1. After three years of easy budgeting, Rhode Island leaders are facing a more challenging task come 2024. A financial update this week shows the state is on track to run a $98 million surplus through June 30 — better than a deficit, certainly, but not enough to wipe out the $100 million-plus shortfall projected for the 2024-25 fiscal year. The shift in financial conditions will pose a test for Governor McKee and Speaker Shekarchi, both of whom got their current jobs after the federal well had already begun gushing cash. The story isn’t just about federal money, though. Spending from state general revenue has grown by 33% in four years, increasing from $4.1 billion on the eve of the pandemic to $5.4 billion today. And there is pressure to raise spending further across a range of programs, from Medicaid rates to pension benefits. Advocates have begun to suggest the time is ripe for a tax increase on high earners, but that’s always a tough sell with top State House Democrats, and it seems unlikely McKee would propose it in his January budget submission. The way McKee prioritizes among competing demands with less money around will offer insight into the governor’s biggest policy ambitions. And how much of McKee’s blueprint remains when Shekarchi finishes the job will show the same about the speaker.
2. Rhode Island finally has a full congressional delegation again, after Gabe Amo took the oath of office and gave a maiden speech on the House floor Monday night. Amo quoted a sermon by the Rev. Mahlon Van Horne, who in 1885 was the first Black person elected to the General Assembly: “I believe the day is coming, is not far off, when in the commonwealth of Rhode Island, the stomping ground of soul, liberty will become the home of the free and the land of the truly brave. The home of the free, where fair play in all the walks of life will be accorded.” Amo’s first week of legislating was rather brief — House GOP leaders sent everybody home for Thanksgiving early after a spending bill failed — but he did take one significant vote, to avoid a government shutdown. Other than that, Amo has been busy setting up his congressional office, with two top staffers put in place Thursday, and acclimating to his new job. He also did a blitz of national TV interviews, talking with CBS, ABC, CNN and MSNBC, and was welcomed by the powerful Congressional Black Caucus as its 60th member.
3. Remember Seth Magaziner? Rhode Island’s 2nd District congressman spent less than two months in his new job before David Cicilline’s shock retirement announcement, and he’s spent the months since learning the job and preparing for his first re-election campaign. Not that he’s seen as particularly vulnerable. Magaziner has $700,000 in his campaign account, no Republican opponent, and little appetite among GOP leaders to take a serious shot at him after they came up short despite spending millions to boost Allan Fung. But you wouldn’t know that from the hair-on-fire tone of Magaziner’s fundraising emails. A recent sample: “Just last year, Republicans spent over $7 million against me. With their razor-thin House majority, you can be sure they’re going to double down on beating me next year.” Where’s the evidence for that? I asked Clay Schroers, Magaziner’s chief of staff, how he squares the congressman’s five-alarm fire message to his supporters with the political reality on the ground. “Seth is confident that he is building a record of representing Rhode Island values that will allow him to be successful in 2024, but he always takes the prospect of a challenge seriously,” Schroers told me. “The NRCC has added Seth to its target list, indicating that they intend to compete in this district once again, and we would note that last year his race was one of the most competitive in the country despite the fact that his Republican opponent did not announce until late April. Seth is working hard and taking nothing for granted.”
4. Jack Reed has been Rhode Island’s most popular elected official for so long it’s easy to take his political strength for granted. But this analysis by 538’s Nathaniel Rakich offers a fresh reminder. Among the dozens and dozens of Democrats who’ve run for U.S. Senate nationwide since 2017, Reed ranks fifth overall for “wins above replacement” — a baseball concept to test how much better (or worse) an individual player does compared with the average alternative. Reed took 67% in his 2020 re-election race, scoring 10 points higher than an average Rhode Island Democrat would be expected to do. The only Democrats who outperformed more were West Virginia’s Joe Manchin (+31 points), Alabama’s Doug Jones (+16 points), Hawaii’s Brian Schatz (+16 points) and Montana’s Jon Tester (+11 points). Food for thought as Reed weighs whether to seek a sixth term in 2026.
