Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: April 16

Quick hits on politics, money and more in Rhode Island

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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. If you want to understand how the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns hope to win Rhode Island’s April 26 primary, take a look at where they’re putting field offices. Their first ones opened less than 2 miles apart in South Providence, but for their second ones Clinton went just up the road to Central Falls, while Sanders went nearly 40 minutes south to Wakefield. Clinton’s team is banking on turning out the Democratic base in Greater Providence’s urban core, particularly minority voters, who’ve been a bulwark of support for her. (The Central Falls office opening was headlined by two of the state’s most prominent elected Latinos, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Mayor James Diossa, and Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez will be there today.) The Clinton campaign also sees political potency in local mayors, who usually maintain robust organizations that can be activated to get people to the polls, more so than federal and state officials. For Sanders, the Wakefield office shows his campaign is hoping to drive turnout outside Rhode Island’s core Democratic areas – a sensible strategy for a campaign that consistently does well with independents, whites, and young people. (Rumor has it there’s a rather large university in South Kingstown.) Hillary remains the favorite in Rhode Island based on history – a Clinton hasn’t lost in Rhode Island since Paul Tsongas beat Bill in 1992. But the former president’s visit on Thursday suggests her campaign knows it has work to do to avoid an upset. The results in Massachusetts last month are instructive. Turnout was similar to 2008, but Clinton’s margin of victory collapsed from 15 percentage points against Barack Obama to barely one point against Sanders. She pulled through with big totals in vote-rich cities, including Fall River and New Bedford, even though Sanders won the vast majority of the state’s 351 municipalities. A similar recipe could work in Rhode Island.

2. Rhode Island may be a deep-blue state in federal elections, but its Republican presidential primary arguably matters even more than its Democratic one. With Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich battling to decide whether Trump will obtain the 1,237 delegates necessary to win the nomination on the first ballot, Rhode Island’s 19 could easily be the difference between a Trump coronation and a contested convention. As Andrew Morse writes in this nice primer on the Rhode Island GOP rules, the key number to keep in mind is 10% – that’s the threshold Trump, Cruz and Kasich need to hit to receive any delegates at all. No one seems to doubt Trump is on track for a big win here, even if it could have been bigger without some of his recent missteps. (And it’s still possible Trump could make a splash by visiting Rhode Island before April 26.) Cruz, despite being in clear second place nationally, is keeping a very low profile in Rhode Island – no office, no visit, almost no news releases; perhaps his campaign is betting Kasich is a more palatable Trump alternative in the Northeast. As for the Ohio governor, he’s clearly contesting the state: he’s coming to visit, he has an office in Warwick, his super PAC has set up shop in South County, and he’s picked up quite a few endorsements from local notables who were previously with Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, including Linc Almond, Gary Sasse and Dan Reilly. The GOP results in New York on Tuesday could give a clue about how Rhode Island will go.

3. One of the benefits of covering a campaign rally is talking to regular voters and being reminded that their views don’t always fit into neat media archetypes. At the Bill Clinton CCRI rally, there were lots of students who said they and almost all their friends were voting for or leaning toward Bernie Sanders, as anyone following the campaign would probably expect. But then there was the middle-aged woman from Warwick who told me she never votes Republican and strongly dislikes Donald Trump – but said she was hoping Clinton would criticize the Black Lives Matter movement and stick up for cops.

4. Two reality checks for local Democrats feeling cocky as they watch Donald Trump’s poll numbers sink. From Sean Trende and David Byler: “[W]hen one takes account of the full political picture, the Republican Party is stronger than it has been in most of our readers’ lifetimes.” (Though in Rhode Island, not so much.) And from Paul Starr: “Despite winning the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, the Democratic Party has been in decline for the past two decades.”

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6. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “The firm advising Providence on its finances might not believe the city should file for bankruptcy, but it is expected to lay out a handful of options for addressing a structural deficit that could grow to $37 million over the next decade. What will that menu look like? Officials from Public Financial Management Inc. were tight-lipped about the possibilities when they spoke with reporters this week, but they made it clear difficult choices are the horizon. At this point, it’s virtually certain taxes will increase because of the spike in property values, but the Elorza administration is still trying to determine how it will adjust rates to ensure the city remains within the state’s 4% annual cap on the levy. (That said, no one in the administration or on the City Council is willing to rule out an attempt to go above that cap.) We also know the mayor has a compelling case for convincing the major nonprofits to contribute more revenue to Providence, but it’s unclear how he’ll accomplish what the last several mayors have struggled to do. The mayor has also declined to rule out making changes to retirement benefits, but he knows even modest alterations will likely trigger another legal battle with the unions. Here’s something I’ll be looking for: recommended cuts. During Mayor Taveras’s tenure, his top aides routinely made the case that there isn’t actually a lot of fat to cut in the cut budget. I suspect Elorza’s staff feels the same way. But if he’s going to launch a campaign calling for major fixes, he’ll probably need to show the state and the business sector that’s he willing to look in the mirror first.”

7. Last weekend’s opening item, on the debate over whether Providence should consider bankruptcy, led one informed reader to reach out and make the case against. This person’s basic point: a municipal bankruptcy would be a reorganization, with the judge doing what he or she can to make sure the city can pay its bills – including its pension and retiree health bills. Could that include cutting those bills to make them manageable? Potentially. But before that it would also likely include maximum tax increases for multiple years, the closure of libraries and rec centers – all the sorts of things that Central Falls had to do as part of its Chapter 9 process. That all helps explain why city leaders continue to rule out the option.

