Nesi’s Notes: Nov. 2

Ted Nesi
Nesi Notes saturday coffee iPad

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. Rhode Island politics is experiencing a bit of a leadership vacuum. Despite winning an emphatic re-election victory last November, Governor Raimondo’s poll numbers are as weak as ever, and she’s been struggling to advance her priorities on Smith Hill all year — a year that’s lately been defined by her advocacy of a gambling company. Raimondo’s challenges are due in no small part to her cold war with Speaker Mattiello; their relationship appears to be at its lowest ebb yet, and that’s saying something. Yet Mattiello is hardly in strong political shape himself, besieged by an indictment of one of his campaign aides as well as a grand jury probe into the Cranston chiropractor he championed and protected. His attempt to grab more power over marijuana policy has also backfired, putting a harsh spotlight on the industry’s political ties. The situation has clearly exasperated Senate President Ruggerio, judging by the statement he issued Wednesday when the speaker backed a Twin River executive in a fight with the governor’s chief of staff. “We need to stop the finger-pointing and work together to find an amicable resolution for all parties for the benefit of the people of Rhode Island,” Ruggerio said — a sentiment he would apply to other issues beyond the IGT deal. Entering his 40th year in the State House, and with a firmer hold on his caucus than Mattiello has on his, Ruggerio is increasingly positioning himself as the engaged adult in the room. That’s likely part of the reason Ruggerio’s aides say he is now planning to stay on as Senate president and seek re-election next year.

2. Speaking of marijuana, Deputy House Speaker Charlene Lima — who’s been expressing concern for years about the politically connected getting a leg up in the nascent industry — is now proposing a halt to all new licensing and an independent investigation of the sector.

3. And speaking of IGT, political observers are finding it harder than ever to decipher where the fight is going. At one point it was thought the endgame might be some sort of closed-door compromise between IGT and Twin River that ended in a kumbaya news conference; Senate President Ruggerio still seems to be holding out hope for that based on his Wednesday statement. But the fact that Twin River’s Marc Crisafulli, a consummate State House player, decided to go public this week with a serious accusation against Governor Raimondo’s chief of staff, Brett Smiley, hardly suggests a lowering of temperatures on either side. Now the matter is getting kicked into an election year, and Speaker Mattiello has backed House GOP Leader Blake Filippi’s proposal for an independent analysis of the proposed IGT deal, which could play a pivotal role in the House’s final decision-making. Meanwhile, there is this continued mystery: what are Marco Sala and IGT’s Italy-based executives making of all this, and how serious are their threats to wind down their Providence operations if they don’t get a deal?

4. Another reminder of what a small state Rhode Island is: after Jeff Britt pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of misconduct stemming from Speaker Mattiello’s 2016 campaign, who walked out into the crowd of reporters waiting outside court? Mattiello himself. The speaker said he was there representing a client in his private law practice. Quel timing!

5. Rhode Island Republican leaders continue to seek a balance between appealing to their base, which remains strongly supportive of President Trump, and keeping their distance from a leader who is disliked by the majority of the state’s electorate. An example of the GOP’s efforts to tap into Trump fervor came this week, when the party blasted a fundraising appeal to its mailing list offering MAGA Memberships starting at $10. (MAGA is short for “Make America Great Again.”) Republican Chair Sue Cienki described the effort as “an unprecedented show of support for President Trump’s re-election and the campaign to Keep America Great.”

6. A dispatch out of Providence from Target 12’s Steph Machado: “It might feel like we’ve been talking about the state takeover of Providence schools for ages, but on Friday the intervention finally became official. All eyes are now on Commissioner Infante-Green, who tempered expectations about immediate results: ‘Don’t come and ask me next month, “Are the schools different?”‘ she told reporters Friday. We did get some new information on how she’s easing into state control, via a new ‘collaboration agreement’ released Friday night that’s been signed by Infante-Green and Mayor Elorza. The document deals with housekeeping issues like who will handle the payroll or make snow day decisions, but also sheds some light on one of the biggest talkers of the Johns Hopkins report — the poor conditions of Providence school buildings, which recently led both Infante-Green and Governor Raimondo to say schools might have to close. The new agreement leaves those buildings in the hands of the city’s public property department for now, allowing the city to keep plugging away at the current capital improvement plan until Infante-Green says otherwise. But it instructs the city not to seek any new bonds for projects without checking with Infante-Green first, signaling she’ll eventually be making tough decisions about which buildings are worth fixing. When it comes to the School Board, Infante-Green has instructed the existing board to continue with all its regular duties until the end of this year, subject to her signing off on each item; she calls it a ‘transition period’ as she still seeks a new superintendent. As for why the state-appointed superintendent isn’t in place yet, Infante-Green said Friday even a $200,000 salary is low for the type of candidate she’s trying to reel in from out of state.”