5. With Delaware’s Tom Carper set to retire, Capitol Hill expects Sheldon Whitehouse to become the new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee in 2025, should Democrats retain their majority. Rhode Island’s John Chafee previously led the same panel in the 1990s.
6. The Rhode Island Democratic Party is officially under new management, with the installation of longtime party donor Liz Beretta-Perik as its first-ever female chair. Beretta-Perik is close to many of the state’s leading Democrats, notably Joe Shekarchi and Peter Neronha, and will likely take a more hands-on role in modernizing the party infrastructure than her predecessor Joe McNamara. The state Republican chairman, Joe Powers, welcomed his new counterpart to the arena with a mocking news release: “For a party that touts that they are all about women, it is good to see that they have put those words into action by electing their first woman party leader, finally. Unlike the RI Dem Party, the Republican Party of RI has had the honor of having not one, not two, not even three, but FIVE remarkable women leading our party.” Beretta-Perik soon showed she won’t hesitate to join the fray, responding in kind: “If the state Republicans claim to be in the 21st century, they need to back it up with a record that supports women. While there are 45 Democratic women legislators in the General Assembly, the Republicans have a pitiful total of five women in the legislature, two of whom don’t even caucus with the House Republicans.”
7. Partisan bickering aside, the two parties have mixed histories when it comes to elevating women in Rhode Island politics. A century ago, when Republicans dominated state politics, GOP powerbrokers resisted women’s suffrage until it became an inevitability; Democrats then immediately put forward the state’s first female general-officer nominees (Elizabeth Upham Yates, Helen Binning and Susan Sharp Adams) between 1920 and 1924. But they all lost badly, and Democrats apparently decided it was a failed experiment — they didn’t nominate another woman to be a general officer until 1982, as Patrick Conley notes in a new book. It was Republicans who actually broke the glass ceiling, during John Chafee’s heyday, with successful candidates such as Congresswoman Claudine Schneider, Secretary of State Susan Farmer, Attorney General Arlene Violet and Treasurer Nancy Meyer. More recently, too, the GOP has elevated legislative leaders such as Jessica de la Cruz and Patricia Morgan. Democrats achieved their own major milestone in 2014, with Gina Raimondo’s election as governor. But they actually took a step backwards in last year’s election: the number of female Democrats in the state’s nine federal and general offices fell from two to one when Nellie Gorbea left office as secretary of state, leaving Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos as the only woman in the group.
8. A week after Lisa Baldelli-Hunt abruptly resigned as Woonsocket mayor amid scrutiny over a controversial land deal, our Eli Sherman is out with a deep dive into her aggressive wheeling and dealing in city real estate.
9. Peter Neronha’s use of Twitter continues to be a hot topic, with Globe columnist Dan McGowan offering a critical take and Rhode Island Current’s Nancy Lavin quizzing the AG about his missives. The latest discussion was spurred by a judge ordering Neronha to appear in court to explain a critical tweet — bringing to mind former AG Patrick Lynch’s own court fights in the 2000s over his public statements, which Tim White revisits here.
10. Eric Hyers scored back-to-back-to-back Rhode Island election victories from 2010 to 2014, none of them easy, as campaign manager for David Cicilline’s first two congressional runs and Gina Raimondo’s first gubernatorial bid. But electing a Democrat in New England is nothing compared to electing one in Kentucky. That’s what Hyers has done twice in the last four years, getting Andy Beshear elected governor in 2019 and guiding him to an easy re-election win this month. Hyers took a victory lap on the latest edition of Zac McCrary’s great “Pro Politics” podcast, offering some interesting insights. On best practices for a campaign manager, Hyers said, “Getting the relationship with the candidate right is the whole game. You get that right, and that is secure — you’re golden. That is number one. Number two is, do not have an ego. It is so easy in this business to win a race — sometimes, frankly, not even win a race — and start thinking that you know how to do everything, everyone should just do whatever you say all the time. I have seen that with other folks. It does not work.” He also said, “You can’t forget the fact that for a candidate, whose name is on the ads and the bumper stickers, it is very, very personal. So I think never losing sight of what they’re going through and what this experience is like for them and understanding what drives them — you’ve got to sort of lock in on that right away.” As for what it was like working for Raimondo, Hyers said, “She sets a tone that her expectations are going to be sky high. She wants the absolute best out of you and everyone around you all the time, and she will be greatly disappointed if she gets anything but your best. … She is one of the most exacting people I’ve ever worked for. Love her dearly.”
