Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: April 11

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. Feeling the Linc-mentum yet? I said my bit Thursday about Lincoln Chafee’s jaw-dropping announcement that he may run for president – you can read why it actually makes sense here. If Chafee’s goal is to be the Democratic nominee for president, let alone the eventual president-elect, he’s dreaming. But if – as Chafee suggested in an interview with my colleague Kelly Sullivan and me – he’ll consider it a successful endeavor just by having the opportunity to make the case against Hillary Clinton and draw attention to his views, he has a real opportunity. The question smart observers are asking is, how does Chafee clear the threshold that garners him press attention and a spot in the eventual TV debates? Wandering around New Hampshire with no cash and just Debbie Rich and Kenny Alston to help may not be enough. Chafee seems to understand that he will have to do at least some fundraising to have the impact he wants; he told us that “whatever I have to save and what I have to do just with shoe-leather, I’m going to do so that I’m there at that time, in November, December, January, prior to the New Hampshire primary.” Joe Fleming, for one, doesn’t think Chafee will stay in once he finishes testing the waters. But at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up on stage debating Hillary come the fall.

2. A special Saturday Morning Post dispatch from retired Providence Journal columnist M. Charles Bakst: “Here’s something you wouldn’t normally expect to see: Two men running for President who were prep school classmates – indeed, dorm mates. Meet Democrat Linc Chafee and Republican Jeb Bush, Class of 1971 at Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. They both lived in a small dorm named Pemberton Cottage. This past Feb. 1, The Boston Globe ran an in-depth piece about Bush’s Andover years. Interestingly – well, it’s interesting now in light of Chafee’s exploratory bid – the Rhode Islander turned down a Globe request for an interview for the Bush story. Of course, neither Bush nor Chafee has formally announced and it is, um, unlikely that both would win their party’s nomination and that they would face each other head to head, but wouldn’t it be something if they did? Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, was Andover ’42. Jeb’s brother, George W., was ’64. As George, the governor of Texas, ran for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination, I had the opportunity to interview him for The Providence Journal. I handed him a business card and noted I was Andover ’62. (We didn’t know each other in school.) He mused about what my Andover education qualified me to do. But I said the question at hand was what his education there qualified HIM to do. If I were working now and somehow could interview Jeb and Linc together, you can see where the conversation might begin – right there in their days in Pemberton Cottage, what they thought of each other then, and how surprised each is to see the possible collision course the two of them are on today.”

3. Indeed, I tried to get Chafee to open up about Jeb during our interview Thursday, but he wasn’t taking the bait. Asked if he finds it funny that they’re both running for president now, Chafee paused, then chuckled and said: “Yes, of course. Small world. I think we both have a long way to go till we meet each other. He has to win on the Republican side, I have to win on the Democratic side.” Did they know each other well? “Yes, very well. It was an 11-person dorm. A cottage, they called it.” Do they keep in touch? “Not much.” (Vanity Fair’s David Margolick had more luck back in 2001 – Chafee told him then that Jeb “was kind of a slob, actually.”)

4. Congrats to RIPR’s Scott MacKay for having the scoop on Chafee Thursday. … One of the funnier reactions came from liberal magazine Mother Jones: “Finally, a Candidate for People Who Think Jeb Bush Isn’t WASPy Enough.” … Chafee will be on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning to make his case. (“Face the Nation” and “Meet the Press” both have Rand Paul; “This Week” has Mike Huckabee.)

5. Mike Trainor’s reaction when Politico informed him Chafee was running: “I don’t believe that.”

6. It appears Linc’s announcement didn’t scare Hillary Clinton into abandoning her own campaign: she’s set to declare on Sunday. Clinton looks like a juggernaut, but some Democrats want to nudge her further to the left – including U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who issued a statement Thursday backing the Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s ReadyForBoldness.com push. “In 2016, we face big choices as a country – and Democrats will win if our presidential nominee proposes big ideas as solutions,” Whitehouse argued. “Do we give everyone a fair shot, or run a winner-take-all economy? Does our government look out for everyone, or cater to the economic winners and special interests? How long will we let corporations mask as ‘persons’ and manipulate our politics? Will we fail the test of addressing climate change, the challenge of our generation? Will America be known for examples of our power, or for the power of our example? You don’t solve big problems with timidity and complacency. I applaud those who are working to make big ideas central to the 2016 conversation.” Whitehouse’s support for the committee’s work is notable in part because he’s reliably pro-Hillary – he even co-chaired her 2008 campaign in Rhode Island. (Meanwhile, one wag jokes that the ever-cautious Jack Reed is still weighing whether it’s safe to endorse Barack Obama.)

