Nesi’s Notes: May 1

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 me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. It’s likely no one was more relieved than Jim Langevin when the Census Bureau unexpectedly announced that years of forecasts had been wrong and Rhode Island would in fact keep both its U.S. House seats for at least another decade. “It was a pleasant surprise for all of us, for sure,” Langevin said on this week’s Newsmakers. While the loss of a seat also would have been a headache for David Cicilline, insiders widely saw such a development as a bigger threat to Langevin. He acknowledged he’d been contemplating a Plan B ahead of the announcement, while noting he always remained publicly optimistic both seats would remain. “There was a number of options that I would have weighed,” Langevin said, declining to spell them out. The 57-year-old has now held the 2nd District seat for two decades, and he shows no sign of contemplating retirement anytime soon. His district has been trending Republican — a reality Langevin acknowledged on Newsmakers — but he still managed a 16-point victory last year against Republican Robert Lancia. (Lancia has already announced he’ll seek a rematch in 2022.) If Langevin keeps running and winning through 2028, he would surpass the late Freddie St Germain as Rhode Island’s all-time longest-serving congressman. Is that in the cards? “Another decade’s a little far out to predict,” Langevin said, chuckling. “I’ve always said, I’d like to stay as long as the people of Rhode Island would like to have me.”

2. Charles Biles has a unique take on the census news: “All Rhode Islanders should give homage to the square root.” Biles, an emeritus professor of mathematics at California’s Humboldt State University, literally wrote the book on congressional reapportionment. “Rhode Island really lucked out because the current method of congressional apportionment, the method of equal proportions, has a built-in bias favoring small states,” Biles told me. Here’s how it works. When you divide the entire country’s population by 435 House seats, you get 762,996 people per seat; then if you divide Rhode Island’s population of 1,098,163 by that number, you get 1.4393. “Representatives don’t come in fractional parts, Rhode Island merits 1.4393 representatives,” Biles said. “So now what?” What happens, he said, is you take the round-up option (2) and the round-down option (1), multiply them together (2 x 1 = 2) and then take the square root of that result (1.4142). “That’s the cutoff number,” he said. “Since Rhode Island’s quotient of 1.4393 merited representatives exceeds the cutoff of 1.4142, Rhode Island gets two representatives.” Advanced algebra aside, Biles is among those who thinks the current size of the House — capped by Congress since 1929 at 435 seats — “is simply too small for the current U.S. population.” Since every state is guaranteed at least one seat, Biles thinks the House’s size should be based on the population of the smallest state (Wyoming, with 577,719 residents). By that metric, and using the same formula for rounding, he suggests a House of 573 seats — still smaller than the U.K. House of Commons, which has 650 seats. “With a fixed House of 435,” Biles said, “small states with two representatives in the future will always be at risk of losing a seat.”

3. Much credit for Rhode Island’s over-performance in the final census numbers is being given to the Complete Count Committee, co-chaired by James Diossa and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. The committee raised $1.5 million — including $500,000 from the state, $250,000 from the Rhode Island Foundation and $125,000 from the United Way — to fund an aggressive effort to reach residents in hard-to-count communities. Considering the Census Bureau reported over 40,000 more people living in the state than previously estimated, they seem to have had some success. “We don’t have the granular data yet — that will come in August,” Common Cause’s John Marion, who served on the committee, told Kim Kalunian on Wednesday. “So we don’t know where the growth was. But in all likelihood the community-based effort — there were more than 60 community organizations doing outreach — helped us exceed expectations in terms of just making sure that people who were here got counted compared to 2010. We might have had more people here in 2010 who just didn’t get counted because it really wasn’t a community-based effort to count them.”

4. The first-quarter campaign-finance reports are in, and among the four most talked-about candidates for governor, Dan McKee and Seth Magaziner had the most to brag about. McKee took in $284,000 during his first fundraising quarter as governor, nearly four times as much as he had in the previous quarter. Magaziner brought in even more — $300,000 — and is now sitting on $1.3 million. That’s nearly three times as much cash on hand as McKee, but the general treasurer may need every penny of it to offset the new governor’s incumbency advantage. In third place is Nellie Gorbea, who took in a respectable $160,000 and like Magaziner has more cash on hand currently than the governor himself. Bringing up the rear is Jorge Elorza, whose first-quarter haul totaled $86,518 — the smallest amount of the four, but enough to push his cash on hand near the $1 million mark.

