1. Washington Democrats can’t seem to make up their minds about Allan Fung. House Democrats’ super PAC is airing a barrage of TV ads that attack the former Cranston mayor as “extreme and dangerous,” allegedly eager to help Kevin McCarthy ban abortion nationwide. Yet House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer went on the record with D.C. reporters Thursday to say Fung is “not an extremist” — literally contradicting his own party’s message. That split screen in the race to replace Jim Langevin neatly captures the struggle Democrats seem to be having in running against Fung, who Langevin himself has repeatedly praised as a nice guy even as he urges voters to make Seth Magaziner his successor. Hoyer’s comment helped fuel a buoyant mood around the Fung campaign this week, in part because it came the same day Fung was in Boston for a fundraiser headlined by Southern New England’s most prominent moderate Republican, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. Magaziner’s allies counter that they were never under any illusions about how hard Fung would be to beat, and they still think they can convince a plurality of voters to look past his personal qualities and focus on which party should control the House. They also think abortion could be a crucial differentiator, since Fung has at times struggled to crisply articulate his position on the issue. But Fung has a huge head start over Magaziner in defining himself with 2nd District voters thanks to his two decades on the political scene, and he also has the wind at his back to the extent this year’s midterm election sees the typical backlash against the president’s party. Suffice to say, the next public poll in this race is going to draw outsized attention.
2. Dan McKee says Ashley Kalus is a carpetbagger “crapping all over the state of Rhode Island.” Kalus says McKee is an incompetent misogynist. Attack ads are flying. And there’s still five-and-a-half weeks to go. Clearly the two major candidates for governor have no problem throwing punches in what both sides see as a competitive race. Kalus is taking the fight to McKee on a daily basis, showing up at public meetings to capitalize on controversies like raises for his cabinet and RIPTA’s staffing shortage, while continuing to spend huge amounts of her own money on a professional campaign apparatus. McKee — who knows a thing or two about tough races — tried to consolidate Democratic support this week by focusing on abortion, airing a new ad criticizing Kalus over the issue and taking formal steps to add abortion funding to the state budget. The abortion issue could prove trickier for Kalus than it has for Fung; while Fung says he would vote to codify abortion rights in federal law, Kalus says she would veto next year’s state budget if it expands abortion funding. Yet Kalus’s team thinks McKee is vulnerable on ethics and aptitude, and they argue she can withstand attacks about her relatively recent arrival in Rhode Island. One big unknown: how will Kalus fare in the first televised debate, coming up Oct. 11 on WPRI 12? McKee has years of experience debating on TV, including as recently as last month, while the Republican nominee will be doing it for the first time.
3. Fundraising watch: Dan McKee joined other incumbents and candidates, including Maura Healey, for a Democratic Governors Association event at Fenway Park this week … Rhode Island’s congressional delegation is headlining a fundraiser Thursday for Seth Magaziner at Bellini Rooftop in Joe Paolino’s new Beatrice hotel … David Cicilline has scheduled his annual women’s luncheon for Nov. 29 at The Graduate in Providence.
4. Speaking of David Cicilline, he made quite a bit of news in Washington this week. On Thursday morning, Cicilline’s colleagues elected him the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that overseas Middle East policy. And that announcement came just hours before Cicilline secured a long-awaited victory tied to his current chairmanship, leading the Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust: the House finally passed a measure that flowed out of the investigation he led into Big Tech companies. (Next year Cicilline will have to decide which of those two positions he wants to keep, since House Democrats aren’t allowed to be their party’s top member on two panels simultaneously.) Then Friday, progressive journalist Ryan Grim scooped this never-before-reported anecdote from a new book about Jan. 6: “That evening, once the Capitol had been cleared and the House returned to finish its business, Cicilline found Rep. Steny Hoyer on the floor. … Cicilline handed Hoyer the impeachment resolution and implored him to allow a vote right then and there. He hemmed, hawed, and passed the request on to Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s staff first tried to tell Cicilline that there were technical reasons it couldn’t be done, arguing that the House was in joint session and therefore, can’t impeach. But of course, they could adjourn the joint session after certifying the election and gavel in a new session. Instead, Pelosi decided to gavel the chamber closed, and everybody went home.” (That juicy tale is notably missing from Cicilline’s own newly published memoir about Jan. 6.)
5. Jim Langevin received a fond farewell from President Biden at the White House this week. During an event celebrating the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Disability Pride Month, Biden singled out Langevin sitting in the front row, calling him “a pioneer in the House.” Biden joked, “And if you wonder why there are so many Secret Service around, they’re here to prevent you from retiring.” After a laugh, the president told Langevin, “Don’t go – I don’t want you to go. You’re the best, pal, you’re the best. You really are.”
