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. Since winning his emphatic re-election victory on Nov. 8, Dan McKee has been keeping a fairly low profile. The governor’s office has listed just one public event on his daily schedules since Dec. 16 beyond the inaugural (and even that one event was spearheaded by the two U.S. senators). Behind the scenes, though, the governor’s aides say he has been meeting regularly with his budget advisers and cabinet. The fruits of those meetings will be unveiled next week, when McKee delivers his State of the State address on Tuesday and then releases his proposed budget bill two days later. It’s an important moment in McKee’s tenure. The election gave him fresh political capital, and on Tuesday night he will for the first time be standing before voters as the person they’ve chosen to lead Rhode Island. Yet his job approval rating remains middling at 47%, the lowest among the six New England governors as of last fall, and General Assembly leaders Joe Shekarchi and Dominick Ruggerio have been flexing their own muscles as the new session begins. So what will McKee’s message be? Matt Sheaff, his senior communications adviser, told me the governor will expand on the themes in his inaugural address. “He will talk about the progress we’ve made as a state over the past year and lay out a vision for continuing our momentum,” Sheaff said in an email. “You can expect the governor to talk about all of us working together as one team – all 39 cities and towns.” He added: “The flag of each city and town have already been moved into the chamber!”

2. Governor McKee will go into his big week with another big vacancy to fill, following the not-exactly-shocking resignation of his embattled housing secretary, Josh Saal. As laid out in this space last Saturday, Saal had a series of fatal missteps in recent weeks and lost the confidence of Speaker Shekarchi, who is laser focused on housing. “I am disappointed by the lack of progress that was made under Secretary Saal’s leadership and the inadequate reports he recently submitted to the legislature,” Shekarchi said in an unusually blunt statement after Saal stepped down. “The General Assembly committed unprecedented resources to address affordable housing and homelessness in the last two budgets, and there has been very little funding spent so far.” The speaker added: “We need immediate production and I look forward to working with Governor McKee and a new secretary. The time to act is now!” As of Friday afternoon a replacement for Saal had yet to be announced, with some speculating that McKee might bring in former Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. Meanwhile, a new report by the Senate Fiscal Office tried to examine where the administration stands in its efforts to spend federal stimulus funds, including $250 million in federal funds for 10 housing initiatives. But all 10 initiatives were accompanied by this note: “The Senate Fiscal Office has not received a response to its request for a program status update from the Department of Housing at this time.” A separate presentation from the administration showed just $8.4 million of the housing money had been spent as of Nov. 30, though additional money has begun moving through the pipeline since then. But in the end, the focus on money may be misplaced; Rhode Island’s housing shortage is more about red tape than a lack of public funds.

3. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “Don’t look now, but there will be another $100 million up for grabs in this year’s budget cycle on top of the $610 million surplus. Rhode Island lawmakers took a gamble last year by allocating $70 million for a blue economy project and $30 million for a bioscience project — both contingent on winning a federal grant through President Biden’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge program. The state’s effort was championed by then-Secretary Pryor, but Rhode Island wasn’t selected. And the missed opportunity effectively left $100 million of federal stimulus money without a home because budget officials don’t have the authority to redirect the money without General Assembly approval. Lawmakers are keeping close tabs on the untapped money; it was mentioned multiple times during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday as they await the governor’s budget bill. As Providence Sen. Sam Zurier put it: ‘Even in the context of a $1 billion program, $100 million is a lot of money.’”

4. Jack Reed is so circumspect in his public comments that he’s about the last member of Congress you might expect to cause an international incident. But Reed caught the attention of the Aussies when he recently signed a letter along with his GOP counterpart on the Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe, questioning whether America’s submarine sector has the industrial capacity to fulfill orders tied to the controversial AUKUS sub deal. (This is the deal that upset France so much.) The blowback was swift. “Concern about Reed’s letter spread in Australia over the weekend, to the point that Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese received numerous questions about it during a press event,” reported Breaking Defense. And a bipartisan group of House Armed Services Committee members challenged the arguments made by Reed and Inhofe in their own letter. Reed used a Twitter thread to walk back his comments this week, writing: “This powerful partnership is central to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, dramatically improving the capabilities of our allies, and increasing our engagement in the region.” Heavy is the head that wears the chairman’s crown.

