Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Nov. 15

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always,  your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. Did Bob Healey put Gina Raimondo in the governor’s office? Allan Fung’s campaign strategists think so – and also think they’ve got the data to prove it. Three polls taken by Fung’s campaign in October found roughly half of voters backing the Cool Moose Party founder said the Republican was their second choice for governor. The final time they polled the question, on Oct. 27, 46% of Healey voters said they’d be backing Fung if Healey wasn’t running, while 26% said they’d be for Raimondo. (The rest weren’t sure or refused to answer.) Splitting Healey’s roughly 69,225 votes along those lines all but wipes out Raimondo’s 14,000-vote margin of victory, though she still comes out ahead by 540. Of course, the fall campaign would have been quite different in many ways if Healey hadn’t jumped in, so it’s impossible to say exactly how things would have turned out in the end under that scenario. Disappointed Fung fans will likely wonder if his campaign should have challenged Healey more directly down the stretch, considering the electoral threat he posed. As for Healey, he won’t rule out running again in the future, telling me “it all depends on the situation. I prefer retirement, but I just can’t seem to get out of politics.”

2. Local Republican activist Dave Talan reports some good news for the GOP, considering its top-of-the-ticket drubbing: “A total of 144 Rhode Island Republicans were elected to public office on Nov. 4. These winners, from 31 different cities and towns, represented 53% of all the GOP candidates who ran this year.”

3. Now that two governors in a row have been elected with less than 50% of the vote, there’s talk in the air about whether Rhode Island should require winners to get a majority. The state actually had just such a requirement long ago, but eliminated it in 1893 with adoption of Article IV, Section 2 (“Election by plurality”). The reason, according to a 1902 history edited by Edward Field, was that “from 1889 to 1893 the requirements of a majority instead of a plurality vote seemed frequently to defeat the choice of the people in their election of a Governor.” It seems the General Assembly kept stepping in (shocker!) and crowning the candidate who got fewer votes. After the plurality-vote amendment was approved in a landslide in 1893, Field’s book reports, “there was much more simplicity in methods of election, and the aggravation and expense characterizing the majority rules were removed.” (Bonus trivia: Rhode Island governors’ terms were only 12 months long until 1912, meaning the state held a gubernatorial election every single year. Imagine if Gina Raimondo was gearing up for re-election in a few months?)

4. “Personnel is policy,” the old saying goes, so transition teams announced over the past week by Gina Raimondo, Seth MagazinerNellie Gorbea and Jorge Elorza are worth scrutinizing. One commonality: all four tapped current or former bank executives to play a role, with Washington Trust represented on both Raimondo’s (Dennis Algiere) and Magaziner’s (Marie Langlois and Ned Handy) teams. Not all transition team members are created equal, of course; it’s possible some of the appointees are just window-dressing. What will really be telling is whom the newly elected officials choose to fill key positions, particularly their chiefs of staff, usually one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes roles in any political office. Elorza has already filled that post with Tony Simon, a well-respected young Sheldon Whitehouse aide who’s wise in the ways of Rhode Island politics.

5. There’s a good chance Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts could get a plum job in Gina Raimondo’s administration. Roberts – who couldn’t run for LG again because of term limits – was an early Raimondo supporter, showing up to the treasurer’s campaign kickoff in January back when she was working to woo progressives to her cause. Roberts’ longstanding interest in health policy makes a job in that area seem like the most natural fit, perhaps replacing Steve Costantino as Health and Human Services secretary. That will be a tough portfolio for whoever gets it, though, with serious problems in the R.I. Department of Children, Youth & Families and Medicaid costs growing in an era of big deficits.

6. My WPRI 12 colleague Steve Nielsen had a great story Thursday night about how state licensing regulations make it harder for Rhode Islanders to get new jobs, based off a 2012 Institute for Justice study. Why, for example, does the state think a barber needs 350 days of experience to cut hair but an E.M.T. only needs 37 days to save lives? Both Speaker Mattiello and Gov.-elect Raimondo told us they want to review regulations like these to see if they can ease the burden, but this Timothy Taylor post notes those who benefit from the current rules may lobby against any changes.

7. With the Central Coventry Fire District preparing to file for bankruptcy and the Coventry Fire District’s management under intense scrutiny, is it time for a wider review of Rhode Island’s 44 fire districts?

8. Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed have both come out in favor of a Republican-proposed tax cut for retirees, which could cost roughly $26 million depending on how it’s structured – in a year when the deficit is already projected to be nearly $200 million. Unsurprisingly, retirees seem to favor the idea – the beneficiaries of a tax cut usually support it. But state officials ought to show their cost-benefit analysis on why that’s the best use of scarce dollars. What’s the strategic rationale for cutting taxes on retirees rather than active workers, especially in a time of falling labor force participation?

9. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “While all eyes are Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza’s decision to hire former opponent Brett Smiley as his chief operating officer beginning in January, his real blockbuster move could be bringing on state Rep. Grace Diaz as a senior advisor. Diaz supported City Council President Michael Solomon over Elorza in the primary, but having the veteran lawmaker on Elorza’s side could go a long way as he puts together his first legislative package. (Remember: both the city and the state are facing large budget gaps, and Diaz is respected in the House and has the ear of Gov.-elect Raimondo.) Elorza has said one of his top legislative priorities will be addressing the car tax, an issue that affected many of Diaz’s constituents disproportionally in recent years. If and when Elorza does need help from the state, Diaz isn’t the only lawmaker who’ll go to bat for the city. Rep. Scott Slater, who may have the best relationship with House Speaker Nick Mattiello of any Providence representative, is both a city employee and a supporter of the new mayor. And if Elorza needs help on the federal level, chief of staff Tony Simon is leaving his job as one of U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s top aides to join City Hall. Oh, and President Obama endorsed him.”

10. The city of Providence is facing an estimated budget shortfall of up to $24 million next year, but Jorge Elorza was emphatic Friday that he won’t increase taxes to close the gap. “I’ve said continuously that raising taxes is not an option,” Elorza said during a taping of Newsmakers. “There are many other steps that we can take, but raising taxes is not an option.”

11. Provocative: “Why the Worst Governments in America Are Local Governments.”

12. Jack Reed will be the Democrats’ ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee come January, squaring off against new Chairman John McCain. While Reed and McCain have significant policy differences, Reed hopes they’ll be able to work together on issues such as repealing the sequestration cuts in the military budget. “I’ve worked with him now for 18 years on the committee, and we’ve had points that we agreed,” Reed told Politico Pro this week. “He’s extremely talented and knowledgeable, not just intellectually but experientially. There’s nobody with more experience in a uniform and fighting for the country than John McCain.” (McCain gets along well with Rhode Island’s other senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, too.)

13. Speaking of Sheldon Whitehouse, he’ll be on “Fox News Sunday” this weekend to debate the Keystone XL pipeline with his South Dakota colleague John Thune. Local Congressmen David CicillineJim Langevin and Joe Kennedy III all voted against building the pipeline Friday, though the bill still easily passed the GOP-controlled U.S. House 252-161. It’s not clear Whitehouse and his allies will be able to stop it in the Senate, either.

14. A great read from The New York Review of Books: “How Lincoln Played the Press.”

15. Via Tim White, the number-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight find Rhode Islanders pay among the highest car insurance premiums in the country. The insurers would likely argue that has something to do with the power of the auto-body industry at the State House.

16. A stunning statistic to note this Veterans Day week: “the final day of WWI would produce nearly 11,000 casualties, more than those killed, wounded or missing on D-Day.”

17. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Providence Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive SuiteMartin Keen of Focal Upright Furniture. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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