8. President Obama gave a nice shoutout to Rhode Island at the White House Science Fair on Wednesday: “In the new economy, computer science isn’t optional – it’s a basic skill…. And we’re seeing entire states take action. For example, last month Rhode Island got on a path to bring computer science to every school within two years. So we’re going to build on this progress.” (He was referring to the Raimondo administration’s new CS4RI initiative.)

9. Speaker Mattiello told my colleague Perry Russom this week that he supports allotting another $5 million to the new statewide tourism campaign in the 2016-17 budget, another show of support for the underlying policy despite the Commerce Corporation’s initial mistakes rolling it out. Most reps at the House Finance Committee on Tuesday also seemed to be in favor. (And for a grass-is-greener view on the tourism errors, check out Hartford Courtant columnist Colin McEnroe: “It might be a mistake to laugh up our sleeves at Rhode Island’s $3 million tourism goof, ignoring the fact that recently elected Gov. Gina Raimondo has achieved something desperately needed in Connecticut and not even visible on the horizon. She has led her state out of its burgeoning public pension crisis with a large and meaningful overhaul, and she did it with probably the minimal amount of acrimony from the unions (which was still quite a bit of acrimony).”)

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10. It got buried by Bill Clinton’s visit, but the announcement that Care New England’s Integra unit and UnitedHealthcare have agreed to form a so-called accountable care entity (AE) was an important development for Governor Raimondo’s Reinventing Medicaid initiative. As mentioned here on Feb. 27, most of the savings achieved so far are from straight rate cuts, not policy innovations like the AEs – those are obviously much harder to implement. Although the AE initiative was supposed to launch back on Jan. 1, the Integra-United effort is the first one to actually get off the ground. The administration months ago downgraded its first-year state savings target for the AEs from $3 million to $1.9 million, and despite the slow start, officials say they still think they can achieve that.

11. Governor Raimondo will head to Washington this weekend to address the 2016 National Legislative Conference of North America’s Building Trades Unions, a key political ally of hers. She’ll return to Rhode Island on Monday night. A spokeswoman did not respond to a question about whether Raimondo is holding any fundraisers while she’s there.

12. A shiver went down the spines of Rhode Island journalists on Monday when R.I. Supreme Court Justice Gilbert Indeglia, a Carcieri appointee and former state rep, issued the justices’ decision denying The Providence Journal’s request for state police documents related to the Caleb Chafee underage drinking incident. While the balance between privacy and transparency can be a difficult one to strike, this passage in particular concerned many reporters: “When the release of sensitive personal information is at stake and the alleged public interest is rooted in government wrongdoing, we do not deal in potentialities – rather, the seeker of information must provide some evidence that government negligence or impropriety was afoot.” Sounds very high-minded, until you consider that sometimes the only evidence of wrongdoing is contained in the very public records being requested. To take one example, Sen. Frank Ciccone’s explosive comments to officers during the 2012 arrest of Dominick Ruggerio were not mentioned in the arrest report – they were in a separate supplemental report released later. Reporters requested that supplemental report not because there was evidence of wrongdoing in Ruggerio’s arrest report but because these were prominent, powerful individuals whose actions deserved excess scrutiny.

13. David Cicilline makes The New York Times for a coming bill on arbitration.

14. Could Rhode Island lure NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center from Woods Hole to Newport? A recent Boston Globe article suggested officials in Massachusetts are nervous about the possibility as the Kennedy-era facility seeks major upgrades, and they are casting a wary eye on whether Jack Reed is lobbying to make it happen. Reed has used his perches on the Armed Services and Appropriations committees to steer federal funding into Naval Station Newport upgrades for NOAA, and his office trumpeted those efforts this week when the agency announced it would make Newport the permanent home port for its $54-million Bigelow research vessel.

15. Sheldon Whitehouse’s criticism of the Acton Institute, a free-market group led by a Catholic priest, during a recent Senate hearing on climate change led one of the other witnesses to call on him to resign. “Democratic senators at the committee audibly gasped at the comment,” reports Greenwire’s Amanda Reilly. All in a day’s work for Whitehouse, who’s also in an ongoing battle with the Wall Street Journal editorial page over the issue.

16. This week’s Block Island Times includes a series of letters questioning new publisher Michael Schroeder’s ties to the controversial sale of a Las Vegas newspaper to gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson’s family. One writer acknowledges concerns in New Shoreham that the sale could be part of an effort to put “casinos on Block Island,” though so far there is no evidence of that.

17. Westchester County Commissioner Rob Astorino, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York, will visit Rhode Island to speak at a fundraiser for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity on April 24. Astorino will make his case against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been in a long-running fight with Westchester Country over affordable housing.

18. New York City’s pension system just voted to scrap its hedge fund portfolio.

19. The Providence Public Library is posting thousands of high-res images from Rhode Island’s past on a new website, ProvLibDigital.org. More than 7,000 have been posted so far, and you can use their advanced search tool to hunt for your favorite sights.

20. The U.S. spends more money maintaining Confederate graves than Union ones.

21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha. This week on Executive Suite – Collette President and CEO Dan Sullivan Jr. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 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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