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. Usually it doesn’t matter much who serves as lieutenant governor — then once in a while, it matters a lot. Last year was one of those times, with Dan McKee ascending from the No. 2 job to become governor following Gina Raimondo’s appointment to the cabinet. That turn of events may increase voters’ interest in the current Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, which features three sitting officeholders: appointed incumbent Sabina Matos, state Sen. Cynthia Mendes and state Rep. Deb Ruggiero. The LG’s office has few statutory responsibilities, so voters have to decide for themselves what’s important in the role. The three Democrats faced off in our WPRI 12 studio Friday for a sometimes tense debate, and their biggest clash was over abortion — specifically, why the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act that would allow state funding of the procedure has failed to become law. Mendes tried to put Matos and Ruggiero on the defensive, asking why they didn’t use their current positions to get the bill passed. Matos said she urged Governor McKee to include the policy in his budget but he declined; Ruggiero strained to explain her House Finance vote to hold the bill for further study as standard State House procedure. But Mendes has an imperfect record on abortion rights herself: she was posting anti-abortion messages on social media as recently as 2016, which she says was before she gained a better understanding of the issue. Unsurprisingly, our 12 News/RWU poll in May showed few primary voters had made up their minds on the race — Matos led the field, but with only 21%, and 53% were undecided. She also has a big financial edge, as well as the advantage of incumbency — arguably an even bigger boost in a race that is likely to garner relatively little attention.

2. This weekend’s special edition of Newsmakers with the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor kicks off our series of 12 News debates leading up to the Sept. 13 primary election. Mark your calendars for the rest: general treasurer is next Friday, Providence mayor is Aug. 23, the 2nd Congressional District is Aug. 30, and we close out with the candidates for governor on Sept. 6.

3. It was a big week for Rhode Islanders on Capitol Hill. On Friday night, after a week of drama over whether there would be a vote, Congressman Cicilline got his proposed assault-weapons ban bill through the House on a razor-thin vote of 217-213. While the measure faces long odds in the Senate, it marks the first time such a ban has won approval on Capitol Hill in decades; it also marks a turnaround from just a few years ago, when House leaders were frustrated that Cicilline was raising the issue. Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo clinched her own banner legislative achievement, securing passage of the CHIPS Act after weeks of uncertainty about whether she and her allies could get enough Senate Republicans to break a filibuster. In a sign of her stature in the administration, the White House released a photo showing Raimondo seated beside President Biden as they watched the final vote.

4. More from Washington … President Biden (virtually) and Speaker Pelosi were among the headliners at an event Congressman Langevin held marking the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, where he named his successors as co-chairs of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus he founded back in 2001 … Senator Whitehouse once again took aim at the U.S. Supreme Court, announcing bills to institute 18-year term limits for justices and allow expedited congressional reviews of their rulings … Jake Auchincloss passed his first standalone bill out of the House, the Promoting New and Diverse Depository Institutions Act.

5. The 2nd Congressional District race to replace Jim Langevin remains high on the national radar screen, with Punchbowl News reporting Friday that House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy plans to travel to Rhode Island soon for an event. Allan Fung’s campaign didn’t answer Friday when asked if McCarthy is coming to raise money for him, but it would make sense with GOP hopes high about the potential for a November upset here in New England. Still, no Republican thinks they’ll have an easy time flipping the seat, as a new Fox News poll shows an improvement in Democrats’ political standing nationwide. Fung’s likely Democratic opponent, Seth Magaziner, wasted no time in giving his support to Joe Manchin’s Inflation Reduction Act after the pivotal West Virginia Democrat unexpectedly reached a deal with Chuck Schumer. “This proposal lowers inflation by empowering Medicare to negotiate drug prices, capping out-of-pocket costs, extending the cost-saving measure of the Affordable Care Act and lowering energy costs by helping our country finally transition away from foreign fossil fuels,” Magaziner said. Fung isn’t taking a stand on the Manchin bill yet, saying he wants more time to digest it. “I support efforts to reduce or control the price of prescription drugs for our seniors,” Fung said in a statement. “However I have concerns about raising taxes on American businesses in this time of economic uncertainty with the real threat of a recession on the horizon.”

