Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Jan 31

Quick hits on politics, money and more in Rhode Island

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. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so Governor Raimondo has to be pleased about the generally good marks she’s getting for how she handled this week’s blizzard. Dealing with a storm played to her strengths: she could make decisions without the involvement of legislators, she could show off her communication skills, and she didn’t have to worry much about political complications. Mayors and the state police praised her decision to join her Massachusetts and Connecticut counterparts in ordering a travel ban. It’s better to be lucky than smart, though: the snow was light, limiting power outages and easing plowing, and the worst of the storm was over by late Tuesday, which gave crews plenty of time to clean up before Wednesday morning’s commute. Raimondo also benefited from the fact that local meteorologists like my WPRI 12 colleagues got this one right, making her actions look more prudent in hindsight than those of Andrew Cuomo. But it only takes one bad storm to leave a lasting negative impression on voters – so Raimondo and her team had better be ready to repeat their performance if more snow hits next week.

2. Don’t miss The Wall Street Journal’s big “Weekend Interview” with CVS CEO Larry Merlo. It’s no small thing that the leader of Rhode Island’s largest company – by far – is feeling so optimistic these days.

3. Election forecaster Larry Sabato has the latest numbers from Kimball Brace, who helps manage Rhode Island Democrats’ decennial gerrymandering, and it remains likely the state will lose one of its two U.S. House seats after the 2020 Census. Fun as it is to imagine a Cicilline vs. Langevin primary battle, it’s worth noting that taking a seat from Rhode Island would be a political decision, not an act of God. Rhode Island has had two House seats since 1933, when the state’s population was about 700,000; the population has now grown to more than 1 million, yet the state is faced with the loss of a seat. Why should that be? The reason, of course, is that the U.S. House’s size has been capped at 435 since 1929, and the state’s share of the national population is falling. Maybe, then, it’s time to take Bruce Bartlett’s advice and enlarge the U.S. House. One million people is still a lot. Why should they all be represented by just one person? George Washington thought each congressman should represent just 30,000 people (which today would require more than 10,000 congressmen). If Rhode Island was part of Britain, it would send more than 10 members to Parliament. Time to fight to keep that second seat!

4. One of those two seats has been occupied by Jim Langevin since 2001. He is nobody’s idea of a headline-grabber. But is Langevin too quiet? That was certainly the implication of a recent Huffington Post item that placed Langevin #1 on its list of “the most tenured members of Congress who didn’t get much done this term.” (The initial version of the piece was harsher – and incorrect.) Unsurprisingly, Langevin aides reject the idea that he’s ineffective and question HuffPo’s methodology. “He is a practical problem-solver who wants to get things done and is not worried about who gets the credit,” Langevin spokeswoman Meg Geoghegan told me, describing Langevin as “committed to authoring and passing good policies” even if they get folded into larger bills that don’t have his name on them. She also provided a list of his top accomplishments, led by this 2011 amendment on identity theft. More importantly, perhaps, he is steadily rising in seniority, currently ranked 106th overall (out of 435) and by my count 69th among House Democrats.

5. How President Obama has protected blue states from the deepest federal cuts in recent years.

6. Sheldon Whitehouse is holding a high-dollar fundraiser Feb. 24 at Washington’s Oceanaire Seafood Room to raise money for Oceans PAC, the leadership PAC he launched in 2013. Suggested contributions: $5,000 for co-hosts, $2,500 for supporters, $1,000 for guests. Oceans PAC could use some new funds. It had just $19,524 on hand as of Nov. 24; Jack Reed’s Narragansett Bay PAC had $19,947, Jim Langevin’s Ocean State PAC had $10,218, and David Cicilline’s DNC PAC had $12,715. Whitehouse’s was by far the most active of the four leadership PACs in 2013 and 2014, taking in more than $700,000. Reed’s took in $353,287, Langevin’s took in $65,000 and Cicilline’s took in $42,500.

7. A provocative read from Slate’s Reihan Salam: “The Upper Middle Class Is Ruining America.”

8. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “With Education Commissioner Deborah Gist seemingly leaning toward taking a gig as the superintendent of schools in Tulsa, there are two important questions Rhode Islanders should be asking. 1) Who is going to replace Gist? 2) How much will a change actually affect education policy in the state? When it comes to Gist’s replacement, you’re certainly going to hear Clay Pell’s name in the mix. He was quick to endorse Gina Raimondo after losing to her in the Democratic primary last fall, has always had an interest in education, and is viewed by the unions as someone who would sincerely consider the voice of teachers during policy conversations. We also know the two have met in recent weeks, although we don’t know what they discussed. If you’re in the camp that believes Raimondo could throw the teachers’ unions a bone by appointing someone they support, then Pell certainly makes sense. On the other hand, even though Raimondo has never said she wants to retain Gist, she has complimented the commissioner’s work around improving graduation rates and raising standards. Combine that with Raimondo’s strong support among national education reformers – don’t forget, incoming Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor is considered a major player in the charter school movement – and it’s possible Raimondo will bring in someone who will be just as aggressive as Gist was when she arrived in 2009. On the campaign trail, Raimondo expressed support for the Common Core and the PARCC exam, the two issues that will dominate the conversation among school observers over the next several years. As for a significant shift in policy, it’s not so much about who the next commissioner will be as it is how the federal government wants to approach education in the coming years. (Pay attention to the U.S. Senate, where Sheldon Whitehouse is among those pushing for an overhaul of No Child Left Behind.) If nothing changes in Washington, don’t bet on seismic changes in Rhode Island.”

9. Not one but two new reports are out looking at the problems with Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families: this one from Governor Chafee’s crisis workgroup, and this one from a special Senate task force. No easy answers, and the problems there are clearly significant.

10. So it turns out the state’s much-debated $40 Uber fee … won’t affect Uber at all?

11. Andera founder Charlie Kroll is launching his new startup in New York City.

12. Freshman Rep. Joe Solomon Jr. has offered the seemingly sensible idea that all public budgets in Rhode Island should be uploaded to one central place. I’m consistently amazed at how hard it is to find that kind of basic, crucial information. (See: “Fire District, Central Coventry.”) Ken Block, John Ward and Mark Schieldrop tweeted some further thoughts.

13. The New York Times says Deepwater Wind has the only offshore wind project that remains on track.

14. Tim White’s one-on-one interview with North Providence Town Councilman-turned-FBI informant Paul Caranci is a revealing tale. Read and watch the piece here.

15. With not one but two rounds of snow in the forecast, be sure to follow Tony Petrarca and my other metrologist colleagues on Twitter. Also check out their snazzy new Pinpoint Weather mobile app.

16. Go Pats! I endorse E.J. Dionne’s column on fandom and loyalty – read it here.

17. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – North Providence Town Councilman-turned-FBI informant Paul Caranci sits down with Tim White to talk about life wearing a wire. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Serve Rhode Island executive director Bernie Beaudreau; Java Skincare CEO Stephanie Additon. 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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