7. Your chance to meet Steph Machado in person: she’ll join Steve Brown, Tom Mooney and G. Wayne Miller on Wednesday night at the Olneyville library branch for a panel talk about the First Amendment.

8. The first of the six candidates seeking to succeed Congressman Joe Kennedy joins us on this week’s Newsmakers: Democrat Jake Auchincloss, a 31-year-old Newton City Council member who graduated from Harvard and served as a Marine in Afghanistan. Auchincloss has had good fortune so far: he was the subject of a glowing Kevin Cullen column in the Globe even before launching his campaign. Auchincloss said he divides the issues between those where he thinks Democrats should fight Republicans, and those where he sees room for bipartisanship. “Transportation is number one for me,” he said on the show. “We have a transportation system in Massachusetts that is broken. We cannot get good jobs down to the South Coast of Massachusetts. People in the northern part of the district are stuck in traffic. And it contributes 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions as a state. So if we are going to get serious about tackling climate change, and we are going to get serious about sustaining the Massachusetts economy, we have got to reinvent transportation.”

9. If Jake Auchincloss’s last name sounds familiar to you, there’s a good reason for that: Jake Auchincloss is the grandson of Hugh Auchincloss, whose cousin of the same name was Jackie Kennedy’s stepfather. Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy held their 1953 wedding reception at Hammersmith Farm, the Auchincloss family estate in Newport that was dubbed the “Summer White House” during JFK’s presidency. (The Harrison Avenue landmark is now owned by retired Goldman Sachs partner Peter D. Kiernan.)

10. Voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose mayors in four of the region’s largest cities — New Bedford, Fall River, Taunton and Attleboro. If you want to get up to speed before Election Day, check out our preview on the second half of this week’s Newsmakers, featuring the great Stephanie Murray of Politico Massachusetts.

11. Here’s a dispatch from Target 12’s Eli Sherman: “The departure of the PawSox after next season will inevitably deliver a blow to Pawtucket’s identity. But local and state leaders aren’t rolling over on the future of the state’s fourth largest city, as talks are heating up surrounding the plan for what’s next. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien this week met with legislative leaders and the State House delegation from Pawtucket to brief them on an ongoing RFP process that could result in renewed investment in both McCoy Stadium and downtown Pawtucket. An official announcement is expected in the coming weeks, but it’s safe to say the plan will involve some element of sporting activities, and could come with a hefty investment from the private sector. Take it or leave it: Fortuitous Partners’ Brett Johnson, who has proposed bringing a professional soccer team to downtown Pawtucket, was quoted last month by the commercial real estate website Connect Media saying his company is pursuing a $400 million project in Pawtucket.”

12. The battle continues over lawmakers’ new $42 million tax credit program.

13. Think Rhode Island’s UHIP problems are over? Think again.

14. Something to watch: the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats say they are expecting multiple lawmakers to join them in Cranston on Wednesday night for an event to roll out what they describe as “a proposal to power Rhode Island with 100% renewable energy by 2030 and to begin to export energy after 2030.”

15. Judging by the viewership numbers, most of you have already watched Tim White’s fantastic 23-minute digital documentary “The Mafia Tapes,” which dropped this week. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here. And while you’re at it, check out Tim’s Q&A with a Boston Globe reporter named Dan McGowan (remember him?).

16. I had a wonderful time Friday night celebrating the induction of longtime WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame. If you want a real blast from the past, check out my video tribute to Joe from Friday night’s newscast, featuring a vintage 1989 Newsmakers clip!

17. Congratulations to former First Lady Stephanie Danforth Chafee, who was inducted last weekend as one of the American Academy of Nursing’s 2019 fellows during a ceremony in Washington.

18. Boston Magazine examines the future of Projo owner Gatehouse Media.

19. Thought provoking from the FT’s Janan Ganesh: “Democracy cannot do without a certain measure of scepticism. But cynicism is another thing, and nihilism yet another. They lead to what the historian Richard Hofstadter called ‘the paranoid style in American politics’, where conspiracy theories flourish and fringe elements prosper. In recent years, the answer to populism has been tougher scrutiny of politicians, hence all the fact-checking of their statements and scrutiny of their funding. But the solution also requires something counter-intuitive: a base level of respect for their trade. The idea that we all live in some great Tammany Hall of deceit and graft is not just wrong. It enables it to become true.”

20. The New Yorker goes deep on whether Amazon is “unstoppable.”

21. “Spotify saved the music industry. Now what?”

22. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – U.S. House candidate Jake Auchincloss, plus a preview of Tuesday’s mayoral elections. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers can subscribe on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can catch the shows 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

An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Jeffrey Britt was indicted by a federal grand jury; he was indicted by a state grand jury. It also misstated Jake Auchincloss’s relationship to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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