1. The most troubling reaction to the 38 Studios documents that I’ve heard has come from multiple State House insiders who’ve told me privately, “This is the rule, not the exception.” Their point: most of what we’ve seen in the documents – the backroom secrecy, the supremacy of relationships, the centralized power of top lawmakers, the absence of due diligence, the jarring incompetence of so many elites – is just business as usual on Smith Hill. The temptation now is to put most of the blame for 38 Studios on Gordon Fox, who isn’t exactly a sympathetic figure as he sits in his Pennsylvania prison cell. Yet that would be a mistake. Yes, Fox clearly worked with Mike Corso to bring 38 Studios to Rhode Island. But Governor Carcieri didn’t have to go for the idea. Assembly Democrats didn’t have to green-light the program with little debate. The EDC board didn’t have to rubber-stamp the governor’s proposal. Others didn’t have to ignore red flags. Governor Chafee didn’t have to ignore the loan after winning office. There were a myriad of failures here, and it’s important to separate examples of individual incompetence or corruption from examples of institutional failures; the latter may be fixable.
2. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, now overseeing the criminal investigation into 38 Studios, doesn’t want to revisit his 2010 vote for the loan program that allowed it to happen. “Right now what if 38 Studios was a great success?” Kilmartin told me on Tuesday. “You might be asking me a different question.” So, I asked him, you’d be OK with how the 38 Studios deal went down if the company had only been profitable? “I didn’t say that,” Kilmartin quickly replied. “What I’m saying is, I won’t hypothesize. You’re asking me to show the negative: ‘What would you have done if?'” Told that the question wasn’t about a hypothetical but rather whether he regretted failing to ask more questions about the loan legislation, the AG said: “I don’t think it was on anyone’s radar screen that there was a deal in the background for this.”
4. Governor Raimondo’s rollout of a big operational overhaul at RIDOT sets up an interesting contrast with her cross-border pal Charlie Baker. Both governors inherited massive transportation infrastructure headaches: Raimondo with RIDOT and Baker with the MBTA. But their approaches to tackling them seem to fit the traditional profile of their respective political parties. Baker has consistently called for MBTA managers to get their house in order before he’ll consider additional funding for the agency, despite protests from the Senate’s Democratic leader among others. Raimondo on the other hand has made clear with RhodeWorks that she thinks more money is needed along with more accountability. The politics of each position make sense: a key part of Raimondo’s coalition is the Laborers union, which will get jobs from more transportation spending, while Baker’s base is fiscally conservative moderates who want to keep state spending in check. But it’s also an example of Baker acting more like a typical Republican and Raimondo acting more like a typical Democrat.
5. Speaking of the extremely popular Governor Baker, former Phoenix editor Dave Scharfenberg has a great Globe piece here on Baker’s first nine months.
6. It was a big week for Senator Whitehouse, who achieved a breakthrough on criminal justice policy with the introduction of the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. The legislation is the fruit of something we don’t see too often anymore: months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and give-and-take between senators of very different political stripes. Despite his intensely partisan reputation, that’s the kind of senator Whitehouse wants to be – a Ted Kennedy-like figure whose liberal bona fides are never in doubt but who can still forge productive cross-party relationships. The final legislation contains quite a bit of the bill Whitehouse crafted with Texas Sen. John Cornyn to reduce recidivism among prisoners. “Nobody is going to get everything they want all at once in this very divided Congress,” Whitehouse told NPR. “I’m pretty comfortable with where we are – I’m one of the happier customers because our bill came through quite intact and most of the things that got added I support.” The bill faces uncertain prospects in the House, but the Senate compromise should give it some real momentum. (Irony of ironies: Whitehouse’s efforts are benefiting from the strong support of the Koch brothers, his constant punching bag when the topic is campaign finance.)
7. Meanwhile, InsideClimateNews reports on Senator Whitehouse’s continued suggestions that ExxonMobil could be prosecuted over climate change research the way tobacco companies were over lung cancer. The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson, among others, is highly critical of the idea.
8. Tune into “60 Minutes” this Sunday night on WPRI 12 for Lesley Stahl’s interview with Patrick Kennedy about his new book.
