1. After 49 years, the Roe v. Wade era is over, and abortion is in the hands of lawmakers. While Rhode Island and Massachusetts have already codified the right to terminate a pregnancy in state law, that doesn’t mean the ruling won’t affect local politics. On Friday, activists assailed top State House Democrats Dan McKee, Joe Shekarchi and Dominick Ruggerio for closing out this year’s legislative session without a vote to allow taxpayer funding of abortion through Medicaid and the state employees’ health insurance plan. “Any of these men could have prioritized abortion access,” tweeted Sen. Bridget Valverde. McKee has expressed support for the change, while defending his refusal to include it in his budget as savvy legislative strategy. But his Democratic challengers Nellie Gorbea, Helena Foulkes, Matt Brown and Luis Daniel Muñoz are all arguing they would be more aggressive than McKee; Foulkes is already on the air this weekend with a new campaign ad making the case. As for the two legislative leaders, they promised to resume the discussion once the General Assembly returns to Smith Hill in January. The two are not aligned on abortion; Ruggerio is pro-life and voted against the new state abortion law in 2019, while Shekarchi is pro-choice. The same is true of their majority leaders: Sen. Mike McCaffrey voted no on the abortion law, while Rep. Chris Blazejewski voted yes. Will the new salience of abortion make it harder for pro-life Democrats to win legislative primaries in Rhode Island? The high court’s ruling could reverberate in the competitive race for the 2nd Congressional District, as well. Democratic frontrunner Seth Magaziner has seized on abortion to draw a contrast with GOP frontrunner Allan Fung, whose party appointed the majority that ended Roe and who will now face pressure to spell out how he’d vote on specific abortion bills. With the political environment growing ever more dire for Democrats, Magaziner and his allies are urgently seeking issues that could help convince voters to let them retain Jim Langevin’s seat come November.
2. No lawmaker on Capitol Hill has spent more time and energy critiquing the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc than Sheldon Whitehouse. That has earned him hosannas from liberals, who see him as an oracle exposing the web of money and groups behind the court’s shift to the right. It’s drawn derision from conservatives, who see Whitehouse as spreading a conspiracy theory and trying to intimidate the justices. Suffice to say, the decision to overturn Roe is not leading Whitehouse to moderate his rhetoric. “I think this court has turned more political than any court in my lifetime, and this is one of a series of decisions that I think were driven by the groups that paid big money to get the judges on the court,” Whitehouse told reporters Friday. “It’s not just that they’re conservative. It’s that they got put on the court by special interests that wanted them to do these things, and now they’re delivering.” (Just wait until next week, when the justices are expected to target Democratic policy on the other issue closest to Whitehouse’s heart: climate change.) A former U.S. attorney and state attorney general himself, Whitehouse argued the decision could have consequences even for residents of states where abortion is legal. “It means for Rhode Island that we have to protect Rhode Islanders when they’re traveling, if they need abortion services,” he said. “It means we have to look at dealing with Republicans in the Senate creating a national ban on abortion and undoing Rhode Island’s protections.” Jack Reed offered a similar warning: “Rhode Island law serves as a shield to blunt the impact of this decision on our residents. But that is not the same as a constitutionally guaranteed right. Laws can change and state laws can be pre-empted by federal law.”
3. After Friday’s ruling, RWU Law’s Mike Yelnosky says, “Everything is up for grabs.”
4. It’s always interesting when both sides in a political dispute are confident they will win the argument — because one of them is wrong, and eventually you’ll find out who. That’s the case with Nellie Gorbea’s call for an increase in Rhode Island’s corporate tax rate, which is a centerpiece of her newly launched first TV ad. Gorbea’s campaign is confident the proposal will resonate with Democratic primary voters, particularly since she tied it to funding for pre-K and housing. But advisers to Helena Foulkes and Dan McKee sound just as confident the strategy will backfire, not only because the corporate tax is paid by some beloved local businesses such as Del’s and Chelo’s, but also because voters are very nervous about the economy right now. We’ll see who has the better argument, but one thing is already clear: the Democratic primary for governor is finally heating up. Meantime, the state party will gather for its endorsement convention on Sunday evening, another chance for the candidates to show their strength of support. McKee landed a key endorsement on Friday, when Joe Shekarchi announced he is backing the governor for re-election — notable in part because the speaker effectively controls the state party in Rhode Island. “We have an excellent working relationship which resulted in a great budget,” Shekarchi said. However, Shekarchi’s advisers emphasized that he was supporting McKee in a purely personal capacity, and that he wouldn’t be twisting arms among other party leaders ahead of the endorsement vote. Foulkes got her own high-profile support this week, as Nancy Pelosi headlined a D.C. fundraiser for the candidate.
5. If the gloves have finally come off in the primary for governor, they’re still snugly on the hands of the Democrats vying for the party’s nomination in the 2nd Congressional District. Despite Seth Magaziner’s massive lead in polling and fundraising, the other five candidates so far seem uninterested in mixing it up with one another to draw some attention and define themselves with voters. A good example: Eli Sherman and I reported Wednesday that erstwhile Rhode Islander Sarah Morgenthau is still receiving a homestead tax exemption in Washington, D.C., not North Kingstown. (Her campaign says that’s because she was still living in Washington to work for President Biden until earlier this year.) It’s the kind of news story that usually draws criticism from rival candidates — but Morgenthau’s fellow low-polling candidates gave her a pass. The question is, how do they plan to fundamentally change the dynamic in the race between now and September in order to overcome Magaziner’s early lead? Morgenthau took a step in that direction after the high court decision Friday, saying, “It is inexcusable that in our state we have never elected a Democratic woman to Congress, and I reject outright the suggestion that the solution in November is to return a slate of solely men to represent us in Washington.”
6. The end of the General Assembly session was relatively sedate, as those things go, with lawmakers leaving the State House well before dawn early Friday. That was despite a last-minute effort by Senate leaders to sneak a provision into an unrelated bill renaming CCRI’s Newport campus after their former colleague Teresa Paiva Weed, something House leaders had already said they weren’t going to do. (Speaker Shekarchi obliquely credited his chief of staff, Ray Simone, with disposing of the matter, saying in his concluding remarks: “We almost had a significant issue tonight, but Ray Simone knew how to handle it and get it done.”) In fact, the biggest news on the last day of session was the unexpected announcement that House GOP Leader Blake Filippi is retiring at the ripe old age of 41, depriving Republicans of a telegenic up-and-comer. The announcement brought an outpouring of praise for Filippi from both sides of the aisle, with many of his colleagues sounding somewhat envious as they praised Filippi’s ability to speak his mind and break with convention.
7. What do Stephen Colbert and Marjorie Taylor Greene have in common? They’ve both been in recent disputes involving Jake Auchincloss’s staff and the U.S. Capitol Police.
8. Mike Montecalvo and Johnny Villella share the story of Providence Superintendent Dr. Javier Montañez in a new 12 on 12 digital documentary.
9. Tolly Taylor examines how another Hurricane Carol could devastate Warwick.
10. Is Pope Francis getting ready to retire? NCR’s Christopher White on the pontiff’s health.
11. Dr. Scott Gottlieb on how to fix the baby formula crisis.
12. Charlie Warzel looks at whether Google search results are getting worse.
13. This will resonate with my fellow Millennials: time to bring back the AIM away message?
14. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Stefan Pryor, Democratic candidate for general treasurer; reporters’ roundtable. 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