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Nesi’s Notes: Aug. 24

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 @tednesi on Twitter.

1. Massachusetts politics is in a state of high suspense, and will stay that way so long as Joe Kennedy III is actively contemplating whether he’ll primary Ed Markey. A hit job on a septuagenarian senator seems out of character for the soft-spoken 38-year-old; then again, he’s a Kennedy, and they’re usually comfortable picking a fight. Kennedy spent the past week out of the public eye vacationing with his family on Nantucket, so he’s sure to face a media mob next week when he makes his first public appearance since Jonathan Martin’s NYT scoop. (And props to Politico’s Steph Murray, who’s been ahead of the press pack on this one.) Kennedy is already drawing criticism, including from Barney Frank, who sees a primary challenge as unnecessary and divisive, and progressive groups that revere Markey’s leadership on climate change. (Recall that a decade before the Green New Deal, Markey had his name on a high-profile cap-and-trade bill.) Kennedy has plenty going for him, though: youth, money, a national profile, and Democrats’ emotional attachment to his famous surname. He can also point to two other recent primary challengers who refused to “wait their turn,” Seth Moulton and Ayanna Pressley. Yet Kennedy has never been tested in a truly competitive campaign — he effectively cleared the field in 2012, and he didn’t even have a Republican opponent in two of his three House re-election races. Does he have the stomach, strategy and stamina to take out a veteran incumbent? Count veteran Democratic strategist Scott Ferson among those who expects Kennedy to go for it. “I think he’s far out enough over his skis that it’s hard to pull back,” Ferson said on this week’s Newsmakers. “I think he probably at this point has to pull the trigger.”

2. If Joe Kennedy does run for Senate, it will open up his 4th District U.S. House seat for effectively the first time since its creation following the 2010 Census. (In 2012, Kennedy basically cleared the field when he announced he would run to succeed the retiring Barney Frank.) A host of candidates are already flirting with a House run should Kennedy move on, including Treasurer Deb Goldberg and Attleboro-area state senators Paul Feeney and Becca Rausch. One big question: while much of the district’s footprint is far from Boston, it juts north to take in Newton and Brookline (where Kennedy lives), too. Will the next 4th District representative hail from the Attleboro/Taunton/Fall River area, or be yet another federal lawmaker from Boston’s close-in suburbs? Take a look at this map: it’s possible for five of Massachusetts’ nine House members to all come from a small slice of territory around the capital city. “Let’s put it this way: the state legislature designed the districts to have four or five representatives have a stake in Boston for a reason,” UMass Dartmouth’s Shannon Jenkins said on this week’s Newsmakers. “And I think in some ways that has frustrated many local politicians from other parts of the state, that they feel that there is this political gravity toward Boston that sometimes leads to neglect to other areas of the state. So it does matter where the ties are, and who gets elected in the 4th.”

3. If Joe Kennedy doesn’t run for Senate, New Bedford’s Scott Lang just might.

4. Just a day apart, Jim Langevin and Bill Keating each this week announced his support for impeachment hearings against President Trump, joining David Cicilline and Joe Kennedy III in going on the record for the move. Langevin noted in his remarks that he has heard repeatedly from constituents during the August recess that they wanted him to back an impeachment investigation, and both faced pressure from the left to get on board. Yet CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson notes that it’s now more of a symbolic statement than anything else: “The media lists of Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry … are effectively meaningless now that Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other senior Democrats say his panel’s investigation into Trump’s alleged misdeeds is equivalent to one. … The more pertinent question is how many Democrats would actually vote for articles of impeachment against Trump?”

5. Senator Whitehouse takes pride in his outspoken public criticism of the Supreme Court’s rightward shift, a line of attack that often draws plaudits from the left. Just this week, in fact, The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin described Whitehouse as “one of the few Democratic politicians to focus on this issue of corporate power in the courts.” But Whitehouse struck a new nerve this month by filing an amicus brief in a gun case that threatened the justices with an overhaul of the court depending on how they handle the matter. As you might expect, conservatives were outraged. But they weren’t the only ones who questioned Whitehouse’s judgment. Harvard Law’s Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s most influential liberal legal minds, tweeted: “I agree the Court should drop this case as moot and am usually a fan of Sen. Whitehouse but I think this brief was inappropriately — and stupidly — threatening. If anything is calculated to get the Court’s back up, it’s a brief like this. Really bad move.” Whitehouse was unbowed, tweeting: “Backing away from tough fights often means leaving the most important ones on the table. The independence of our courts is an important one.”