11. It’s official: New Hampshire will hold its first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 23. But why does the state get to go first? Back in 2016, I laid out the history of New Hampshire’s primacy here.
12. “What’s the matter with Massachusetts?” That’s the provocative title of a recent article in the journal Democracy by Grant Tudor and Beau Tremitiere, two advocates of proportional representation in elections. They point to fascinating research suggesting that the congressional maps adopted in Massachusetts in 2021, which kept every U.S. House seat Democratic, were actually biased in favor of Republicans. Turns out there is simply no way to draw a map of House seats in the Bay State that packs enough of the state’s GOP-leaning voters into one jurisdiction to give the party a win. The same is true for Democrats in Arkansas, just the other way around. Regardless of what you think about the two authors’ proposed solutions, their analysis of the matter will make you think.
13. Former Care New England CEO Jim Fanale sat down with me for a raw, candid interview about his diagnosis with stage 4 lung cancer and what it’s taught him about the dysfunctional state of the health care system. Here’s the interview.
14. Congrats #1 goes to longtime P.R. man David Preston, who on Friday marked 31 years since he signed his first client at what is now New Harbor Group. (And he proudly notes he still has the client.) Preston’s current team includes Seth Klaiman and Lauren Greene, and alums of his shop include Meaghan McCabe, Ted Kresse, Kaitlyn Murray and Erin Olson.
15. Congrats #2 goes to my own boss, WPRI 12 GM Patrick Wholey, since a tipster informs me the Providence Performing Arts Center is honoring him with its 2023 “Partner in Philanthropy” award for his energetic work as a member of the PPAC board. Knowing Pat, he’ll be a little embarrassed that I put this item in here — luckily, he doesn’t edit this column, Tim White does!
16. This coming Wednesday will mark 60 years since Nov. 22, 1963, the day of President Kennedy’s assassination, an epochal event in U.S. history. While polls consistently show that Americans rate JFK as among the nation’s greatest presidents, some historians dismiss that as a sentimental view, arguing his record over nearly three years was thin. Rhode Island’s late U.S. Sen. John Pastore, who served with Kennedy, had no patience for such arguments. “I think he was made for the presidency,” Pastore told WPRI in 1983, on the 20th anniversary of the assassination. “He was a remarkable young man, for the reason that, outwardly, he had this boyish look, almost looked shy, and yet inside he was made of steel. … Now you ask me, well, what did he accomplish? The biggest thing that John Kennedy accomplished is that he inspired the world, especially the young people.”
17. The JFK assassination was also a transformative event in the history of the mass media, often cited as the time when television news came into its own; the Los Angeles Times just ran a great retrospective piece on how broadcasters dealt with the tragedy. And to get an authentic feel for how Kennedy’s death was processed in the moment, visit the Internet Archive and listen to this recording of the BBC’s “This Was the Week that Was” program from Nov. 23, 1963; it’s a time capsule.
18. Elon Musk continues to do his best to destroy Twitter/X, so I once again recommend following my colleagues and me over on Threads. Let’s all at least hedge our bets.
19. I’ll be appearing on WGBH’s “Under the Radar” this weekend for a regional New England news roundup, along with host Callie Crossley and fellow panelists Arnie Arnesen and Steve Junker; tune in Sunday at 6 p.m. on 89.7 FM. You can also listen online here.
20. Nesi’s Notes will be taking next Saturday off due to the holiday, but I’ll be back with a new edition on Dec. 2. To quote Bing Crosby, I’ve got plenty to be thankful for, and I bet you do, too. Happy Thanksgiving!
21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — interviews with Richard Licht and Jim Fanale. 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 Threads, Twitter and Facebook.