6. If you’re in Newport this weekend, don’t be surprised to run into a United States senator. Senate Democrats are holding a multi-day fundraising event for well-heeled donors in the City by the Sea, with Amy Klobuchar and Dick Durbin among the many caucus members expected to attend. (Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, too, obviously.) Details are hard to come by, but Gina Raimondo was expected to address the gathering.

7. With the Democratic primary for governor now six weeks away, Dan McKee continued to consolidate establishment support by nailing down two key union endorsements, from the AFL-CIO and NEARI. (No endorsement yet from the state’s other teachers union, the AFT.) As our political analyst Joe Fleming points out, with many expecting a relatively low-turnout Democratic primary, the communication and foot soldiers provided by major unions may make a difference, especially in a close race. Helena Foulkes also shifted her campaign into higher gear, holding a news conference to tout four endorsers: Jorge Elorza, Patrick Kennedy, Maryellen Goodwin and Joe Almeida. Later the same day she headed to another fundraiser of well-heeled supporters, this one in Narragansett hosted by Sophie and Ruth Dowling along with their husbands. (Others on the invitation included Paul Choquette, Terry Murray, Chip Rogers, Jim Rosati and Tom Ryan.) Foulkes got her first endorsement from a local party organization, as well, with the Middletown Democratic Town Committee voting to give her its endorsement. Nellie Gorbea had a quieter week, announcing no public campaign events but issuing a press release about a 19-page plan to combat climate change.

8. Here’s a dispatch from Target 12 managing editor Tim White: “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act cases aren’t unfamiliar at federal court in Providence. Enacted in 1970, RICO is a law specifically designed to take down the Mafia. But this week federal prosecutors used it in a different way: to bring down the hammer on Providence’s notorious Chad Brown gang. City police say that crew has been at war with the East Side gang since 2005, holding both responsible for murders, attempted murders, and shootings that caught innocent bystanders in the crossfire. With RICO, racketeering itself is not the crime; the complex cases require prosecutors to show that a defendant contributed to an ongoing criminal operation. (In this case, they proved RICO by leaning into attempted murder and drug dealing, as well as other crimes.) The Chad Brown case was heading toward trial, but at the 11th hour the four defendants decided to plead guilty — due in no small part to the mountain of evidence against them, including their own social media posts bragging about the violence. This was an important case for the feds, as well as city police and state prosecutors; the four men, who have been in custody since 2018, were major players in the Chad Brown gang. While that doesn’t mean the gang has now been completely dismantled, a police source of mine told me some of the violence diminished as soon as they were picked up. U.S. District Chief Judge Jack McConnell was visibly frustrated with the city’s gun violence epidemic during the sentencing Tuesday. He told the defendants the prison terms he was handing down might actually be to their benefit, saying: ‘The only way I can keep you alive is to lock you up.'”

9. Tolly Taylor examines the dangers of the East Bay Bike Path.

10. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “Ted and I spent a good portion of this week trying to nail down exactly how much taxpayers are now expected to pay to help build the new minor-league soccer stadium in Pawtucket. The answer didn’t come easily, as state officials struggled to provide a straightforward breakdown of the funding structure. And while some questions remain — including where Pawtucket will come up with its share of the money — the short answer is that taxpayers will pay at least $60 million to finance construction of the 10,000-seat stadium for a yet-to-be-named team. Developer Brett Johnson of Fortuitous Partners and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien successfully sold the new financing plan to Governor McKee, who stepped in as the tie-breaking vote Monday on an agreement to shift $27 million away from a future phase of the project focused on housing development in order to fund the cost of the stadium itself. About $47 million of the $60 million in taxpayer money will go toward the stadium, with the remaining $13 million set aside for expenses associated coming up with that much cash. For comparison, taxpayers would have paid $44 million to net about $38 million for the proposed PawSox stadium that the AAA ballclub’s ownership group proposed in 2017. As we know, that deal was rejected and the minor league baseball team now plays in Worcester.”

