Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: March 5

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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. Donald Trump is on course to win Rhode Island – and probably win it big – if the dynamics of the Republican presidential race don’t change significantly between now and the April 26 primary. Start with the best data we have: Trump’s dominant performance on Tuesday in the 20 Massachusetts border towns of Bristol County: 62% in Fall River, 59% in Swansea, 54% in Seekonk, 50% in Attleboro. These places have much in common with the population centers around Providence. Note, too, that the Massachusetts exit poll showed Trump at 51% with Republicans and 50% with independents – and there are way more registered independents than registered Republicans in both states. Rhode Island’s GOP primary electorate has shown in the past it isn’t too concerned about ideological deviations or party loyalty: recall Ken Block netting 45% of the vote less than two years ago. New York Times numbers guru Nate Cohn projects Trump is on track to get 46% of the vote in Rhode Island, making it the best upcoming state on the map for him, and two Brown surveys had him topping 40%. Trump’s message, too, is in many ways tailor-made for Rhode Island, a state hammered by the flight of manufacturing jobs overseas and grappling with major demographic shifts. “I’m very optimistic that Trump could do some significant numbers in the state,” Joe Trillo, his honorary Rhode Island chairman, told our Jared Pliner after Super Tuesday. The silver lining for anti-Trump Republicans: Rhode Island divides its 19 delegates proportionally. (Sort of. You have to get 10%, and there are only three delegates to give out in each congressional district, so if four people get more than 10% – well, read the rules yourself.)

2. A reminder of how Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric could help him win support across party lines: North Providence Rep. Arthur Corvese, a Democrat, introduced legislation this week to block Rhode Island from granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants or having “sanctuary cities” that protect them. Corvese argues that “if we allow Rhode Island to become a magnet for illegal immigrants, we are jeopardizing public safety and unduly taxing our resources.” Advocates take a different view, noting the tax revenue they generate.

3. And speaking of Rhode Island’s experience with outsourcing, the same authors who wrote the 2011 study showing Providence-area workers were hurt second-most by the rise of China are back with a grim sequel: “Adjustment in local labor markets is remarkably slow, with wages and labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and unemployment rates remaining elevated for at least a full decade after the China trade shock commences. Exposed workers experience greater job churning and reduced lifetime income.” And now there’s no housing bubble to mask the damage. No wonder Rhode Islanders are cranky.

4. Was Rhode Island wrong to move its primary from Super Tuesday to late April?

5. What a difference a year makes. PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino made his maiden appearance on Newsmakers this week, and his comments should be music to the ears of Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien. Lucchino pledged to keep the PawSox at McCoy Stadium through the end of the 2020 season, when its current lease expires, unless state officials ask the team to move. He said he’s in talks with the state to complete a study on upgrading McCoy that he hopes will be done by the end of this year, comparing it to the process that led him and John Henry to keep the big club at Fenway in 2005. Asked whether he has the same “predilection” to keep the PawSox at McCoy that he had to keep the Red Sox at Fenway, Lucchino said: “I think it’s probably close to that, but Fenway’s a bit different because of its iconic status and the solid bones that it really had in terms of its basic structure when it was built in 1912. So they’re not the same kind of ballpark, but we’re making the same kind of examination.” The interview’s most priceless moment, though, is the face Lucchino makes when asked about how Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios debacle impacted the push for a Providence ballpark. It comes around the 10:30 mark.

6. Rhode Islanders owe more than $81 million in delinquent court fees.

7. How close are the Rhode Island State Police and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to wrapping up their years-long 38 Studios investigation? “It’s as close as it’s ever been to coming to some type of reality with an end game, without telling you what the end game is,” Col. Stephen O’Donnell said Thursday on Dan Yorke State of Mind. “That will happen.” He went on to acknowledge, “It morphed into a pretty long-term investigation. … We meet all the time on that – it’s not something that we don’t pay attention to.” O’Donnell also discussed his future involvement in policing trucks tolls and the Cranston “Ticketgate” scandal – worth watching.

8. Bryant student Nick O’Hara has a cool business idea: a beach chair with a battery to charge your cell phone. He’s launched a Kickstarter to get the project off the ground, and joined me on this week’s Executive Suite to show off a prototype chair.

9. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “In what would be the Elorza administration’s largest legislative score to date, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is ‘opening to considering’ legislation that would require nonprofit colleges to pay taxes on non-mission essential property, according to spokesman Larry Berman. Elorza included the request – he wants the same policy for hospitals – in his 2016 legislative agenda, and although the bill hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing in the House or Senate, Berman said the speaker is ‘looking closely’ at it. The bill remains pretty vague; nobody I’ve talked to can definitively point me to a property that isn’t being taxed right now but would we if the legislation is approved. But it marks the latest attempt by a Providence mayor to generate extra revenue from the major nonprofits. (In 2011, then-Mayor Angel Taveras backed a bill that would have required the hospitals and colleges to pay 25% of their assessed property tax; he ended up striking individual deals with each nonprofit.) Dan Egan, who represents the ‎Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island, said he believes Providence’s private colleges pay taxes on the vast majority of commercial properties they own. He said the colleges have ‘stepped up time and time again’ and argued the colleges represent one of the few growth sectors in the city.”

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10. How big a fortune had Buddy Cianci amassed at the time of his death?

11. It will be interesting to see how the Raimondo administration deals with Care New England’s proposal to shrink Memorial Hospital. The facility has been losing money for years, and Rhode Island’s second-largest health system needs to stay solvent; the state also has roughly 200 more hospital beds than experts say it needs. For a governor who wants to trim Medicaid spending, allowing the system to “rightsize” itself makes sense. But rightsizing would almost inevitably involve job losses in one of the state’s only reliable growth sectors. Will Raimondo’s Health Department side with Care New England or the nurses’ union?

12. The push to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island still seems unlikely to bear fruit this year (and Warwick Rep. Joe McNamara’s criticism of Governor Raimondo’s medical-marijuana proposals makes those look dicey, too). But as Ian Donnis notes, the dynamic here could be similar to the one with same-sex marriage – advocacy over multiple General Assembly sessions eventually bearing fruit, amid a shift in societal views. A survey commissioned last year by backers found 57% support statewide for “changing Rhode Island law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol.” Smaller polls in six communities also found majority support, ranging from 50% in Cranston to 63% in Cumberland. But not everyone is convinced, as this recent Boston Globe op-ed by a Beth Israel doctor shows.

13. Dan McGowan digs into a newly formed local education advocacy group.

14. Sheldon Whitehouse got good news and bad news this week on the bill he and Ohio Republican Rob Portman are pushing to tackle the opioid crisis. The good news: it appears their Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 will clear the Senate soon, adding to Whitehouse’s growing list of fruitful bipartisan partnerships. The bad news: Senate Republicans narrowly blocked his Democratic colleague Jeanne Shaheen’s proposal to include $600 million in emergency funding to pay for the bill’s programs. “This bill has no funding right now,” Whitehouse acknowledged after the vote. Republicans countered by noting that there is already other money to deal with drug addiction contained in this year’s federal budget.

15. Tim White talks to a survivor of notorious child molester Dana Waters’ crimes.

16. Ben Thompson argues the Internet is now transforming politics, too.

17. Some tough questions for Tim Cook on Apple’s encryption fight with the FBI.

18. Useful tips – and myths – on how to extend your smartphone’s battery life.

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Pawtucket Red Sox Chairman Larry Lucchino. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – ShapeUp co-founder and CEO Dr. Rajiv Kumar; Bryant student and Charging Chair inventor Nick O’Hara. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 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: @tednesi

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