5. Gina Raimondo was nominated for the president’s cabinet during the first week of the fundraising quarter, so it’s no surprise her old R.I. Board of Elections account took in only $170 in campaign donations during January, February and March. But that didn’t stop her from dipping into the $657,000 she had in there when the quarter began, with Raimondo’s campaign spending nearly $50,000 over three months. The biggest beneficiary was Perkins Coie LLP, her longtime law firm for political matters, which she paid nearly $16,000 in late January and early February. Another $5,200 went to the PR firm RDW Group on March 2, perhaps to fund the flashy “RIse Together” accomplishments book she released the day she left office. She also spent over $5,000 at Lowe’s, $3,000 with The Providence Journal and nearly $2,000 at the Apple Store.

6. While the race for governor is likely to get the lion’s share of attention in 2022, it’s not the only race where voters will have an important decision to make. With Nellie Gorbea term-limited, there will be an open race for secretary of state for only the third time this century — and the job has only grown more high-profile in recent years amid nationwide battles over voting access. State Sen. Gayle Goldin, a Providence Democrat, has already made clear she is preparing a bid for the job — but she won’t be the only state lawmaker seeking the party’s nomination. State House sources confirm state Rep. Gregg Amore, a five-term East Providence Democrat, is committed to a run for secretary of state and has been working assiduously to line up support behind the scenes. That includes leaders in public- and private-sector labor unions, who are already amenable to him thanks to his years as a teacher in the EP public schools, as well as his colleagues in the House. One crucial question: how big will the primary field be? Only two candidates, Gorbea and Guillaume de Ramel, faced off last time.

7. What’s going to happen to Roger Williams Medical Center and Fatima Hospital? Tensions over their parent company Prospect’s transfer-of-ownership application boiled over this week, with Prospect threatening to shut them down rather than comply with AG Neronha’s proposed conditions to OK the transaction. The two sides reached a temporary détente on Friday with the help of Superior Court Judge Brian Stern and were expected to continue discussions over the weekend ahead of a hearing next week. Prospect spokesperson Bill Fischer has called Neronha’s conditions “a deal-breaker.” The AG’s response: “You chose to get into health care. Act like you believe in it.” Eileen O’Grady of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a national pressure group, spoke out in support of the AG on Friday, saying: “It is encouraging that Neronha’s office is standing up to Prospect’s owners to ensure that the hospitals have adequate resources to stay open and provide quality care in the coming years.” Meantime, the situation is being nervously watched from outside by those involved in the much larger Lifespan/CNE/Brown deal, which would face a drastically altered landscape if Prospect actually closed one or both of its Rhode Island hospitals.

8. Eli Sherman and Tim White detail the dilapidated conditions at Zambarano hospital.

9. The billions of dollars beginning to flow into Rhode Island from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act are starting to show up in actual spending plans, with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza earmarking $33 million of the money to help fund a proposed 5% increase in the capital city’s budget for next year. Meanwhile, PC’s Nick Longo and two co-authors are urging Rhode Island leaders to try “participatory budgeting” as they determine how to spend the money.

10. Quick hits from Congressman Langevin’s Newsmakers interviewOn legalizing recreational marijuana at the federal level: “At this point it’s something that I would probably lean towards supporting. Certainly I don’t want it, obviously, to be abused. But I have evolved on the topic over a while.” … On whether he still considers himself pro-life: “I do, but I know it’s a complicated topic. I come to this position because of my own life experience. As a teenager I almost lost my own life in the shooting incident that I was involved in that left me paralyzed. And my life hung by a thread, and I got my second chance. And I would always feel like a hypocrite if I deprived somebody else of their second chance at life.” … On letting people who go back to work keep the $300 unemployment bonus: “I think we should look at those types of options, and I’ve heard some of my Republican colleagues who have also offered those types of alternatives, as well as some Democrats have talked about that. I think we can certainly get creative. That’s an area that’s ripe for bipartisanship.” … On creating the new position of national cyber director: “It’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve done in my more than 20 years in Congress. I created a whole department, basically, in the Executive Office of the President that is going to help better protect the country in cyberspace.”

