Nesi’s Notes: July 22

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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. It took more than 10 years, but Rhode Island employers now have as many jobs on their payrolls as they did before the Great Recession (plus a few more). “We passed a milestone today that many of us hoped we would have passed much sooner,” Governor Raimondo said when the announcement was made. To put Rhode Island’s experience in perspective, Massachusetts regained its pre-recession jobs level in January 2013, more than four years ago. It’s a reversal of what transpired after the tech-driven 2001 recession, when Rhode Island bounced back relatively quickly while Massachusetts struggled for a while. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the same tech edge that hurt Massachusetts in 2001 gives it the economic momentum Rhode Island craves. Reasons to be nervous about Rhode Island’s job market remain, too. The Economic Progress Institute’s Doug Hall calculates the state still has a “jobs deficit” of 4,200 positions when you account for how many needed to be created to keep up with population growth since 2007. And the working-age employment rate was still well below pre-recession levels in 2016, years into the recovery. “I think the way the economy is developing is mismatched from the way we’re training people, broadly speaking,” DLT Director Scott Jensen said on this week’s Newsmakers. “When someone gets out of college, when someone gets out of high school, there isn’t an easy path to a job that there once was. … We have to work on it, and that’s exactly what the governor’s doing.” Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, also appearing on Newsmakers, said Raimondo will speak with Tesla CEO Elon Musk again soon and is in active talks with more “big, name-brand players” to add jobs in Rhode Island. “Is our work done? No, by no means,” Pryor said. But, he argued, “we’re seeing trends in the right direction.”

2. The WSJ’s Ben Leubsdorf, a proud Brown alum, highlights Rhode Island’s post-recession jobs milestone – and notes six other states, including Connecticut, still haven’t achieved it.

3. Over coffee and juice, Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio took a first step Tuesday toward ending the state budget standoff, now in its 22nd day. It involves delicate diplomacy to let both sides save face. Mattiello made the first outreach, calling Ruggerio to set up the meeting. Now Ruggerio is in discussions with his members about bringing back the Senate to approve Mattiello’s original budget, removing the amendment that triggered that June 30 meltdown – but there is no agreement to do so yet, let alone a timetable for it to happen. If it does, though, Mattiello would be expected to bring back the House this fall to take up key bills that died when he sent the chamber home, including paid sick days and domestic abusers’ gun rights. He’s also signaled a willingness to look at Ruggerio’s proposed trigger to pause the car-tax phaseout in bad economic times. (And while some fall activity on Smith Hill would also seem to be good news for the PawSox stadium plan, that’s not certain – Mattiello is no longer promising that House Finance will take up the bill this fall. Asked if autumn PawSox hearings were still on the agenda, his spokesman would only say, “Speaker Mattiello is focused on ending the budget stalemate. … That is his focus at this time.”)

4. As expected, other cities are starting to show their interest in the PawSox should the Rhode Island deal fall apart. Worcester has been the most public, with 10,000 postcards from The Woo arriving at McCoy the other day. But Worcester isn’t the only one – Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia is also said to be gauging the team owners’ interest.

5. Governor Baker exercised his line-item veto authority in Massachusetts this week, removing $320 million from the roughly $40-billion state budget there. Rhode Island continues to debate whether to give its governors the same power, so at last week’s NGA meeting I asked Baker for his view on the line-item veto. “It’s a useful tool,” Baker told me. “Government’s supposed to be checks and balances between the branches, and I completely understand that. But I think one of the things the line-item veto does is it gives us as executives a chance to both re-engage with the legislature on particular issues where we have a disagreement, and it gives everybody a means or a mechanism to ensure that we’re all in the same place on available revenue, anticipated spending, and all the rest.” Skeptics sometimes note that governors take out relatively small amounts of money – Baker’s line-item vetoes this week amounted to about 0.8% of proposed spending – but he argued that’s what makes the option “powerful and useful.” In fact, he said, “I actually think the fact that it’s a precise tool is an advantage.”

6. Another state leader with insight to offer Rhode Island is Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who’s been managing his state’s experiment with legalized marijuana, a step set to be examined by a new Rhode Island study commission. “The two things I say all the time are, we haven’t seen the things we most feared – a spike in teenage use, increased driving while high – but that being said, I still encourage other governors to wait a couple years and make sure there aren’t unintended consequences,” Hickenlooper told me during the NGA meeting. He dismissed the argument that legalizing will be a major boon to state revenue. “It’s de minimis,” he said. “We’re a $28.5-billion budget, and this is less than $200 million of revenue. It’s not going to solve any of your problems. It’s not going to make a dent in Medicaid or let you do early childhood education. A lot of the money’s used on the regulatory side, and a lot of it’s used for making sure we don’t market to teenagers, letting them know this high-THC marijuana could permanently reduce some of their long-term memory if they use it regularly. I mean, that stuff – we’re spending a lot of money just to deal with it and make sure we don’t have unintended consequences.”

