Nesi’s Notes: Feb. 24

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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. State Sen. Nick Kettle is gone, but the circumstances of his departure could have a lasting effect. The Coventry Republican resigned Thursday, less than a week after he was indicted for allegedly extorting sex from a teenage Senate page and one day after Senate leaders filed a bill to expel him from office. “While I have great respect for due process, the severity of the grand jury indictments involving a minor in the Senate page program are far too serious,” longtime Senate GOP Leader Dennis Algiere said. But the expulsion bill – whose case against Kettle also said he “brought unwanted media coverage to the Chamber” – was immediately criticized as sloppily drafted and moving too fast. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio himself acknowledged he hoped Kettle would resign rather than force an expulsion vote, which suggests the bill’s introduction was partly aimed at raising the pressure on Kettle. Still, Common Cause’s John Marion and the ACLU’s Steven Brown say the experience shows lawmakers still need to flesh out the process for expulsion – the provision has never been used since the state constitution was adopted in 1843. “It’s a broad right,” Marion said on this week’s Newsmakers. “It doesn’t have a very extensive standard for what must be found to punish or expel the member.” Brown suggested the General Assembly already has “a good example” to follow: the 1986 impeachment proceeding against then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Bevilacqua. “There was a very detailed process that the House Judiciary Committee came up with,” he said.

2. Rhode Island’s leading candidates for governor are converging on Washington this weekend for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association. Governor Raimondo departed Thursday night and returns late Sunday. Her schedule includes a meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to discourage offshore drilling as well as President Trump’s White House dinner for governors and their spouses on Sunday. She also has fundraisers and Democratic Governors Association events on the agenda. On the GOP side, Allan Fung and Patricia Morgan are also in Washington to attend Republican Governors Association events happening on the sidelines of NGA. (Fung will be back in Rhode Island on Sunday, when he turns 48 and will hold his annual birthday fundraiser.) A third GOP candidate, Giovanni Feroce, only opened his campaign account on Friday and said he would not be heading to DC for RGA events. “I think DC has enough people in it this week, they don’t need me; Rhode Island needs me,” Feroce said in an email.

3. The somewhat low-key Republican gubernatorial primary heated up a bit this week when Patricia Morgan issued a statement calling out Allan Fung for declining to answer press questions on various policy issues. “He must come out from hiding, be honest with the voters and reveal his positions, so they can make an informed decision,” she said, adding: “It appears that is his election strategy: not allowing voters to know what they are getting if they vote for him.” On this occasion, the Fung campaign was quick to respond. “This is more nonsense from a candidate who is falling further behind,” campaign manager Andrew Vargas Vila wrote. He went on to note Morgan said she’d “rather not comment” when asked last year if Frank Montanaro Jr. should lose his job over the free-tuition scandal, adding: “This is typical of Rep. Morgan and State House insiders like her. They say one thing, but they do another.” (It’s notable the campaign raised Montanaro, a former lawmaker in Fung’s hometown of Cranston and a key ally of the city’s most powerful pol, Speaker Mattiello, who gets along well with Fung.)

4. Pawtucket voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose nominees in the special election to replace Democratic state Sen. Jamie Doyle, who resigned last month. The Democratic primary candidates are Sandra Cano, Matt Fecteau and David Norton; the Republican primary candidates are Richard Karsulavitch and Nathan Luciano. How’s this for some history: according to The Pawtucket Times’ Jonathan Bissonnette, the Karsulavitch-Luciano bout is the first Republican primary in Pawtucket in more than 50 years. The winners will compete in the general election April 3.

5. The gun debate is heating up once again in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, with lawmakers set to introduce a statewide assault-weapons ban next week. Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence President Linda Finn and Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition President Frank Saccoccio debate the proposal on this week’s Newsmakers. Finn’s case in favor: “It will ban weapons of war that are what we’ve been calling assault rifles – or sporting guns or whatever the verbiage is – and also high-capacity magazines over 10 rounds, which is similar to legislation that’s been in place in Massachusetts since 1994 and similar to legislation that Connecticut has passed. … We want to be in compliance with our neighbors.” Saccoccio’s case against: “It has a history of not working. And in Connecticut when they did pass the same legislation, if you take a look at it and do some research on it, approximately 90% of the individuals in Connecticut that actually had these firearms refused to comply with it. And then they had some of the police departments coming forward, and police officers saying, ‘We’re not going to enforce the law. We’re not going to go door to door.'”

