Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Aug. 20

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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. When the Ethics Commission gave lawmakers a post-Gallison get-out-of-jail-free card to fix their incomplete financial disclosures in June, you might have thought they’d all take the opportunity to make sure their forms were accurate and comprehensive. Wrong. Not only did Rep. Anastasia Williams, who already had to make significant amendments, fail to list a nonprofit she led; it’s a nonprofit that shares its name with a legislative body and was apparently forced out of the State House – just the sort of thing the Ethics Commission wants voters to be informed about. “This is yet another incident that raises questions about the level of ethics, accountability and attention to detail among the current leadership at the State House, and it’s further evidence of why it’s important to offer the voters of District 9 a clear choice on Sept. 13,” declared Michael Gazdacko, who is challenging Williams in next month’s Democratic primary. Gazdacko is running a serious campaign, but he’s an underdog – Williams has held her West End seat since 1992, and has only faced a primary opponent in two of her 11 re-election contests (2010 and 2000), winning in a landslide both times. And if Williams can see off Gazdacko, she’ll almost certainly sail back into the State House for her 13th term come January: she faces no opposition on the November ballot in her heavily Democratic district, which gave 92% of its votes to President Obama four years ago.

2. Auditor General Dennis Hoyle tells me his audit of another nonprofit led by Rep. Williams, the troubled John Hope Settlement House, is “ongoing.” John Hope received $850,000 from the General Assembly in the last three years, but House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pulled its $300,000 grant from this year’s state budget at the last minute after the city of Providence raised new concerns about its bookkeeping. (Hoyle’s other high-profile nonprofit audit, into former Rep. Ray Gallison’s AEP, is now inactive after Gallison refused to cooperate.)

3. Tad Devine, Rhode Island native and Democratic strategist extraordinaire, joined this week’s Newsmakers for a great conversation about his role as Bernie Sanders’ senior strategist, Clinton vs. Trump, Rhode Island’s political landscape and more. Devine worked on Clay Pell’s 2014 campaign, giving him a unique perspective on the middling poll numbers of the woman who beat him, Gina Raimondo. “I think when you’re elected in a three-way primary in your own party and you don’t get 50% support, you’ve got to start building support within your party to begin with,” Devine said. “Second, I think Rhode Islanders really are anxious for this economy to move and move very quickly.” But Devine went on to say he thinks Raimondo “is doing an excellent job” so far because she’s focusing relentlessly on the economy. (“I encouraged Governor Chafee to do this – I wish he had done it more,” Devine recalled.) Devine’s advice for Raimondo going forward: “Number one is keep this focus on jobs and the economy and make sure people understand that she believes her job as governor is to bring jobs into the state and help the economy and create jobs here. Second, it’s a small place, so being visible and being out with people, having people see you and talk to you. And third, speaking through the media, being accessible and making sure people see you working – I think those are three things that she does really well, and she should take advantage of those opportunities.” (For a very different view on Raimondo’s record and her prospects, check out RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer’s Newsmakers appearance last month.)

4. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is no longer on the Newport Democratic City CommitteeIan Donnis reports. She says she never has time to make the meetings, but the news has only increased speculation about whether this could be her final re-election bid. (Then again, that speculation has been happening for years now.)

5. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “‘People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone.’ That quote came from Michael J. Fox in ‘The American President,’ but it might as well apply to the situation unfolding in Providence City Hall over the city’s growing panhandling and nuisance problems in downtown. The truth is former Mayor Joe Paolino doesn’t have the answers for solving what many believe has become a crisis, but he’s been the loudest voice in the room on the issue for much of the last year. Meanwhile, Mayor Elorza has taken a noticeable backseat to Paolino – the two are not friends – as his staff attempts to craft a plan to address the problems in way that is deliberate, compassionate and most importantly, legal. Elorza’s aides say the mayor will take a more front-facing approach in the coming weeks, but no one has unveiled the playbook.”

6. Rival biker gangs battling it out in Rhode Island: Tim White has the story.

7. Pioneer of punditry John McLaughlin, who died this week at 89, certainly made an impression on his home state of Rhode Island. Back in 1970, McLaughlin, still a Jesuit priest at the time, won the Republican endorsement for U.S. Senate against longtime Democratic incumbent John Pastore. Somewhat surprisingly considering his later conservatism, McLaughlin ran as a dove on Vietnam against the more hawkish Pastore. Pastore won with 67% in what turned out to be his final re-election race; it didn’t help McLaughlin’s cause that then-Bishop Russell McVinney, a Pastore pal, made clear McLaughlin was running without his permission. But McLaughlin still drove Pastore nuts. “Father McLaughlin stumped the state against Pastore in his Roman collar and clerical black suits,” a Washington Post reporter recalled in 1974. “Pastore was enraged, and by some accounts still is, at being challenged by a priest in full clerical regalia, which Father McLaughlin displayed to full advantage on television screens and in his campaign literature. … ‘How can I debate with a man my religion teaches me to call father?’ Pastore demanded.” McLaughlin’s campaign recalls another Jesuit who made a more successful foray into New England politics that year, Fr. Robert Drinan, who won a Massachusetts U.S. House seat in 1970 and held it until Pope John Paul II forced priests to stop running for office a decade later.

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8. A small victory for fiscal responsibility: for the last five years Rhode Island’s state government hasn’t had to float tax-anticipation notes (short-term borrowing against tax revenue that will come in soon, but not soon enough); before that, the state had done so in 17 of the previous 23 years. “This improvement reflects the build-up of the budget stabilization fund and other reserves as well as improved cash management,” according to the Public Finance Management Board. “Treasury’s proactive cash management practices have resulted in a better alignment of cash inflows with spending.”

9. Senator Whitehouse has a new book coming out in February. The title: “Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy.”

10. Mark your calendars: 2016 PARCC test scores will come out next Friday.

11. Michael Hendrix and Andrew Evans offer a conservative policy agenda for Providence and other American cities.

12. The federal government has a committee that decides the official spelling of place names in the United States – and Rhode Island is home to one of only five places ever granted an official possessive apostrophe. The winner: John E’s Pond, off Pilot Hill Road on Block Island.

13. R Street’s Amanda Farenthold on the fight over whether “This Land is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome” should stay in the public domain.

14. The Atlantic says small suburbs across New England are in decline.

15. Congratulations to retiring Rep. Dan Reilly, who will marry his fiancée Dr. Alexandra Costa in a ceremony this afternoon at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Barrington. The 27-year-old Portsmouth Republican has decided to leave the State House after this year to focus on wedded bliss and his career as a lawyer.

16. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersTad Devine, veteran Democratic Party strategist. This week on Executive Suite – New England Construction CEO David Sluter and President Matt Sluter. 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 Sunday nights at 6 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 hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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