Programming Note: Nesi’s Notes will be taking a one-week break due to the upcoming holiday weekend. Look for the next edition here at WPRI.com on June 4.
1. The stage is set for a competitive, and unpredictable, Democratic gubernatorial primary over the next four months. Our new 12 News/RWU poll — the first public survey in the race — shows more than a third of likely Rhode Island primary voters are still on the fence, unpersuaded to date by any of the candidates. Dan McKee and Nellie Gorbea are in a dogfight for first place, with the governor at 25% and the secretary of state at 23%. But primaries are notoriously fluid, since voters can’t just default to a party label in order to make their choices. The bad news for McKee: his 14-month audition in the job has yet to convince 75% of Democratic primary voters that he deserves a full term. But there’s also good news for him in the poll: 45% of primary voters give him a positive job rating, enough to win if he can convert more of them to his side. The survey is a clear boost for Gorbea, who can now cite independent evidence that she is McKee’s strongest Democratic rival, as she has been arguing through strategic releases of her own internal poll numbers. “We have the momentum, now, we need the resources,” her campaign told supporters in an email Friday. On the flip side, being tagged as a frontrunner means Gorbea is likely to face tougher scrutiny going forward, which will test the durability of her support. Then there is Helena Foulkes. With just 6% in the poll, she has a lot of work to do if she wants to join McKee and Gorbea in the top tier — though that’s no surprise to her campaign team, which has stockpiled a huge war chest to fund the effort. They have begun putting all that money to use, with Tuesday’s launch of a 60-second introductory TV ad that’s hard to miss on the airwaves thanks to a $155,000 first-week buy. As for Matt Brown and Luis Daniel Muñoz, with single-digit support and far less money than the other three, their paths to a victory on Sept. 13 look far tougher.
2. Dan McKee’s team sees the economy as one of his strongest arguments for a full term, citing evidence like the news this week that Rhode Island’s unemployment rate fell to 3.2% in April, the lowest it’s been since 1989. “Rhode Island is primed to continue this momentum – let’s make it happen,” McKee said Thursday. But the governor faces the same problem as Joe Biden, who also likes to tout strong job growth on his watch — inflation, with prices up 7% across New England in April compared with a year earlier. Our 12 News/RWU poll shows the rising cost of living is a top concern among Rhode Island Democratic primary voters, cited by 36% as the most important issue in the gubernatorial race. When you combine that with the share of voters citing taxes, economic worries are the key issue for nearly half the electorate. McKee is expected to try and address those concerns soon when he announces a plan to use part of the state’s huge $878 million surplus to lower taxes. (True, an economist would say cutting taxes is only going to fuel inflation further — but that doesn’t mean it won’t be popular with voters.) Speaker Shekarchi has called a closed caucus of House Democrats for Wednesday to discuss the budget.
3. Rhode Islanders will get their second chance to see the major candidates for governor side by side next week, when a coalition of advocacy groups including United Way and the Latino Policy Institute host a forum called “Raising Rhode Islanders Out of Poverty.” The event, Friday at 10 a.m. at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island in Providence, will be moderated by David Veliz, director of the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition To Reduce Poverty, and streamed live on Facebook. Dan McKee, Nellie Gorbea, Matt Brown, Helena Foulkes, Luis Daniel Muñoz and Ashley Kalus have all confirmed their attendance, organizers tell me.