6. Gregg Amore, the Democratic nominee to replace Nellie Gorbea as secretary of state, isn’t among those who think the recent dysfunction between her office and the Board of Elections is a sign that all responsibility for elections administration should be centralized in the secretary of state’s office. “There is something to be said about separating the political from the process,” Amore said on this week’s Newsmakers. But he does think a stronger working relationship between the two staffs is needed, and plans if elected to file legislation that would make the secretary of state (or a designee) an ex officio member of the Board of Elections. Common Cause’s John Marion backs up Amore, arguing it’s unwise to give direct responsibility for managing Election Day to a politician who appears on the ballot themselves. True, that system appears to have worked in Massachusetts, where Bill Galvin is headed for an unprecedented eighth term as secretary of state and has full responsibility for running elections. But Marion says it was a problem in Georgia in 2018, when then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp was accused of purging voters from the rolls to give himself a boost in his gubernatorial race against Stacey Abrams. “The accusation was he was putting his thumb on the scale for himself, as secretary of state, on the ballot for governor,” Marion said. “We don’t want to find ourselves in that sort of situation in Rhode Island.”
7. Here’s an intriguing idea from Gregg Amore: move the Rhode Island primary to June. “To me, that’s the real question,” Amore said on Newsmakers during a discussion about early voting and the current primary date. Rhode Island has the latest primary in the country, which also leaves little time to gear up for the November election. In fact, John Marion warns the current date could cause legal trouble in the future — if there was ever a drawn-out primary recount, the state would be unable to mail out military and overseas ballots on time, violating federal law. “The DOJ is going to come in here, as they have in other states, and sue and force the state to move their primary — like they did in New York,” Marion said.
8. Whoops: “Bristol County sheriff hopeful and Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux is the latest candidate to accuse his November rival of refusing to debate. Except this time, it’s not entirely true.” Heroux is looking to unseat longtime GOP incumbent Tom Hodgson, who has the backing of Charlie Baker despite being an ally of Donald Trump. (A Hodgson spokesperson tells me Trump has not formally endorsed the sheriff this year.) Heroux joined Kim Kalunian this week to lay out his platform on 12 News at 4, and Hodgson is set to make his own appearance later this month ahead of our Oct. 28 WPRI 12 debate in the race.
9. Here’s an item by my Target 12 colleague Tolly Taylor: “We’ve never been able to see how Rhode Island K-12 students in foster care are doing in school — until now. Brand-new data shows more than half of foster children between 2005 and 2020 didn’t graduate high school. State Rep. Julie Casimiro, who introduced the legislation that resulted in RIDE and DCYF sharing data for the first time, called the graduation results ‘disgusting,’ saying, ‘We’re failing as a state.’ Casimiro said the findings were especially devastating considering that public school districts aren’t devoting any of their $330 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to programs that specifically help students in foster care. One of the requirements of Casimiro’s law is that superintendents of districts where students in foster care are ‘disproportionately failing’ need to ‘develop a remediation plan’ to fix it. Casimiro said that after seeing the data, she expects every single district should now do just that.”
10. City leaders have finally released details on the tax break for the Superman building.
11. Steph Machado and Eli Sherman examine how Rhode Island has avoided a backlog of rape kits.
12. Watch our Tony Petrarca keep his cool when an unexpected guest crashed his forecast.
13. For my Brown University readers, here’s a fun one: the Boston Public Library has posted a free-to-listen 1961 LP by the Brown Glee Club, directed by future Cincinnati Pops legend Erich Kunzel Jr., performing tunes including “Here’s To Good Old Brown” and “Bring The Victory To Brown.”
14. A hearty congratulations to my best pal and broadcast confrère, Tim White, who is one of five honorees receiving the Neil J. Houston Jr. Memorial Award on Thursday from the nonprofit group Justice Assistance. Founded in 1978, Justice Assistance provides services to Rhode Islanders interacting with the criminal justice system, whether as offenders or victims. Board member Cindy Laughlin tells me Tim is an unusual honoree because he doesn’t work directly in the legal system, and is instead being honored for his work as an outside watchdog. “The person who nominated Tim is someone who was in a law class with him at RWU and said he was inspirational because he always was asking questions and motivated others in class to keep on their toes,” Laughlin reports. (Can’t say I’m surprised.) If you’re going to be at the reception, say hello. And congrats as well to Tim’s fellow awardees: retired State Police Cpt. John Alfred, East Greenwich official Robert Houghtaling, veteran attorney Mathew Lopes Jr., and Superior Court Justice Daniel Procaccini.
15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Democratic secretary of state nominee Gregg Amore; Common Cause Rhode Island’s John Marion. 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 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