6. In other gun news, Speaker Mattiello – who had an A+ rating from the NRA in 2016 – announced Friday he will cosponsor the so-called “Red Flag” bill that would let guns be taken away from individuals deemed a threat. With No. 3 Democrat Maryellen Goodwin sponsoring the bill in the Senate, the measure looks to be on the fast track. Governor Raimondo, meanwhile, says she will sign an executive order Monday establishing the policy on a temporary basis until the General Assembly passes the bill.

7. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “Expect Mayor Elorza to take an active role on any gun control bills proposed in the General Assembly this year, but he isn’t ruling out asking the City Council to approve a gun-related ordinance this year as well. Speaking after the quarterly meeting of his Advisory Council to Reduce Gun Violence this week, Elorza said his law department is currently reviewing options the city might have, although he declined to offer specifics. The mayor also made it clear he does not want to see lawmakers agree to a compromise that bans firearms in schools (except for ones carried by cops) in exchange for not approving a bill to ban high-capacity magazines, noting that those types of deals a common, ‘especially in the final days’ of the legislative session. The mayor also told his council it should consider backing Republican state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo’s proposal to implement a tax on violent video games.”

8. Providence now estimates pension payments skipped between 1996 and 2012 have cost the city retirement fund roughly $300 million.

9. Mayor Elorza heads to Puerto Rico on Sunday along with a group of other mayors for a two-day visit organized by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations with help from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “In light of the fiscal crisis and the devastation by Hurricane Maria, this effort aims to improve the capacity of and resources available to Puerto Rico’s mayors by matching them with mayors in the mainland United States,” the mayor’s office reports. Elorza, who serves on the Conference of Mayors’ advisory board, returns to Providence Monday evening. (His travel expenses are being reimbursed.)

10. And speaking of Puerto Rico, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution calling for Puerto Rico to become a state at last week’s National Association of Secretaries of State meeting in Washington.

11. Dan McGowan and Walt Buteau uncovered an interesting development in the saga of Gordon Fox. Fox is now slowly repaying the $109,000 he stole from his campaign account – and since it’s his account, he will be able to decide how to spend the money. His options include donations to other politicians, charitable contributions, or returning money to donors.

12. MindImmune Therapeutics, a life-sciences startup that operates out of URI’s College of Pharmacy, has landed a big partner. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer recently agreed to invest in the company and collaborate on its research, which looks at how the immune system affects brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. MindImmune CEO Stevin Zorn sees the company’s progress as part of a broader trend in the state. “Neurosciences has been growing by leaps and bounds in Rhode Island, and that’s not something I think everybody knows,” Zorn said on this week’s Executive Suite. “The state has made tremendous investments in infrastructure relating to neurosciences, engineering, chemistry, pharmacy and other areas, and Rhode Island is uniquely situated in the biotech corridor right in between Boston and New York.”

13. Watchdog journalism with an impact: Tim White’s 2011 undercover investigation of John Sauro, the ex-firefighter who was weightlifting while collecting a tax-free disability pension from Providence, resulted in a precedent-setting Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling this week.

14. “This week for Retro Game Friday I’m covering the only game made by the infamous 38 Studios. It’s Kingdoms of Amalur!

15. SCOTUS hears arguments Monday on the future of public-sector unions.

16. AEI’s Desmond Lachman has a dark warning about the U.S. economy.

17. Self-recommending: Dan Barry on the mayor who built McCoy Stadium.

18. Why is the price of a new vinyl record so high?

19. Jon Ward says America will never see another Billy Graham.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersFrank Saccoccio, president of the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition, and Linda Finn, president of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence; John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island and Steven Brown of the Rhode Island ACLU. This week on Executive Suite – MindImmune CEO Stevin Zorn and Slater Technology Fund managing partner Richard Horan. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. And you can subscribe to both shows as iTunes podcasts – click here for Executive Suite and click here for Newsmakers. 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

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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