4. In the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, our 12 News/RWU poll finds Seth Magaziner with a commanding lead of 33%, while his five rivals are stuck at 5% or less. With a sizable financial advantage, less than four months before the primary, and Democrats looking nervously ahead to a face-off with likely GOP nominee Allan Fung, the Magaziner campaign is undoubtedly in a strong position. The other candidates’ camps offer two rejoinders. First, Magaziner is the only one with any name recognition, so that 33% could be soft; second, half of primary voters are undecided, leaving plenty of room for someone to catch fire and pull into contention with the treasurer. Sarah Morgenthau, the only Democrat airing TV ads so far, brushed off her 4% showing in the poll during this week’s taping of Newsmakers. “You know what, the way I’m looking at it is that 50% are undecided,” she said. “I have now been across the 2nd Congressional District. I am talking to voters every day. And what I’m hearing is, they’re excited about what I’ve got to bring to this campaign.” Appearing Tuesday on 12 News at 4, just before the poll came out, David Segal admitted he expected his current support to be low. (It was 5%, good enough for second place.) “I’m also confident that support for me and this effort is going to grow as people hear more about my message, about my years of work on these important issues, about support from folks like Elizabeth Warren and a variety of local and national organizations that stand for building a fair economy,” Segal said. Another Democrat, Joy Fox, landed a prominent endorsement this week when former Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts signed on as co-host of a fundraiser Monday at O’Rourke’s. Multiple 2nd District primary forums are in the works, but none are on the calendar so far.
5. The race for lieutenant governor is rarely a barn burner, though Dan McKee’s 2018 photo finish over Aaron Regunberg was an exception (and a consequential one at that). As anyone who’s ever managed a campaign for LG or another down-ballot office will tell you, the biggest challenge is usually getting people to pay attention, let alone care. Our 12 News/RWU poll shows appointed incumbent Sabina Matos has a real race on her hands in the Democratic primary. Matos is currently backed by 21% of primary voters, with rivals Deb Ruggiero and Cynthia Mendes not far behind at 13% and 12%, respectively. (A fourth Democrat, former state Rep. Larry Valencia, entered the race after the poll was finalized on an abolish-the-office platform.) Matos has a sizable cash advantage over her challengers, but that isn’t stopping Ruggiero from being the first to go on the air with a TV ad. The cheeky spot, which begins airing Monday, tags Matos as invisible without using her name. “Everyone knows Providence is our capital,” says a narrator, “but do you know who our lieutenant governor is?” Three voters answer in the negative, teeing up Ruggiero to lay out her “four E’s” — economy, education, environment, and elders.
6. A warning for the White House: even in blue Rhode Island, only 40% of Democratic primary voters want Joe Biden to run again in 2024.
7. The return of abortion as a top-tier political issue is once again putting a spotlight on pro-choice Catholic Democrats. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone made headlines Friday when he barred Nancy Pelosi, a practicing Catholic, from receiving Communion due to her ongoing support for abortion rights. Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin is backing Cordileone on the decision. “Archbishop Cordileone has written a thoughtful, well-reasoned and compassionate letter that accurately reflects the teaching and the law of the Church,” Tobin told me Friday night. “I fully support the Archbishop’s statement.” Yet while Tobin has been vocal over the years in criticizing pro-choice Rhode Island Catholics like Patrick Kennedy and Gina Raimondo, he has never gone as far as Cordileone — and for now, he still has no plans to do so. “Any contacts I’ve had with Catholic leaders in Rhode Island about this issue over the years have been personal, pastoral and confidential, and for now I prefer to maintain that approach,” Tobin told me. He added, “It is a good moment to recall, however, that all Catholics need to be in union with the Church, spiritually prepared, and in the state of grace, before they presume to approach the Table of the Lord to receive Holy Communion.”
8. The State House is poised for a landmark vote on Tuesday, with both chambers of the General Assembly set to legalize recreational marijuana. Pot possession will become legal in Rhode Island the instant Governor McKee puts pen to paper and signs the bill into law. Other policies, such as retail cannabis stores, will take longer to start — Steph Machado runs through the key provisions of the marijuana bill here.