5. After nearly two weeks of controversy over his TV show “Caught in Providence,” Judge Caprio announced Friday he will retire from the Municipal Court bench.

6. Eye on the State House … congratulations to the new Senate chairs: Lou DiPalma on the Finance Committee, Dawn Euer on the Judiciary Committee, Alana DiMario on the Environment Committee, and Mark McKenney on the Oversight Committee … Kathy Fogarty has replaced Doc Corvese as House Rules Committee chair, Ian Donnis reports … the Women’s Fund reports 40% of Rhode Island elected offices were won by women in November; the group will hold a reception to welcome female legislators on Jan. 25.

7. Secretary of State Gregg Amore told our Kim Kalunian and Kayla Fish he will file legislation to move Rhode Island’s primary election to the last Tuesday in August in order to ensure military ballots get out on time.

8. Newly inaugurated Gov. Maura Healey gave Southeastern Massachusetts leaders a happy surprise this week when she picked the region for her first official visit since being sworn into office last Thursday. Healey trooped to UMass Dartmouth for a roundtable on climate sustainability, telling me afterwards she wanted to make clear her administration’s commitment to supporting the South Coast. Among those on hand was New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who’s known Healey since they were fellow Harvard undergraduates and has cultivated their relationship assiduously in recent years. Appearing on this week’s Newsmakers, Mitchell said that while Charlie Baker also accomplished much for the region, particularly by finally making South Coast Rail a reality, he believes Healey is starting off in a better place. “It took a while to get there [with Baker],” Mitchell said. “I think one of the struggles that historically the region has had is just the lack of familiarity of folks who are in office in Boston, and there is a little bit of a blind spot on their part, Republican and Democratic administrations alike.” The mayor is now facing a major decision in the coming months: he must decide if he will seek another four-year term this fall or step aside. Mitchell tells us he is sincerely torn about whether to run.

9. Elizabeth Warren is up for re-election in 2024, and has repeatedly said she intends to seek a third term. But politicians are always looking ahead to the next campaign, and there are scenarios where Warren isn’t on the ballot next year — if she changes her mind and decides to retire, or if President Biden opts against a re-election campaign and she seeks the White House again. While Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley would start as the favorite in an open Democratic primary — as Joe Kennedy III surely knew when he made his ill-fated attempt to knock off Ed Markey and avoid a clash with Pressley — she might face competition from this region’s ambitious young congressman. Speculating about a Warren-less Senate landscape next year, veteran Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said last week on WCVB-TV: “Ayanna’s the frontrunner, but Jake Auchincloss certainly would get in, too.” And if Auchincloss did run for Senate, it would mean another scramble for the now-open 4th District seat which he himself won after Kennedy made the same move.

10. And speaking of the region’s four U.S. senators, new polling finds Jack Reed is still tops among the group with a 56% job approval rating, followed by Ed Markey (53%), Elizabeth Warren (51%) and Sheldon Whitehouse (50%).

11. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is facing significant opposition as she seeks to convince the RNC’s 168 members to keep her in place at their winter meeting later this month, and among those she hasn’t convinced are Rhode Island’s three representatives on the committee. Rhode Island GOP Chair Sue Cienki confirmed this week that she, National Committeeman Steve Frias and National Committeewoman Lee Ann Sennick still haven’t decided whether to support McDaniel for another term.

12. Tim White has good news about the safety of local roads: the number of wrong-way crashes has plummeted in Rhode Island since the state installed new detection systems.

13. Columbia Journalism Review warns about growing censorship by government PR flacks.

14. Natalie Shure has a thought-provoking look at the way we understand “Long Covid.”

15. Ted Gioia on the lessons we can learn from the revitalization of Barnes & Noble.

16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12, 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 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