7. Cara Cromwell, who oversaw the NGA meeting in Rhode Island, said Friday she’s “still smiling” over how well it went. “Rhode Island put its best food forward and it’s clear from the response we’ve gotten from governors and attendees that Rhode Island ranks first in this category,” she said. “The event pumped $2.5 million directly into the economy and we were able to highlight locally sourced food, Rhode Island products and talent.” Cromwell said she was particularly impressed with the work of the Rhode Island State Police and local law enforcement dealing with not only the nearly three-dozen governors, but the extra security required for Vice President Pence and Prime Minister Trudeau. On the tourism front, she reports at least two governors stayed late – Arizona’s Governor Ducey was spotted touring the Newport mansions, and Nevada’s Governor Sandoval was seen at the Hudson Street Deli on Providence’s West Side.

8. Campaign 2018 approacheth, and Governor Raimondo’s ambition is shaping up to be a key talking point for Republicans. On the same day The New York Times mentioned her as a potential presidential candidate – which was right after the NGA put her in the national spotlight – Republican National Committee spokeswoman Ellie Hockenbury sent a media blast highlighting her 43% approval rating in the new Morning Consult poll. Hockenbury chalked the weak number up to Raimondo “seeming to be more concerned with mounting a presidential bid than earning voters’ support in her home state.” GOP Chairman Brandon Bell took the same line in his own statement about the poll, saying: “Raimondo wears her ambition on her sleeve and treats Rhode Island as her stepping stone. … Drop out of the race for governor and run for the office you really want. The office you think you deserve – president of the United States. It will be wonderful to see Rhode Island vote for a Republican president for the first time since 1984 with you at the top of the ticket.”

9. As Ian Donnis notes, Governor Raimondo’s decision to veto the bill for evergreen union contracts could complicate her re-election path by angering organized labor, even if her office was quick to point out Democratic mayors urged her to do so. Her 2014 primary rival Angel Taveras offered a tweet in support, writing: “As a public school graduate, parent, former mayor and taxpayer, I applaud Governor @GinaRaimondo on her veto.” “You would,” shot back Providence teachers’ union chief Maribeth Calabro.

10. Rhode Island Democrats think they have their own potent weapon for 2018 in the form of the Republican health care bill, which is steadfastly opposed by everyone from Governor Raimondo and the congressional delegation on down. DGA Chairman Dan Malloy, Connecticut’s governor, noted during the NGA meeting that not all GOP gubernatorial candidates nationwide have taken a position on the bill. In Rhode Island, it’s getting a mixed reaction. My colleague Steph Machado reached out Monday to the three Republicans out front for governor – Joe Trillo, Patricia Morgan and Allan Fung. Trillo expressed support for the bill, saying: “Whatever is flawed in it can be tweaked later.” Morgan was unsure, saying: “My only concern is how does it affect Rhode Island. I don’t know yet.” And Fung has not responded to requests for comment on the bill, though when asked about the issue in May he said, “Let’s see what happens in the Senate.” Separately, U.S. Senate candidate Bobby Nardolillo suggested hearings and bipartisan buy-in are needed to move forward on health care.

11. GOP Chairman Brandon Bell’s barb about the governor running for president was just one in a string of pithy, pointed statements he released this week on topics including the PawSox, the budget stalemate and Frank Montanaro. And that’s not unusual: despite having vastly fewer elected leaders in office, the Rhode Island Republican Party does much more rapid response than the Rhode Island Democratic Party under Bell’s leadership. The GOP is quick to capitalize on the latest headlines, pouring fuel on the fire whenever it can make life difficult for Governor Raimondo or Speaker Mattiello. The criticism of Mattiello in particular stands out because most Republican lawmakers, like their Democratic counterparts, are often loathe to criticize the House speaker on the record.

12. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “When Mayor Elorza announced he was hiring former City Council President Michael Solomon as a senior advisor on intergovernmental and municipal affairs, I had one question: what took so long? The two had been flirting for several months and the political operatives in Elorza’s life were clearly urging him to bring Solomon back to City Hall. If you view it strictly from a political lens, the hire was smart. Solomon is one of the few people in the city with an interest in being mayor that also has the ability to write himself a check for $300,000 to fund a serious campaign. Bringing him in would appear to take that option off the table. Strategically, the move also seems to work. Elorza is a bright guy and an excellent cheerleader for Providence, but he hasn’t put enough time into building relationships with the politicians who can help fulfill his agenda. Solomon knows everyone, is liked by most people, and has the experience to know the difference between legislation that might pass and legislation that doesn’t have a prayer. (He’s got great relationships in the House and his former right hand man – Jake Bissaillon – is now special assistant to Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey.) None of this means Solomon is guaranteed to succeed, of course. He and Elorza don’t have much in common other than apparently being excellent pool players. They hang out at different spots at night. They have different friends. Solomon understands the art of compromise while Elorza is more of a big idea guy. It’s possible the two never end up seeing eye to eye on most issues. But if Solomon can push the mayor’s agenda forward and the two avoid stepping on each others’ toes, it won’t be long before the mayor also finds himself asking: what took so long?”

13. The latest campaign finance numbers for federal candidates are in. In the 2018 U.S. Senate race, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse is out front with $2.3 million in the bank. Filings from his GOP challengers Bobby Nardolillo and Robert Flanders haven’t been posted yet, but Kathy Gregg reports Nardolillo has $24,000 and Flanders has $186,000. Of Rhode Island’s two Democrats in the U.S. House, David Cicilline now has $1 million, while Jim Langevin has $763,000. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who isn’t up until 2020, has $1.5 million. Both Whitehouse and Reed, by the way, were on Martha’s Vineyard last weekend to attend the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s annual retreat for big donors. Financier and Obama pal Robert Wolf even tweeted a photo of a tie-less Reed addressing the group over a meal under a tent.

14. Senator Whitehouse attended the premiere of Al Gore’s new movie.

15. What were the odds the two highest-profile early resignations from the Trump White House would both be Rhode Islanders?

16. Dawn Euer won an easy victory Tuesday in the Democratic primary to succeed former Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, taking nearly half the vote in a four-way field. Planned Parenthood, which now has the chance to replace a pro-life senator with a pro-choice one after investing almost $12,000 in the race, called Euer’s victory “a win for reproductive rights.” And the Rhode Island Working Families Party noted Euer beat the endorsed party candidate, David Hanos, saying it’s a sign voters “are hungry for true progressive champions.” Now Euer faces an Aug. 22 general election against Republican Mike Smith, who’s run before, as well as independent Kim Ripoli and Green Gregory Larson. Smith and his allies are seizing on Euer’s allies to argue she is “a candidate who is bought and owned by extreme left special interests,” as The Gaspee Project put it in an email. Euer’s side thinks she can carry the day with a focus on bread-and-butter issues and good government. One thing to watch: how much will Senate Democratic leaders do to keep the seat in their party’s hands without their preferred candidate as the nominee?

17. Among the dozens of bills Governor Raimondo signed into law in recent days is a low-profile measure highlighted in this column’s May 13 edition that makes two important changes to the state’s Open Meetings Law. Common Cause’s John Marion, an expert on such things, explains: “Now municipal public bodies will have to put their minutes online (state public bodies already do) and exclude weekends and holidays from the calculation of 48 hours public notice for a meeting. That means no more Friday afternoon notice for a Monday evening meeting.” He added, “This is a great example of how average Rhode Islanders can affect significant change for good government. Rather than coming from Common Cause or the ACLU, this bill came from a few citizens of Warwick with some concerns about a local board who went to their state senator – Michael McCaffrey, now the Senate majority leader – with some concrete suggestions. It took three years, but this week their persistence paid off.” The law was sponsored in the House by McCaffrey’s fellow Warwick Democrat, Rep. Evan Shanley.

18. News of John McCain’s brain cancer hit home for me; my mom died 14 years ago of the same disease, glioblastoma, and many families know the pain of a diagnosis with so little hope. But McCain’s announcement has also garnered attention for some potentially promising new treatments for the disease.

19. Julie Tremaine on the looming sale of alt-rock icon 95.5 WBRU.

20. With the Newport Jazz Festival just two weeks away, check out this great New Yorker profile of Cécile McLorin Salvant, one of this year’s headliners.

21. “Not only does force quitting your apps not help, it actually hurts.”

22. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor and R.I. Labor and Training Department Director Scott Jensen. This week on Executive Suite – Johnson & Wales University Chancellor John Bowen. 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 writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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