7. The Kennedys through the years – a great Boston Globe photo collection.

8. Look for Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino to be in Providence next week alongside PawSox President Jim Skeffington to pitch their proposed Providence ballpark. I caught Skeffington as he left a taping of Dan Yorke State of Mind, and he told me the pair plan to unveil their full proposal midweek. They’ve already launched a website, SupportOurSox.com, to support their campaign. An excerpt from its FAQs: “Our objective is to keep the team in Rhode Island. That is Plan A. If Plan A for any reason does not appeal to the State, we will of course begin to focus our attention on a Plan B.”

9. Look for a substantial fundraising haul from Governor Raimondo when she reports how much cash she harvested during the first three months of her tenure. Thus begins the campaign to scare off potential challengers in 2018.

10. Be skeptical of any happy talk about Governor Raimondo’s “Reinventing Medicaid” working group. The state is looking to cut about $180 million, all in, from the Medicaid budget in 2015-16; ipso facto, somebody is going to get $180 million less than they would have otherwise. The hospitals, in particular, are a concern – especially with Care New England’s operating margin below 1% and so many Rhode Islanders employed in the sector. “We’re a little bit in that bad joke about robbing the bank – when you see the budget you see that hospitals are our biggest expenditure in Medicaid, and so they feel it the most,” Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts said on this week’s Newsmakers. The Raimondo administration is trying to follow the example of Andrew Cuomo, whose successful efforts on the same front were just labeled “a quiet Medicaid miracle” by the New York Daily News. One member of Raimondo’s working group, Neighborhood Health Plan CEO Peter Marino, said on this week’s Executive Suite that it will be “a challenge” to come up with enough cuts by the governor’s April 30 deadline. “I think it’s early to say where we’re going to land as a committee,” Marino told me. “I’m not sure we’re even actually going to vote on anything in particular. I think it’s, here’s some recommendations to explore, here are some options and what they might generate for the state and what they might mean to the health care system.”

11. Sobering econ read from London’s Daily Telegraph: “Exhausted world stuck in permanent stagnation warns IMF.”

12. On the day Gordon Fox was charged with misspending his campaign cash and then lying about it, Speaker Mattiello said outsiders were “welcome to audit my report tomorrow, and I’m sure that most of our members would feel that way.” But when Tim White and Dan McGowan decided to take him up on the offer, Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed not only refused – they coordinated an effort to keep the entire General Assembly from cooperating.

13. Anyone interested in journalism should read CJR’s autopsy on the Rolling Stone fiasco.

14. The pension lawsuit seems to be winding down; lawyers will meet with the judge Monday to update her on the settlement. But what about the other big case involving the state filed in 2012 – the 38 Studios lawsuit? It’s been nearly two and a half years since the Chafee administration sued some of the architects of the failed deal, yet the litigation has proved so complicated and slow-moving that as of now Judge Silverstein hasn’t even scheduled a start date for the trial. In fact, it’s not even clear if he’s close to doing so. The defendants, who include Curt Schilling, are currently making the case for Silverstein to issue a summary judgment in the suit; oral arguments on the motion won’t happen before next month at the earliest. How many years could this thing drag on?

15. Two striking statistics: the number of 35- to 54-year-olds in Rhode Island’s work force plunged by 19% during the recession, and the share of the state’s population with a job was tied for the lowest in New England last year. One factor, pointed out by Jason Beckertwice as many young workers in Rhode Island need adult basic education compared with their counterparts in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

16. Here’s a close look at how Governor Raimondo’s “Obamacare tax” would work.

17. Mayor Baldelli-Hunt is in the hot seat after a city councilman’s open records request.

18. Congratulations to Scituate Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Carol Ann Costa on a victory for transparent government: she convinced town meeting voters to add $14,000 to the municipal budget so public meetings can be streamed online.

19. Happy 100th birthday, Billie Holiday. Treat yourself to her version of “Autumn in New York.”

20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Secretary of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Roberts on Medicaid, plus a political roundtable about Chafee 2016 with Joe Fleming and Cara Cromwell. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island CEO Peter Marino. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). You can catch both shows back-to-back on your radio, too, Sunday nights at 6 on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. 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

This post has been updated and expanded.