Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
1. The general treasurer’s office may not be the sexiest arm of Rhode Island government, but in recent years it’s been a high-profile springboard for a series of ambitious Democrats — Frank Caprio, Gina Raimondo, and now Seth Magaziner. So it’s somewhat surprising that this year’s election to succeed Magaziner drew just two Democratic candidates, James Diossa and Stefan Pryor, along with Republican James Lathrop. Diossa and Pryor met Friday in our WPRI 12 studios for their first TV debate, and they were mostly aligned on the issues. Both gave Magaziner an “A” for his tenure (though Pryor, unlike Diossa, wouldn’t give Raimondo the same grade, instead offering just “high marks”). Both said they want to continue the current treasurer’s investment approach. Both support freezing annual pension COLAs until the fund hits 80%. Thus much of the contrast between the former mayor and former commerce secretary comes down to style, temperament and experience. “All he did was wine and dine with CEOs and cut deals,” Diossa said. “I had to manage a pension that really impacted people, such as firefighters and police officers.” Pryor countered: “The ultimate solution was giving up the system and giving it away to the state. As state treasurer, you don’t have an option like that.” The race is hard to handicap. There has been no polling in the primary so far, and both candidates have been picking up endorsements. Pryor is building up a financial advantage, which could allow him to go up with TV advertising before Diossa. But as with other down-ballot races, voters are unlikely to tune in until late. And Lathrop, the GOP contender, has made clear he is planning a real campaign this fall.
2. Speaking of the general treasurer’s office, how is the state pension fund doing amid the current market turmoil? The latest report from the State Investment Commission shows the fund was down 1% in the 2021-22 fiscal year, which the treasurer’s office argues compares favorably with the 11% decline in the S&P 500 index over the same time period. “Under Treasurer Magaziner’s ‘Back to Basics’ investment strategy, Rhode Island continues to lead the nation in pension performance,” said Treasury spokesperson Ben Smith. But the fund certainly hasn’t been immune from the pain other investors are feeling. Its total value was $9.9 billion as of June 30, down from the all-time high of $10.8 billion at the end of last year.
3. In the race for governor, Democrat Nellie Gorbea made up for last week’s quiet stretch with plenty of news this week. On Monday, Gorbea released an internal survey from late last month showing her leading Dan McKee 27% to 22% among primary voters, hours before new finance reports showed she raised nearly as much money as the incumbent during the second quarter. She also went up with a new TV ad, modeled on the buzzy one that helped her win in 2014, and announced a string of endorsements, including one from the AFT teachers union. McKee continued an aggressive schedule of public events organized by the governor’s office, including rolling out the $250 child tax credit that will hit parents’ bank accounts this fall. He also scooped more union endorsements, including from Council 94, the biggest union of state employees. Helena Foulkes saw her cash advantage over McKee and Gorbea vanish after spending $1.4 million during the second quarter, though she continued to raise significantly more money than them. Foulkes announced a plan to revamp the CRMC, and joined Gorbea in criticizing McKee for refusing to release subpoenas issued to his office in the ILO probe. Matt Brown trained his fire on Gorbea — his own one-time deputy in the secretary of state’s office — for taking a donation connected to fossil fuels, and argued his fundraising is picking up pace. Republican Ashley Kalus reported $1.1 million on hand, more evidence she plans to seriously challenge the eventual Democratic nominee come the fall. And all the candidates participated in two issues-oriented forums — Patrick Anderson has a recap of the Environmental Council forum here, and Ed Fitzpatrick has a recap of the Senior Agenda Coalition forum here.
4. Food for thought: the candidates for governor have faced almost no negative ads so far this year. What happens when the campaigns — and outside groups — start to throw haymakers?
5. Will there be any more debates for lieutenant governor before the Democratic primary? Not likely. Deb Ruggiero announced Friday that after participating in our WPRI 12 debate last week, incumbent Sabina Matos has declined to accept invitations to two others. “The voters deserve to know what the lieutenant governor has done and what the next lieutenant governor will do to make that office work for the people,” Ruggiero said. “This is one more example of the McKee-Matos ticket attempting to shortchange voters.” Matos spokesperson Mike Raia hit back, saying, “It’s not a surprise that Representative Ruggiero wants a do-over on the debate stage after she was exposed for being ineffective and out-of-touch in the WPRI debate.” Calling Matos “the most visible and most effective lieutenant governor in recent memory,” Raia said, “Sabina has a full schedule as an active lieutenant governor and unfortunately we were not able to coordinate her schedule for additional debates.” Matos and her advisers clearly see little upside in helping Ruggerio and Cynthia Mendes get additional turns in the spotlight. They released an internal campaign poll from July showing Matos 14 points ahead of the other two — albeit with 44% of voters undecided — and she has $316,000 in her campaign account, more than twice as much as Ruggiero.
6. Over in the 2nd Congressional District, Seth Magaziner started putting his enormous financial advantage to work on TV, launching an introductory campaign spot that prominently features his baby boy Max. As primary rival Joy Fox pointed out, the ad also shows Magaziner in front of someone else’s house, since he lives in the 1st District. (A spokesperson told me the shots “were filmed at a longtime supporter’s home in West Warwick.”) With less than six weeks to go before the primary election, the Democratic contest remains surprisingly sleepy, with none of Magaziner’s party rivals airing commercials or holding news conferences. Sarah Morgenthau did make a notable move, announcing veteran political strategist Kate Coyne McCoy as her campaign chair, while David Segal announced an endorsement from actress Jane Fonda. But many Democrats are already viewing Magaziner’s nomination as a fait accompli, and looking on to what they still expect to be a competitive fall fight against Republican Allan Fung. One thing the Fung campaign doesn’t want to discuss: the visit to Rhode Island planned by House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, as reported by Punchbowl News. His spokesperson has refused to answer questions about McCarthy’s trip for the last week.
7. Lawmakers making headlines for the wrong reasons … three General Assembly incumbents have now been fined for campaign finance violations: GOP Sens. Tom Paolino and Elaine Morgan and Democratic Rep. Ramon Perez … Pawtucket Rep. Carlos Tobon was spotted at a prestigious legislative conference in Denver last weekend despite effectively abandoning his seat after our May investigation.
8. The changing of the guard is official in Rhode Island’s Senate GOP caucus, with the announcement Tuesday that up-and-coming North Smithfield Republican Jessica de la Cruz is succeeding her retiring Westerly colleague Dennis Algiere as minority leader. (Gordon Rogers of Foster will take over as minority whip.) It’s the first time Senate Republicans will be under new leadership in a quarter-century, and the first time a woman has held the job since Lila Sapinsley. It will be interesting to see how de la Cruz uses her new power next year, since she is more conservative and more pugnacious than Algiere.
9. Friday’s surprisingly (problematically?) strong U.S. jobs report reinforced the perception that America is having economic problems, but not necessarily a recession. That’s the view of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who sat down with me one-on-one Wednesday at his bank’s sleek new branch in Olneyville to discuss the economy and Chase’s local expansion. “If it is a recession, it’s not what I call a ‘normal recession,'” Dimon told me. “It doesn’t mean we won’t have a real one down the road. But I wouldn’t call this a ‘normal’ recession right now.” Our full interview will be airing on next week’s edition of Newsmakers.
10. How times change. R.I. Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel announced her retirement this week, and in a valedictory interview with Tim White, she recalled that women made up only 10% of her law-school graduating class and held only three judgeships when Governor Sundlun appointed her to the bench. “It was a bit of a women’s movement in influencing me [to enter the law] and believing anything was possible,” Vogel told Tim, adding, “I thought I could really achieve whatever I wanted to do.”
11. How did Gina Raimondo and her administration colleagues secure passage of the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act? The AP’s Josh Boak has a fascinating tick-tock here.
12. Rest in peace, Mayor Doorley. Read the remembrances from Dan McGowan and Mark Patinkin.
13. Smart piece from Roll Call’s Kate Ackley: inflation isn’t just a a campaign issue — it’s also an issue for campaign budgets.
14. Your friends like you more than you think they do — it’s science!
15. I am starting to get pretty excited about when Apple upgrades us all to iOS 16.
16. Monday is Victory Day in Rhode Island — and only in Rhode Island. Here’s why.
17. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a Democratic general treasurer debate between James Diossa and Stefan Pryor. 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 (email@example.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