Nesi’s Notes: Oct. 3

Ted Nesi
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ELECTION 2020 //
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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 @tednesi on Twitter.

1. If 2020 were a wrestling match, at this point most reporters would be ready to cry uncle. I don’t usually start this column with national news — you have plenty of better options for that — but it seems strange not to begin this week with Friday’s events in Washington. A president contracting a potentially lethal virus just one month out from an election in which a central issue is his handling of that virus — you’d probably roll your eyes at that plot twist if you saw it in a movie. But here we are. The country will be holding its breath for a period of time until it becomes clear whether or not President Trump is seriously ill. With that in mind, it’s instructive to look at the case of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson announced his coronavirus diagnosis to the U.K. in a taped address from 10 Downing Street on March 27. As this Guardian timeline shows, over subsequent days Johnson’s advisers and allies gave generally upbeat reports about his condition, basically describing him as not feeling so hot but still working hard. But then on April 5, seemingly out of the blue, Downing Street announced that “as a precautionary step” Johnson had been hospitalized — and by the following evening, the prime minister was acknowledged to be “worsening” and in the ICU. Johnson, 55 at the time, went on to make a full recovery but was basically out of commission for an entire month; doctors and nurses had “saved my life,” he said. Much has been learned about how to treat COVID-19 in the months since then, and the president will get the best treatment in the world at Walter Reed. But it’s too soon to predict how this will play out, and Johnson’s experience shows how unpredictable coronavirus can be.

2. Alarming but important read: Harvard’s Jack Goldsmith and Ben Miller-Gootnick on the constitutional problems with the current rules of presidential succession.

3. While waiting for his test results, President Trump was on Fox News praising how Rhode Island handles mail ballots.

4. There was increasing speculation Friday night that last weekend’s White House event introducing Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett may be where a number of people contracted the virus. Republican leaders remain determined to press on with Barrett’s confirmation despite the outbreak, and one of the emerging flashpoints is whether Senate Democrats should even grant her the customary pre-confirmation meeting in light of their deep opposition an appointment this close to the election. A spokesperson for Sheldon Whitehouse — a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — did not respond Friday when asked whether he has scheduled a meeting with the nominee or whether he would be willing to have one at all. Jack Reed’s spokesperson said this: “Senator Reed is not a member of the Judiciary Committee. As of today, the nominee has not offered Senator Reed a meeting, nor has he requested one.”

5. Another Rhode Island connection to the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation fight: Republican operative and Rhody native Ian Prior has joined the team led by Mike Davis working to get her on the high court. Prior, who managed Brendan Doherty’s 2012 congressional campaign, was a spokesperson for the Justice Department from March 2017 to July 2018.

6. By popular demand, my colleague Eli Sherman has added a new chart to our COVID-19 data tracking page: the positivity rate for Rhode Islanders getting tested for the first time. The rationale is that with so much surveillance testing happening — regular tests of nursing home residents, for example — it’s also important to see the trend among individuals out in the community who are not in those targeted groups getting tested over and over. Their positivity rate was 6.6% on Thursday, much higher than the 1.4% positivity rate for all Rhode Islanders tests that day and well above the 5% target that gets frequently cited.

7. It may feel like a lifetime ago that The New York Times reported on President Trump’s tax returns, but in reality it was only last Sunday. One happy side effect of the investigation has been a renewed remembrance of the late, great Jack White.

8. Rhode Island’s political class will be laser focused on Kent County Superior Court next week. That’s where former Speaker Mattiello adviser Jeff Britt will go on trial over the 2016 Mattiello campaign’s alleged efforts to skirt campaign finance laws in coordinating an endorsement mailer from erstwhile GOP opponent Shawna Lawton. My colleagues Tim White and Eli Sherman will be covering the trial all week for 12 News, as Britt’s attorney Bob Corrente fights what he argues is prosecutorial overreach and decides whether to call Mattiello to the stand along with his chief of staff Leo Skenyon and Democratic operative Matt Jerzyk. Questions abound. Could the prosecution drop the felony charge and reach a quick settlement with Britt? If the speaker and his inner circle are called to testify, what will they say? Will any new revelations about the inner workings of the Mattiello operation emerge? How will Cranston voters react if they turn on the evening news and see the speaker on the witness stand answering questions about his campaign?

9. There’s actually no evidence the Convention Center grand jury is over.

10. State Rep. Moira Walsh may have lost her Democratic primary race, but she isn’t exiting quietly.

11. If there’s someone in your family dragging their feet about registering to vote, the clock is ticking: Sunday is Rhode Island’s deadline to register if you want to cast a ballot in the November election, tied with several other states for the earliest deadline in the nation. “It has been 30 days since 1973 when it was reduced from 60 days due to several U.S. Supreme Court cases that found excessively long deadlines violate the Equal Protection Clause,” reports John Marion of Common Cause, which advocates a later cutoff. “What many people don’t know is that the deadline is in the Rhode Island Constitution, so changing it would require a statewide referendum. Rhode Island also has the distinction of being the only state in the nation that allows same-day voter registration, but only for a presidential/vice presidential ballot. That is authorized, but not required, by our state constitution.” And if you’re a Rhode Islander who requested a mail ballot, keep an eye on your mailbox next week: the secretary of state’s office says mail ballots will start going out on Monday, though you can still request one through Oct. 13. My colleague Anita Baffoni has much more on what you need to know to be prepared for this year’s election in our new 12 on 12 digital original Atypical Election — check it out here.

12. Over in Massachusetts, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and his opponent Kevin O’Connor will meet for their only scheduled debate of the fall campaign Monday at 7 p.m. on WGBH.

13. Good news for Lifespan’s Miriam Hospital, which received an A+ grade and ranked 22nd nationwide in the new Lown Institute Hospitals Index. You can read about their methodology in this Washington Monthly piece.

14. Recommended read (especially for this final month of the campaign): W. Joseph Campbell’s new book “Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections.”

15. The word “shocking” is overused, but I can’t thank of another adjective to describe the news Friday afternoon that former Rhode Island AP reporter Erika Niedowski had died at the age of just 46. Her longtime partner, Patrick Laverty, said the cause was “a brief and unexpected non-COVID illness.” The announcement brought an outpouring of grief from Erika’s friends, her former colleagues in the press corps, and even the governor. Erika was smart and funny, a great reporter, a good egg, and one thing I always appreciated was her skepticism. While Erika never struck me as cynical, she also trusted no official pronouncement until she was given firm proof of its veracity — exactly the sort of trust-but-verify outlook all good reporters strive to inculcate in ourselves. And she had a marvelous laugh. My thoughts are with Patrick and all her loved ones. Requiescat in pace.

16. WPRI 12 will co-host a community blood drive to benefit the Rhode Island Blood Center this Thursday at PPAC. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Grand Lobby of PPAC’s Weybosset Street building — with free parking for donors on the Page Street side of PPAC.

17. I’ll be a guest on this weekend’s edition of “A Lively Experiment,” breaking down the latest on local and national politics along with host Jim Hummel and fellow panelists Arlene Violet and Sean Holley. Tune in Sunday at noon on Rhode Island PBS or watch online here.

18.. Pile your kids in the car and take them to one of these Halloween displays!

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable looks at what happens after the first presidential debate; Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both our weekend shows on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can catch them 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) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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