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. As Sheldon Whitehouse begins his 17th year in the Senate, he finds himself in an enviable position. He’s emerged as a leading voice on major issues, notably climate change and the judiciary, and just became a full chairman for the first time (on the Budget Committee). He’s frequently in the national media, and is a regular target of the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page — not meant as a compliment, yet still a sign of influence. Whitehouse’s approach to the job seems reminiscent of the late Ted Kennedy, in that he tries to be a partisan warrior on some issues and a bipartisan dealmaker on others. Example: Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy found himself explaining to a hometown newspaper this week why he was cosponsoring a new bill with Whitehouse, tagged as a liberal New England environmentalist. “He’s absolutely the best person,” Cassidy said of Whitehouse. “We have to have something that is bipartisan to pass the Senate. He is able, as a coastal state senator, to speak with authority. … This is a narrow issue that Sheldon Whitehouse and I can collaborate on even though we’re going to disagree on many other things.” Appearing on this week’s Newsmakers, Whitehouse said the partisan hostility on Capitol Hill that was in evidence during Tuesday night’s State of the Union is real, but not the whole story. “It’s more like separate lanes,” he said. “There’s the ‘OK this is partisan warfare’ lane, and then the ‘OK we can still work together here’ lane.” Whitehouse is up for re-election in 2024, and though he’s already drawn an opponent in Republican Ray McKay, national forecasters see him as a heavy favorite to win a fourth six-year term. The 67-year-old has a 50% approval rating, $1.3 million of campaign cash in the bank, and perhaps more importantly, history on his side: a Democrat hasn’t lost re-election for U.S. Senate in Rhode Island since 1928.

2. Count Sheldon Whitehouse among those who were impressed by President Biden’s performance Tuesday night, particularly since Whitehouse felt the “raucous” atmosphere was different from any of the dozen or so previous State of the Union addresses he’s attended. “I have a lot of affection for Joe Biden,” Whitehouse said on Newsmakers. “We’ve known each other for a long time. He’s come to Rhode Island for me. He was the guy who said, ‘Do you want to be on the Supreme Court?’ We’ve got a history. … There was a little bit of anxiety of, like, ‘How’s he going to do?’ — you know, wishing him well. And as it turned out, we didn’t need to worry. He did really well.” Whitehouse is ready to support Biden for re-election next year. “I think Joe has really shown himself very well,” he said. But what about the drumbeat of polls showing other Democrats aren’t convinced the president should run again when he’d be 86 years old at the end of a second term? “Look at what he’s done. Look at what he’s done,” Whitehouse said. “Or vote for somebody better. But identify that person first — otherwise, get behind President Biden.”

3. Stefan Pryor is officially back at the State House, this time as Rhode Island’s housing secretary. And he has his work cut out for him: as our Eli Sherman reported this week, Rhode Island’s housing market is defined by high prices, low supply, and little sign that will change. Pryor has a few things going for him. He is trusted by Governor McKee and will likely be given some latitude to do the job. He knows Smith Hill and understands the politics of his job, something that didn’t appear to be a strength of his widely criticized predecessor Josh Saal. And he understands that municipal resistance to housing production is his biggest challenge — his first day on the job included a meeting with the head of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, Ernie Almonte, to begin discussing ways of breaking down that resistance. But Pryor’s arrival was overshadowed by news about his predecessor, after the Projo’s Patrick Anderson scooped that Governor McKee’s team gave Saal an unannounced $105-an-hour consulting contract as they ushered him out the door. During a live interview with Kim Kalunian and me on 12 News at 4, Pryor shrugged off suggestions that taxpayers might be upset to see someone let go for poor performance getting more of their money. “I don’t think our primary concern should be either perception or politics,” he said. “I think it ought to be what will move the needle on helping Rhode Islanders of every income level find housing at affordable levels.”