9. The PawSox owners are still eyeing Victory Place as an alternative ballpark location, but for now their public stadium campaign is clearly shifting into a new, much quieter phase. One sign of that: Patti Doyle, who has spent months fielding umpteen inquiries about the proposal as the owners’ spokeswoman, is no longer working for the group. Dan Rea, special assistant to PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino, acknowledged as much this week when he told me that “with the suspension of our public campaign for the I-195 site, the work of several consultants will, over time, also be suspended.” Asked about the team’s next steps, Rea replied: “As we’ve mentioned, we’re letting the dust settle and focusing our energies on the 2016 season at McCoy Stadium, while we consider ideas and proposals we receive, including City officials’ suggestions of other possible sites in Providence.”
10. The real-estate consultancy CoStar Group reports Atlanta is the current frontrunner in the fight to become GE’s new corporate headquarters, though it also includes Rhode Island on the list of those in the hunt. As mentioned in this space last week, The Connecticut Post has heard Rhode Island made a positive impression on GE. Though it still looks like a long shot, luring the eighth-biggest firm on the Fortune 500 to the Ocean State obviously would be huge, for Governor Raimondo and for Rhode Islanders.
11. If you’re interested in the economic future of Providence, you need to read The Brown Daily Herald’s great rundown of what Brown President Christina Paxson is planning over the next decade. The school has already raised $845 million for a new capital campaign set to launch Oct. 23, which will likely have a fundraising goal of $2 billion or more – with most of that money set to be invested in Providence. One place some of it may get spent: the proposed Wexford development on the old 195 land. (That said, as CoffeeBlackRI likes to point out, economic development isn’t just about real estate.)
12. Don’t miss Dan McGowan’s terrific deep-dive on the strained relationship between Mayor Elorza and the ever-prickly Providence City Council.
13. A rare bright spot on Rhode Island’s business landscape in recent years was Andera, the banking software startup founded by Charlie Kroll in his Brown dorm; he sold the company for $48 million last year. Kroll is now living back in his hometown of New York City, and he has a new gig – as COO of Ellevest, a banking startup aimed at women founded by prominent former Bank of America executive Sallie Krawcheck.
14. Congratulations to the three Rhode Islanders selected this week as fellows for the 2015 New England First Amendment Coalition institute: Jennifer Bogdan and Alex Kuffner of The Providence Journal, and my colleague Steph Machado here at WPRI 12.
15. The advocacy group R.I. Taxpayers held its annual fundraiser this week, which got me thinking about its long-running weekday e-blast, the R.I. Taxpayer Times, which collects a variety of news articles that often describe the – ahem – less terrific aspects of Rhode Island public life. The free roundup is put together solo by Monique Chartier, the group’s communications director and a longtime contributor to the local conservative blog Anchor Rising, and goes out daily to about 5,000 subscribers. She does it in two shifts, first collecting the key stories that have already been published as of the afternoon or evening of the prior day, then getting up around 6:45 a.m. and combing through local and national news outlets for the rest before sending it out. “We get a wide variety of response to the newsletter, from frustration about the latest development on a particular issue to suggested articles for inclusion in the newsletter to appreciation for the newsletter itself,” Chartier reports.
16. Alas, the release of the 38 Studios documents last Thursday kept me from fulfilling a commitment I was looking forward to – being one of the guest judges at Cox Communications’ Get Started RI business competition. But congratulations to the winner, CBC Wind Energy Solutions of Warwick.
17. Right now it looks like Joaquin may go out to sea, but no matter the forecast my terrific weather colleagues always have you covered. I’m an especially big fan of their Pinpoint Weather Blog, where they post conversational takes on all things meteorological. Our weather resources are available together at this page on WPRI.com.
18. These days a lot of conversations among the Rhode Island press corps are turning to our ace colleague and friend, The Providence Journal’s Bill Malinowski, who is battling ALS. Now Dan Barry, a New York Times columnist and Projo alum, has penned a typically excellent tribute to Bill – check it out here.
20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – R.I. Emergency Management Agency executive director Peter Gaynor; a roundtable on the 38 Studios documents with Michelle R. Smith and Ed Fitzpatrick. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Rhode Island Builders Association executive director John Marcantonio. 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi