1. Is it possible more Rhode Islanders are running for Congress than are paying attention to the race? Some days it feels that way, with 16 candidates in the Democratic primary, eight of whom tell me they’ve hired at least one staffer. Generally speaking, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg are being treated like frontrunners, though political observers are also watching to see if former White House staffer Gabe Amo can use his local and national connections to help overcome his first-timer status. State Sen. Sandra Cano has a geographic base and interest from some unions, as well as support from a number of colleagues, though she’s not the only senator in the mix with Ana Quezada also running. The LGBTQ+ Victory Fund’s two endorsed candidates, Don Carlson and Nick Autiello, should both have money to compete; Carlson tells Ian Donnis he plans to go on TV later this month and may spend almost $1 million. The other elected officials in the race all need to show how they plan to vault themselves into the top tier. The only candidate making much news so far has been Regunberg, who is separating himself from the rest of the pack by staking out positions further to the left. Overall, though, the candidates have been doing little to generate news coverage. 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming believes that may be strategic. “I think a lot of the candidates feel they don’t have to,” Fleming said on this week’s Newsmakers, noting voter turnout is expected to be very low. “It’s going to be more about conserving your money to the end, identifying your voters, getting endorsements — and that’s what I think a lot of the candidates have been doing. And they don’t care about the press conferences.”
2. One way a lower-profile candidate could try to get some attention: commission a high-quality poll and release it publicly. Nellie Gorbea’s campaign used a series of polling memos in late 2021 and early 2022 to position her as the candidate to beat and to undermine Helena Foulkes. And Seth Magaziner’s campaign shared a survey last fall that showed him closing the gap on Allan Fung. Partisan surveys are greeted with healthy skepticism — especially since they’re almost never released in full — but they can still provide some informational value.
3. It’s become a more frequent occurrence: this region’s two U.S. Senate delegations splitting on a thorny vote, with Rhode Island’s Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse on one side and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey on the other. It happened again Thursday, when Warren and Markey were among a handful of Senate Democrats who voted against the debt-limit deal; Reed and Whitehouse supported the measure, though voicing reservations. (“This is a vote to prevent default despite the bill’s otherwise untenable provisions,” said Reed, who’s already telling national reporters how he may try to get around the new spending caps.) Reed and Whitehouse are certainly liberals, but they’re not part of the post-Obama progressive vanguard that includes Warren and Markey as well as figures like AOC and Bernie Sanders. (Just look at how Whitehouse and Markey split on a climate-change vote this week.) Nor are they unusual choices for Rhode Island: the state’s congressional delegation has long been populated by establishment-friendly liberal Democrats. And that’s part of what makes the candidacy of Aaron Regunberg intriguing — he was the only 1st District candidate who told me he would have voted “no” on the debt-ceiling deal, thus aligning himself with the Warren/Markey wing of the party rather than Reed and Whitehouse (or with David Cicilline and Seth Magaziner, who also voted yes). His candidacy poses a real question for 1st District primary voters: do they want to send a more left-wing voice to Capitol Hill, instead of someone with a similar approach to others who’ve represented the state in recent years? After all, the 1st District is just the type of safe seat progressives have been able to use to move the Democratic Party left in recent years.
4. As an aside, here’s a little perspective on the big fight that transfixed Washington over recent weeks. Previously, federal debt as a percentage of GDP was expected to hit 119% by 2033. The debt-limit deal is expected to lower that figure all the way down to … 116%.
5. While you were hopefully enjoying your Friday night, the State House printer machines were working overtime to spit out copies of the brand-new House budget bill, which as usual was unveiled and approved by the Finance Committee while the pages were still warm. The final spending plan is a bit bigger than the one Governor McKee put forward in January, cracking $14 billion for the first time. The biggest headline: no sales tax cut. Speaker Shekarchi told reporters that lawmakers had to axe McKee’s proposal to cut the rate to 6.85% “with much regret” because revenue is down and they had other priorities. Sitting beside Shekarchi at a briefing, McKee expressed hope the sales tax could be revisited later, saying, “There’s other budgets.” McKee’s proposed reductions in the corporate minimum tax and the gas tax were left out, as well. But a competing tax cut did get into the final product: Senate President Ruggerio’s proposed reduction in the tangible tax, long a pain point for small businesses. What else did and didn’t make the cut? State pensioners will get their current COLAs spread out annually, instead of once every four years; Treasurer Diossa has also been directed to do a comprehensive review of the 2011 pension overhaul championed by Gina Raimondo. There’s more money for two Shekarchi priorities, housing and life sciences. AG Neronha emerged victorious in his battle with McKee over securing additional staff, with Shekarchi green-lighting 15 new hires in the top prosecutor’s office (paid for with settlement funds). RIC got money for Jim Langevin’s proposed cybersecurity center as well as a new free-tuition program. And there’s no new money for the Tidewater soccer stadium, the Superman building, the Cranston Street Armory or the South Quay site in East Providence.
6. Hopefully lawmakers are enjoying these boom times, because RIPEC says they’re coming to an end. The group’s new report finds that while the state budget ballooned by 48% over recent years, revenue growth is set to slow markedly going forward.
7. Internet gambling might not be quite the windfall that State House lobbyists are claiming.
8. It’s official: David Cicilline is out of elected office for the first time since 1995, having submitted his official resignation right after voting on the debt-limit deal Wednesday night. He’s already in place as successor to Neil Steinberg at the Rhode Island Foundation, and laid out his priorities for the organization in an email to its supporters: “building a more equitable economy, improving health outcomes, providing greater access to high-quality education and affordable housing, and ensuring diversity, equity, inclusion and access are at the forefront of all these efforts.” But is he really done with politics? During an exit interview on last weekend’s Newsmakers, Tim White pressed Cicilline about whether he’d consider running for U.S. Senate should Jack Reed unexpectedly retire in 2026. Cicilline dodged the question, but didn’t rule it out. Granted, there’s no sign Reed has any plans to retire — but then again, Cicilline and Jim Langevin weren’t expected to retire when they did, either.
9. Superior Court Judge Richard Licht remains on the path back to health after he was hit by a car outside the State House back in February. “Richard is continuing his rehabilitation,” reports a Licht family spokesperson. “He is making good progress and expects a full recovery. He is grateful for the good wishes and support he has received from so many people.”
10. When Matt Fidel signed on as Jim Langevin’s new communications director in April 2021, many of us thought his first task might be helping the congressman navigate an upcoming member-on-member primary against David Cicilline once Rhode Island lost a House seat. The second seat was saved, but within a year Fidel found himself assisting Langevin in bringing his congressional career to a close while keeping the 2nd District in Democratic hands. He impressed the man who won Langevin’s seat, Seth Magaziner, who opted to keep Fidel when he took office last winter. Now Fidel is signing off, having gained admission to an obscure law school outside of Boston. “Matt Fidel was invaluable in ensuring a smooth transition from Jim Langevin’s time representing Rhode Island through the beginning of my time in Congress,” Magaziner told me Friday. “He is immensely talented and principled and I know that he will go on to do great things at Harvard Law School and beyond.” Fidel’s replacement is James Kwon, a Hawaii native who comes to Magaziner from the office of California Congressman Jimmy Gomez.
11. Nearly three months later, and still no answers about the state official accused of behaving inappropriately during a business trip in March.
12. Speaker Shekarchi is dismissing a GOP ethics complaint over a 2017 bill on farm weddings.
13. Another sign of Rhode Islanders’ good taste and discernment: they really love watching TV. That’s according to a 2021 Verizon study of American Time Use Survey data, which found the average Rhode Islander spent three-and-a-half hours a day watching television, third only to West Virginia and Alabama. Presumably, of course, most of that time is spent watching WPRI 12. (Thanks to The Globe’s Jim Pindell for flagging the study.)
14. I’ll be joining Suffolk’s Prof. Nancy Chun Feng on Wednesday at 7 p.m. for an online panel about reporting on budgets, organized by the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. If you’re interested, you can find more details here.
15. Prince Harry’s ghostwriter explains the reality of his much-maligned profession.
16. You’ll never guess the song that kept Joni Mitchell inspired to keep writing music.
17. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a political roundtable. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 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 (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.