
18. Sharon Begley explains how an Alzheimer’s “cabal” thwarted progress toward a cure.
19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — JP Morgan Chase Chairman/CEO Jamie Dimon; a Massachusetts primary preview with The Boston Globe’s Samantha J. Gross. 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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