6. Also coming in for criticism on the national stage this week was Congressman Cicilline, the subject of a CNBC article that flagged Amazon executives giving him political contributions just before he began an antitrust investigation examining the company’s power. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, a sometime Cicilline sparring partner, gave the story prominent play on his show. There’s no sign Cicilline plans to return the money. Asked whether it was appropriate for the congressman to take donations from a company he’s probing, Cicilline spokesperson Rich Luchette said, “As CNBC reported, on the day he opened the probe, he also implemented a formal policy of refusing campaign contributions from companies and executives that may be subject to scrutiny. Also, as CNBC reported, he has already expressed his displeasure with Amazon. So if they hoped to benefit, they were clearly mistaken.”

7. Governor Raimondo will return from her two-week vacation facing an ethics investigation over the IGT deal.

8. Governing magazine crunched three metrics for all 50 states — density, diversity and education — to figure out which ones are most friendly to Democrats and which to Republicans. The best state for Democrats is New Jersey, while the best state for Republicans is West Virginia. (Amazing to think West Virginia went for a Democratic president as recently as 1996, and New Jersey for a Republican as recently as 1988.) The results for our region probably won’t surprise you: among the states most friendly to Democrats, Massachusetts ranks 5th and Rhode Island ranks 11th. Notable: Virginia is now ranked as even more friendly to Democrats than Rhody.

9. Here’s a dispatch out of Providence from Target 12’s Eli Sherman: “Teachers are pushing back on data released by the city this week that showed hundreds of teachers missed between 18 and 172 days of the 2018-19 school year. Among other points, the teachers argued the numbers failed to distinguish sick days from time spent out for maternity leave, trainings and district meetings. But 500 teachers missing a combined 18,984 days – regardless of the reason – has clearly had a detrimental effect on a struggling school district that also faces a shortage of substitute teachers. There is a financial cost, for one thing: the city is paying two people for one classroom when the permanent teacher is out and a substitute is in place. Then there are the educational consequences, spelled out vividly in this passage from the June report by Johns Hopkins: ‘An art class had been cancelled, because the regular teacher was absent and there was no suitable substitute teacher. Students recalled that they had received “science teaching once in all of second grade,” and third graders reported they had had zero field trips this year. Students in one class reported that they had had a sub for “five weeks,” and a student in this group reported that he knew that they were behind the other kids as a result.’”

10. A Friday scoop from Steph Machado: Providence City Councilman Michael Correia is being sued by the deputy DPW director after texts surfaced where Correia appeared to be horse-trading for the official’s job.

11. Florida is joining the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) multistate compact that Rhode Island has been part of since 2015. That could make it easier to keep the local voting rolls clean, for obvious reasons.

12. It’s not clear how serious of a shot Lincoln Chafee has at winning the 2020 Libertarian presidential nomination, despite his expressed interest. But considering the party won millions of votes in 2016, it’s conceivable that Chafee could have a real impact on 2020 if he winds up the nominee.

13. This Washington Post story about Maine’s aging population is also a cautionary tale for Rhode Island: “Across Maine, families like the Flahertys are being hammered by two slow-moving demographic forces — the growth of the retirement population and a simultaneous decline in young workers — that have been exacerbated by a national worker shortage pushing up the cost of labor. … The disconnect between Maine’s aging population and its need for young workers to care for that population is expected to be mirrored in states throughout the country over the coming decade, demographic experts say.”

14. WBUR’s Callum Borchers uses Fall River to examine the potential effects of the GateHouse-Gannett newspaper megamerger.

15. What it feels like when your college closes its doors.

16. Brown grad Elizabeth Bruenig looks at why many evangelicals stay loyal to President Trump.

17. Glad to know I’ll still be sharing Saturday mornings with Bill Reynolds for awhile yet.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang; Shannon Jenkins and Scott Ferson analyze a possible Kennedy-Markey Senate primary. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – KVH Industries Chairman, President and CEO Martin Kits van Heyningen; Veterans Assembled Electronics CEO John Shepard. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (also Sunday at 6:30 a.m. on Fox or 7:30 a.m. on The CW). Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both shows on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can catch them back-to-back Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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