9. When the U.S. Census Bureau announced last year that Rhode Island would keep both its U.S. House seats, residents had two reasons to celebrate: not only would the state keep its current representation in Congress, but the population was growing more robustly than previously believed. Or so we thought. Now the Census Bureau says its Post-Enumeration Survey (PES) has found Rhode Island overcounted by 5% — the third-highest rate in the country. The state gets to keep both House seats, since the study doesn’t alter the official numbers, but it’s now far from certain Rhode Island will keep two seats after 2032. That led some of us to wonder why officials would put more stock in a post-census survey than the actual count. Census expert Terri Ann Lowenthal told me the PES is much more robust than, say, an exit poll — the sample size is 161,000 households nationwide, and all of them are required by law to participate. “The results are then matched, household by sample household, with the original census results, to determine how many people were missed (omissions), counted twice (duplications), or included by mistake or counted in the wrong place,” Lowenthal explained. She added, “By knowing the extent of inaccuracies, decision-makers at all levels of government and in the private sector can take steps to ensure fairer outcomes in services and in the distribution of resources and investment, for example.” The overcount has quickly become political fodder, with Republicans like Steve Frias criticizing Rhode Island leaders for the steps they took to push for an aggressive count. Those involved in the state’s Complete Count Committee like James Diossa push back, saying it was the job of the Trump administration to find and remove duplicates. The Wall Street Journal’s influential editorial page is already urging Republicans to call oversight hearings on the overcount if they take back the House.
10. Remember the 2018 lawsuit filed against the state’s RhodeWorks network of truck tolls? U.S. District Judge William Smith will finally begin a bench trial in the long-running court case on Monday.
11. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “As the General Assembly heads into the homestretch of this year’s legislative session, the Rhode Island housing crisis continues to rage on, and it remains top of mind among many voters. The median sale price for a single-family home topped $400,000 for the first time in April, up a whopping 20% from a year earlier. But total sales declined 12.5% over that time and interest rates have ticked upward in recent months – putting a question mark over what’s next for the housing market. One thing’s for sure: the lack of supply paired with ballooning costs is ‘sidelining prospective buyers,’ says Rhode Island Realtors President Aguede Del Borgo. As a result, many would-be first-time homebuyers are getting stuck in the rental market, which is in turn driving up competition and costs among renters. And the timing couldn’t be worse. Inflation continues to raise costs for just about everything, and many are feeling the effects in their wallets. The 12 News/RWU poll shows housing and cost of living are top-of-mind issues among Democratic primary voters – a couple data points likely weighing on lawmakers’ minds as they consider home much money to put toward addressing the problem. Sen. Meghan Kallman just filed legislation to create a new state Housing Department, and seed it with $300 million from ARPA funds. Gov. Dan McKee has proposed $250 million in ARPA funding for housing, which is currently being considered by lawmakers as part of his budget. But some experts warn that’s not likely to be enough, among them Richard Godfrey, executive director of RWU’s Cummings Institute for Real Estate. ‘That $250 million — that’s a quarter of a billion dollars — will only provide about 1,000 homes,’ he told 12 News. ‘That’s less than 5% of the need.’”
12. How to tackle high housing costs is a hot topic all over. In Washington, the White House released a “Housing Supply Action Plan” this week that aims to help address the problem of soaring prices and limited availability. And in Massachusetts, Governor Baker is facing a backlash in the suburbs over Housing Choice, his marquee policy to spur more construction. But the frontrunner to succeed the governor, Maura Healey, is on the same page. Appearing on 12 News at 4 this week, Healey told Kim Kalunian that housing is the biggest issue facing the Bay State. “Housing is really significant,” Healey said. “It’s also significant for employers. We’ve got a housing crisis here. We need way, many more units of housing. We need to increase housing units by transit hubs. We need to increase availability of housing generally, across the South Coast and across the state.”
13. Steph Machado has a must-read investigation into how well Providence is doing meeting the U.S. Department of Justice’s demands that the city provide an adequate education for English learners. Progress has been made, but there’s still a ways to go.
14. Massachusetts House Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Haddad, who’s represented a Bristol County seat since 2001, is the star of a new documentary about Brayton Point’s transition from coal to oil to coal to (eventually) wind.
15. My colleague Kayla Fish looks at how mental health patients are straining local ERs.
16. Christina Newland argues Greta Garbo and Buster Keaton invented celebrity privacy.
17. Consumer Reports explains how to make your car last 200,000 miles or more.
18. A bit of characteristic wisdom from Roger Angell, gone too soon at 101: “It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives.”
19. This week on Newsmakers — Democratic congressional candidate Sarah Morgenthau; breaking down the new 12 News/RWU poll. 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 on June 4.
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