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Nesi’s Notes: June 29

Ted Nesi

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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 @tednesi on Twitter.

1. On Wednesday, Mayor Elorza stood side by side with Governor Raimondo and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green pledging an all-out effort to fix the Providence schools following a devastating report by Johns Hopkins. A day later Elorza was getting about as far away from Providence as you can get while remaining in the country, hopping a flight to Hawaii for a long-scheduled mayoral confab. Unintentionally, his decision to bolt the continental United States after the review’s release reinforced that the real decisions about the future of his city’s schools will be made by Raimondo and Infante-Green, not the mayor. (In fact, the governor picked the new commissioner in no small part because she was seen as a good fit for the job ahead in Providence.) The pair are embarking on a monumental undertaking. Improving any urban school district is a challenge — improving one that compares unfavorably with cities like Newark and Worcester is an even taller order. Yet the opportunity is just as large: spearheading a durable turnaround in Providence’s K-12 system would go down as one of Raimondo’s greatest achievements. At the moment, though, it’s not even clear what a formal state intervention — the governor’s aides don’t like the word “takeover” — will look like. Infante-Green is currently on a listening tour with city parents and teachers to gather input and build support for whatever comes next, with a formal recommendation for action expected later in the summer. Then the real work will begin — and this week’s noble rhetoric will be put to the test.

2. Happy Fourth of July! A Nesi’s Notes pop quiz: who signed the Declaration of Independence for Rhode Island? Answer in item 19 below.

3. The General Assembly wrapped up just past 10 p.m. Friday night, but this won’t be the last time we see lawmakers on Smith Hill this year. The late-breaking announcement of a tentative deal to keep IGT in Rhode Island means legislators will need to return, potentially in September, to vet the agreement. Expect to hear a lot between now and then from Twin River, which quickly released a statement criticizing the “no-bid” contract. (The governor’s office said former IGT chairman Don Sweitzer, a close Raimondo ally who is now raising money for her at the DGA, had no involvement in the new deal.) The special session will also give Assembly leaders the chance to bring up any other thorny bills that didn’t clear the finish line this week. What’s unclear is where exactly they will meet: major State House renovations are set to begin soon, meaning the House and Senate chambers likely won’t be available this fall.

4. Speaker Mattiello has survived two tough re-election races, but he has every intention of running again in 2020 — and beyond. “I love the job, and I am very committed to seeing the car tax through to its complete phaseout,” he told reporters last weekend. That would keep Mattiello in place at least through 2023, “and then maybe a little bit more,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s cemented in place, and that nobody can undo it. Because there’s always pressure on it and there’s always attacks on it. You may not see it, but that’s in fact the reality. It’s the one thing that the citizens of the state really ask me about and really talk about. Throughout this entire budget process, it was like, ‘Please don’t do this, and make sure you do the car tax.’ That’s what people care about, and I work as hard as I can at listening to what I think they want us to do, and we try to follow through in that. So I will feel very good if at the end of my legislative career if I can look back and say, we really did that for people and it’s cemented in place and nobody’s going to undo it. There’s a lot of things that are going to warm my heart relative to my service to the state and my neighbors. But that will be a special thing that I can point to. So I’m going to stay here to make sure that gets done for all the people that want it to be done.”

5. The saga of Cranston chiropractor Victor Pedro’s $1 million appropriation in the state budget has given line-item veto advocates a potent new talking point. But the story also highlights the important if arcane question of how, exactly, a line item is defined. There was no line item in the budget that said “Victor Pedro” (or “Cortical Integrative Therapy”) — it was part of a $93 million line item called “Other Services.” Would Raimondo have had to veto that entire $93 million to get at Pedro’s $1 million? “This is why even though a line item veto is a good idea, if it is ever enacted it has to be done through a comprehensive overhaul of our whole budget process (which should also include going to a two year cycle). Nothing in government is ever as simple as it seems,” tweeted GOP Rep. Brian Newberry. Progressive wonk Tom Sgouros offered this take: “I did an analysis a few years ago about line item veto states, and their budgets are just written differently — because of the line item veto. It’s a red herring policy idea, a poor substitute for electing good people. Plus they have tremendous court battles in those states about what constitutes a single line item, with legislatures cramming more and more stuff into a single line.”

6. One of the State House’s most influential lobbyists, Paul Valletta, is Mayor Fung’s pick to be the new Cranston fire chief.

7. Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III is our guest on this week’s Newsmakers, and the show has already made national headlines after Kennedy announced that he now supports an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. … Kennedy and David Cicilline split with Jim Langevin and Bill Keating over a GOP-backed border funding bill this week, but Kennedy put the blame across Capitol Hill: “I’m frustrated a bit with our Senate colleagues who essentially took all leverage that we might have had to get a better deal and cut our legs out from under us.” (Cicilline made a similar point to Politico.) … On why he didn’t run for president: “I’ve got a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old and a busy job. I’m away from my family already 100 nights a year. That’s not something I was all that eager to pursue at this point in my life.” … On the potential of wind energy to boost the Southeastern New England economy: “I’m working very closely with Congressman Cicilline on various projects that try to make sure that as federal funds are directed into this region, that they take a regional approach to that economic development and not one that is just focused solely on Rhode Island or just Massachusetts, because the only people that seem to pay attention to that invisible border between the two are the politicians that actually work here, and not every other family that calls this place home.”

8. Two stories out of Providence from my colleagues: a Steph Machado scoop about an investigation into possible favor-trading between a city councilman and a DPW worker, and a Steve Nielsen “Cold Case Cards” installment on the unsolved 1978 murder of Buddy Cianci aide John Leatherwood.

9. Washington reporters love stories about Capitol Hill Odd Couples, and both Rhode Island senators offered new fodder for the genre this week. In Roll Call, the focus was on the “genuinely deep friendship” between Jack Reed and his Republican Armed Services Committee chairman, Jim Inhofe; in E&E Daily, Sheldon Whitehouse said President Trump himself called Whitehouse and Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan an “odd couple” in their collaboration over oceans policy.

10. As promised, Senator Reed met earlier this month with the CEOs of Raytheon and United Technologies to discuss the two military contractors’ planned merger. “Reed stressed the importance of Rhode Island employment and the impact of the merger on our defense needs,” Reed spokesperson Chip Unruh said of the June 12 get-together.

11. Despite the solemnity and sadness of the occasion, Thursday’s funeral service for the late Jim Taricani was also an inspiring gathering, as recounted here by WPRI’s Eli Sherman and here by Journal columnist Mark Patinkin. I hope Jim would have appreciated seeing so many of his fellow journalists — including The New York Times’ Dan Barry — lined up in an Honor Guard to pay our final tribute to him and the principles he embodied. (Knowing Jim, he’d have made a crack about all of us enjoying an excuse to play hooky from our newsrooms.) The Taricani family’s obituary noted that Jim hoped to see a federal shield law for journalists enacted in his own lifetime, and while that did not come to pass, his friends and colleagues are sure to continue advocating for it in his memory. A spokesperson for Senator Whitehouse’s office said such a bill was most recently introduced in the House in 2017 by Democrat Jamie Raskin and Republican Jim Jordan, and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013 under the sponsorship of Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer. Perhaps a member of the Rhode Island delegation will make a new push for the measure in Taricani’s memory. (Rhode Island already has a state-level shield law, the 1971 Newsman’s Privilege Act.)

12. Congratulations to veteran PR man Dante Bellini, who retired Friday after 41 years at RDW Group and its predecessor, Fern/Hanaway. His potential plans include “films and video storytelling,” and maybe “a special project or two” at RDW, per an email to colleagues.

13. Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia goes on trial Feb. 24 — just a few months after he hopes he’ll be re-elected.

14. Rhode Island native Ian Prior has some advice for how Republicans can win back the House.

15. A New York Times op-ed takes Rhode Island Democrats to task for blocking same-day voter registration.

16. Josh Barro looks at why New York infrastructure projects are so expensive.

17. A reminder to always tip your hotel housekeeper.

18. Elie Weisel’s “Night” sold barely 1,000 copies in its first 18 months after publication.

19. Quiz answer: Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery signed the Declaration of Independence on behalf of Rhode Island. Hopkins (1707-1785) was a long-serving Rhode Island governor and pro-independence merchant with ties to the Brown family who hosted George Washington when he stayed in Providence; he was also a slaveholder. Ellery (1727-1820) was a prominent lawyer and politician who spent 30 years as Newport’s customs collector; he became an ardent abolitionist. Here’s how the National Park Service compares the pair: “One of a small group of lesser known signers whose achievements were comparatively modest, William Ellery gained little fame beyond his hometown — in sharp contrast to fellow Rhode Island signer Stephen Hopkins.”

20. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersCongressman Joe Kennedy III. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Gilbane Building Co. President and CEO Michael McKelvy. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (also Sunday at 6:30 a.m. on Fox or 7:30 a.m. on The CW). Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both shows on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can catch them back-to-back Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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