4. A Democrat has won every single statewide and federal office on the ballot in Rhode Island for the last six general elections — meaning, in every case, the earlier Democratic primary election was actually the decisive moment in those contests. So is it time for Rhode Island to blow up the way it conducts elections in order to ensure that more voters are casting ballots that feature the actual viable alternatives for an office? That’s the view of those behind People’s Primary, a newly organized effort to convince the General Assembly they should adopt a new election framework — such as a top-two runoff, ranked-choice voting, or an open primary. In the first case, for example, Democrats Dan McKee and Helena Foulkes would have faced off in the November gubernatorial election — rather than McKee and Ashley Kalus — because they were the two highest vote-getters in September among all the candidates for governor. A poll conducted by Joe Fleming for Bryant’s Hassenfeld Institute last year found 57% of Rhode Island voters support an open primary (where you can vote in either party’s primary regardless of registration status) and 59% back a top-two runoff, but 47% oppose ranked-choice. Not everyone agrees that any of these options are the route to go in revamping elections, though; political analyst Sam G. Howard, for example, suggests the state should examine making it easier for new political parties to form. Meanwhile, the Senate has just created a new special commission to study alternative election systems, chaired by Providence Democrat Sam Zurier. “Other cities and states have adopted a variety of ways to conduct elections that come closer to the goal of majority rule,” Zurier said Friday. “The study commission will review these alternatives to see whether voters felt more satisfied with the results, how clearly they understood the process, how the transition went, and what sort of changes resulted during campaigns.”

5. Should Rhode Island eliminate life without parole as a sentence for convicted murderers? State Rep. Jay Edwards says yes, but Attorney General Peter Neronha says no. Tim White examines the debate here.

6. Nearly two years ago, Congress sent the Providence public schools $128 million as part of the American Rescue Plan Act to address learning loss and other pandemic effects. Our Steph Machado has been keeping close tabs on the money — and discovered this week that just 6% has been spent so far.

7. Jim Langevin is keeping busy now that he’s out of Congress. Fresh off announcing academic appointments at both Brown and URI, Langevin this week was named by venture-capital firm Paladin Capital Group as a new member of its Strategic Advisory Group. All that said, if he ever wanted to get back into federal politics, he’d have a head start: Langevin left Congress still sitting on $577,000 in campaign cash. And he’s far from alone. Roll Call reported this week that former members of Congress are setting on a combined $54 million in leftover campaign cash. “Those funds cannot be used for personal expenses, but ex-lawmakers may use that money to make political donations and charitable contributions,” Roll Call’s Kate Ackley and Herb Jackson explained. “They are under no time pressure to purge the money, either, and can sit on old campaign cash to use later, including for future runs for office.”

8. Congressman Cicilline is co-sponsoring a resolution to expel George Santos from Congress.

9. Congressman Magaziner landed the most talked about local guest for the State of the Union by inviting Indianapolis Colts defensive end Kwity Paye, the former Hendricken star who two years ago became the first Rhode Islander selected in the first round of the NFL draft since 1939. Magaziner said he views Paye’s story as the American dream in action — he came to the United States as a refugee from the Liberian civil war, and used his athletic talents to build a new life for himself and his family. Paye told me he’d never been to Washington before this week, and he included the Liberian Embassy among his stops while visiting the capital. The invitation also paid P.R. dividends for the freshman congressman, who got write-ups in unusual places like the Providence Journal sports section and The Athletic.

10. “The smallest state has the biggest blockchain ambitions.” That was the headline from Politico in a story Thursday about how R.I. Commerce Secretary Liz Tanner is hoping to use the digital record-keeping technology to streamline state government. She says she’s carrying out an initiative launched by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, and according to Politico, “The project puts Rhode Island in league with a constellation of other technophile governments.”

11. Alex Kuffner provides a comprehensive look at the state of recycling in Rhode Island.

12. Another one of Rhode Island’s most prominent jazz musicians has left us. The smoky-voiced singer Carol Sloane, who grew up in Providence and first turned heads at an early edition of the Newport Jazz Festival, died last month at 85. Her career spanned an astonishing 70 years. The Washington Post’s Matt Schudel filed a nice obit for Sloane here, and JazzWax’s Marc Myers lets you listen to his 10 favorite Sloane tracks here.

13. A programming note: with all-day coverage of the Super Bowl on Fox tomorrow, Newsmakers will be airing at 8 a.m., two hours earlier than usual.

14. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 8 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

An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Democrats had won every statewide and federal race in the last eight Rhode Island general elections; Lincoln Chafee won the 2010 gubernatorial election as an independent, so the total is six. (Chafee became a Democrat in 2013.)