11. Providence residents: get ready to vote on 10 proposed charter changes this fall.

12. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Steph Machado: “This week we rolled out three new interviews with the candidates for mayor on Pulse of Providence, which you can watch now on WPRI.com or listen on your favorite podcast app. The three Democrats agree on a lot, but one policy where they differ is regarding the city’s new license plate readers, which have already started to be installed and will soon begin being used by police. Brett Smiley was the only candidate who threw his support behind the cameras, which take photos of cars on the road to create a database for police to locate crime suspects, missing people or stolen cars. Gonzalo Cuervo and Nirva LaFortune both said the cameras need to go through a legislative process — they were not approved by the City Council — and be regulated to address privacy concerns before being activated. That process would have been required by law if state Rep. Joe Solomon‘s bill had made it through the General Assembly this year; the proposed legislation would set guardrails for how the cameras can be used and would require city or town council approval to utilize the technology. ‘I would prefer not to have to have the cameras,’ Solomon said. ‘But I’m a realist and I understand where we are right ow. If the cameras are going to be in place, I just want to make sure there are privacy protections in place.’ Speaker Shekarchi said the bill will get ‘careful consideration’ again next year. With the cameras set to be used in eight Rhode Island communities, Solomon added: ‘We need to put up barriers early on so it doesn’t get out of hand.'”

13. And here’s a bonus dispatch from Steph Machado: “Term-limited Mayor Jorge Elorza jumped right back into politics this week, endorsing Helena Foulkes for governor and sharing the results of a private poll he commissioned with Boston Globe columnist Dan McGowan, who reports it shows Elorza is popular among Democratic primary voters in the city. Elorza also polled the mayor’s race, with the results showing Brett Smiley in the lead at 31%, but still plenty of room for Gonzalo Cuervo and Nirva LaFortune to catch up. Elorza hasn’t said who he thinks his successor should be, but his newly publicized popularity may prompt the candidates to more urgently seek his endorsement. (Smiley was the only candidate who said he had asked Elorza for his ‘support’ during our Pulse of Providence interviews.) Elorza told Ted Nesi after the Foulkes event that he hasn’t decided if he’ll weigh in on the mayor’s race, but he at least wants to sit down with all three candidates. ‘The issues kind of matter, but I want to see where they’re at in term of leadership and the vision that they bring forth for the city,’ Elorza said. ‘I want what’s best for the city and I’ll weigh in if I believe I can make a difference, and there’s a real choice that needs to be made.'”

14. If you’re a political junkie, be glad you live in Rhode Island rather than Massachusetts this year. The latest Globe/Suffolk poll shows Democrat Maura Healey up by 30 points over her two potential GOP opponents, leaving little suspense about the race to replace Charlie Baker. Locally, Congressman Jake Auchincloss is running unopposed for a second term, while there’s no sign of a formidable challenge to Bill Keating, either. Things are more interesting further down the ballot, with feisty Democratic primaries for attorney general, lieutenant governor and state auditor. Former Congressman Joe Kennedy III also dipped his toe back into campaign politics by endorsing Tanisha Sullivan in her campaign to unseat longtime Democratic Secretary of State Bill Galvin. Galvin has a formidable reputation as a political knife-fighter, earning him the Beacon Hill nickname “the Prince of Darkness.”

15. Sarah Guernelli and Johnny Villella pay tribute to the late, lamented Choco Taco.

16. Patriots training camp is here, and I’m all in on Mac Jones. If you want to think bigger picture about the future of football, check out these 30 ideas on improving the NFL.

17. Heading to Newport for Jazz Fest today? I’ll be there — make sure you say hi!

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a debate between the three Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor: Sabina Matos, Cynthia Mendes and Deb Ruggiero. 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 (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