11. Vice President Harris will be in Rhode Island next Wednesday alongside Secretary Raimondo.

12. Last week in this space I noted that for all of Senator Whitehouse’s sound and fury regarding conservatives and the judiciary, he is notably not a co-sponsor of Senator Markey’s bill to expand the U.S. Supreme Court. On Thursday I got to ask Whitehouse why as a panelist on public radio’s Political Roundtable, and the senator made clear he doesn’t think much of Markey’s idea. “I approach this from the notion that if you’re going to ask a judge for extraordinary relief in a courtroom, you damn well better have made your case for that judge,” Whitehouse said. “And that’s why I work so hard on this issue, because I’m really trying to make the case for reforms. But to go into the court and say, here’s what I want, and I have not bothered to make my case — that usually doesn’t end well. In this case I think the public is the equivalent of the court, and we need to do a far stronger job of making our case about what has gone wrong at the Supreme Court. And once we have shown the American people what has gone wrong at the Supreme Court, then a whole variety of remedies begin to make a whole lot more sense. But sometimes you’ve got to earn it before you win it, and this is one of those times.” The Rhode Islander continued his own efforts to change the high court’s trajectory this week by chairing a hearing that explored whether the justices are inappropriately engaging in fact-finding when they render decisions.

13. The delay of the White House’s budget has set back Jack Reed’s schedule for putting together his first National Defense Authorization Act as leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee — the chairman’s biggest job of the year.

14. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Steph Machado out of federal court in Boston: “If you were watching the trial of former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia this week, you’d be forgiven if you forgot for a moment it was about a Massachusetts politician. Many of the events the jury heard about during the first week happened in Rhode Island, where Correia went to Providence College and worked at the Providence Place mall. According to evidence and testimony presented in court, he also dined with Buddy Cianci at the Capital Grille, visited the Foxy Lady, stayed at the Biltmore and the Chanler at Cliff Walk, tried his luck at Twin River and took his girlfriend on a helicopter tour of the Newport mansions. So far the trial has focused on Correia’s younger years, when he’s accused of defrauding investors in his app SnoOwl, allegedly spending their money on a ‘lavish lifestyle’ while running for first City Council and then mayor in Fall River. Next week will pivot to a stronger focus on his home city, as prosecutors turn the jury’s attention to extortion and bribery charges. Then-Mayor Correia is accused of requiring prospective cannabis shop owners to pay him bribes in exchange for his signature on a ‘letter of non-opposition” that allowed them to seek a license with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. (This is the part of the case that’s had Rhode Island politicians saying ‘we don’t want to be like Fall River’ over the past couple years as they craft language for Rhode Island’s eventual foray into recreational cannabis.)”

15. The nation’s bicentennial was quite a ballyhoo back in 1976, even drawing Queen Elizabeth to Newport for a visit with President Ford. Now another milestone is ahead, and it’s a mouthful: the country’s semiquincentennial is coming in 2026. That’s still five years away, but Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin isn’t wasting any time — she passed a bill Tuesday to create the Rhode Island Semiquincentennial Commission, a 30-member panel tasked with figuring out how to mark the occasion locally. “The 250th anniversary of the founding of our country presents an opportunity for Rhode Islanders and all Americans to reflect on the many significant events that inspired the birth of our country from a diversity of perspectives,” Goodwin said.

16. And speaking of history, Tim White has the latest on efforts by Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office to preserve and protect the State Archives.

17. The field is set for the special election to replace Sabina Matos on the Providence City Council, with five Democrats filing for the Ward 15 seat: Doris De Los Santos, Iasha Hall, Casandra Inez, Santos Javier and Oscar Vargas. (No Republicans or independents filed.) The primary is June 8 — and Steph Machado will have interviews with all five candidates next week on Pulse of Providence.

18. The Brown School of Public Health’s Stefanie Friedhoff argues it’s time to stop repeating “vaccine hesitancy” and start looking at what’s really keeping some people from going to get a shot.

19. Here’s how many people have been vaccinated in each Rhode Island ZIP code.

20. It was 10 years ago this weekend that SEAL Team Six finally found and killed Osama bin Laden, nearly a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks. Politico’s Garrett M. Graff has a gripping oral history of how it happened.

21. Congratulations to our WPRI 12 New England Emmy nominees: Tim White, Eli Sherman, John Villella, Mike Montecalvo, James O’Leary, Jennifer Quinn and Walt Buteau! See the full list here.

22. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersCongressman Langevin. 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. See you back here next Saturday morning.

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