Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: July 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, Et tu, CNBC? State leaders winced Tuesday when the channel put Rhode Island back in last place on its Top States for Business list, for the third time in five years. It wasn’t exactly a steep drop – Rhode Island was 48th last year – but the psychological hit of ranking 50th out of 50 is acute. “The first thing to keep in mind is that rankings by definition are relative,” CNBC’s Scott Cohn, who developed the list, told me in an email. “So if one state’s performance on a given metric stays the same while another state’s improves, the first state’s ranking will drop. That’s some but not all of the case for Rhode Island this year.” Rhode Island’s ranking remained stable or improved across CNBC’s 10 subcategories with two key exceptions: a 12-spot drop in Quality of Life, and a 7-spot drop in Education. Cohn tells me the former was caused by a measured decline in Rhode Island’s air quality in 2015 and the latter by a decrease in high-school test scores (both relative to other states). “As you know, Rhode Island has never finished above 48th in our rankings,” Cohn said. “Some of that is for reasons beyond the control of such a small state. But some of it is self-inflicted.” The new list offers ballast for those who argue Rhode Island’s ruling Democrats are still doing too little to fundamentally alter the state’s business climate; Governor Raimondo’s aides counter that the list is largely backward-looking and reflects few of the policies she started to put in place last year. And there are other lists that play to Rhode Island’s strengths. But economist Rob Atkinson’s 2012 take still haunts. “You’ve got two choices as a state,” he said. “You can be Minnesota, where you have high costs but super-good quality, or you can be Mississippi, where you’ve got low costs but bad quality. And the whole problem is Rhode Island’s got the costs of Minnesota and the quality of Mississippi.”

2. Rep. John Carnevale has lived in Johnston and owned a home in North Kingstown. So why did his election filings repeatedly claim he’d never moved out of Providence?

3. Rhode Island’s demographics have changed remarkably over the last two generations. Back in 1980, the state’s population was as overwhelmingly white as Idaho’s; today about one in four Rhode Islanders are people of color. And that trend is only going to continue in the coming years, as the state’s surging Latino population keeps making its presence felt. In a way, that makes Rhode Island a microcosm of the changes impacting the nation as a whole: Robert P. Jones wrote this week that white Christians, “arguably the most powerful cultural force in the history of the United States,” are losing their dominance.

4. Americans are increasingly looking for local, not national, solutions to problems.

5. Governor Raimondo left for Iowa on Friday, not to test the waters for a presidential run – as far as we know – but to attend the summer meeting of the National Governors Association. She’s returning to Rhode Island later today. Spokeswoman Marie Aberger reports Raimondo planned to use Friday’s governor’s-only lunch to encourage them all to come to Rhode Island for next year’s summer meeting, which will be held here. No fundraisers were planned for the trip, Aberger says.

6. Hearing lots of State House buzz about what will be in Bill Malinowski’s upcoming book about organized-crime figure Charles “The Ghost” Kennedy.

7. There is a famous line FDR uttered during his 1936 re-election campaign about his wealthy opponents: “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.” Sheldon Whitehouse seems to have a similar attitude when it comes to those who dissent from his views on climate change. The Washington Free Beacon has offered another reminder of Whitehouse’s aggressive efforts to challenge climate skeptics, obtaining an email from one of his top aides organizing a coordinated Senate floor attack on various groups. That led to a new round of criticism of Whitehouse on the right, echoing months of previous assaults on him. But Whitehouse went on the offensive himself this week, penning a Columbia Journalism Review op-ed to respond to his media foes. Yet the week also saw him share a byline with one of the Senate’s foremost climate skeptics, Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, predicting a bright future for nuclear power – a continuation of Whitehouse’s efforts to forge bipartisan relationships.

8. Congress also passed Senator Whitehouse’s opioid abuse bill this week.

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9. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “If the Providence City Council ends up controlling more than half of the proposed $40-million bond the city wants voters to approve in November, the Elorza administration will have only itself to blame. By introducing the proposal so late – ballot questions must be approved and submitted to the secretary of state’s office by Aug. 10 – and providing only vague details about how it wants to use the money, the mayor’s office gave the council the opportunity to swoop in with a new proposal that sets aside $1.5 million for each of the 15 councilors and the rest of the money for the administration. Now the mayor’s office has its back against the wall. Elorza could take the same approach as former Mayor Angel Taveras, who pledged to veto the council’s attempt to take control of a similar $40-million bond in 2012; then campaign against the bond question if the council overrode his veto; and then refuse to borrow the money if voters approved the question. Of course, Taveras had two advantages – he was among the most popular politicians in Rhode Island at the time and City Council leadership was on his side. In the end, none of Taveras’s threats were necessary because the council ceded any control over the bond. This time around, it’s unclear what Elorza will do. Chief of staff Tony Simon said creating ward-specific accounts would ‘literally return us to the irresponsible practices of the past,’ a reference to the Cianci era. But the truth is the city desperately needs an influx of cash for infrastructure projects. And the mayor wouldn’t mind seeing that work getting done during his re-election bid in 2018.”

10. State Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a Providence Democrat and one of the few elected officials who supported Bernie Sanders this year, is signing on to this liberal-led effort to change how the party’s superdelegate system works. “Let’s get rid of this artifact of a bygone era and recommit to our core principle of true, representative democracy,” Regunberg said in a statement.

11. The historic unpopularity of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has focused more attention than usual on the chances of two third-party candidates, the Libertarians’ Gary Johnson and the Greens’ Jill Stein. Stein – who twice ran for Massachusetts governor – will be in Providence on Wednesday to join a rally opposing National Grid’s proposed LNG facility at the Port of Providence. Block Island Rep. Blake Filippi, an independent who supports Johnson, said he doesn’t know of any current plans for the Libertarian candidate to visit Rhode Island.

12. Week in, week out, the political money chase rarely stops. … David Cicilline will hold an event Friday ahead of the Newport Jazz Festival’s opening concert at the home of Alison and Bill Vareika, with $1,000 sponsors also getting a concert ticket. … Three Rhode Islanders are on Hillary Clinton’s list of top donation bundlers (“Hillblazers”): Joe Paolino, Mark Weiner and Clay Pell. Pell has been an especially aggressive cash-collector for Clinton.

13. Gio Cicione made The New York Times with his unsuccessful effort to amend the GOP platform to note that ISIS targets LGBT individuals.

14. Governor Raimondo let a bill become law without her signature on Thursday: the Medical Billing Innovation Act of 2016, which instructs the R.I. Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner (OHIC) to issue a report recommending how the state can let patients access their own electronic medical records. Raimondo said she supported the bill’s aim, but noted that it flies in the face of the General Assembly’s simultaneous decision to slash OHIC’s budget by $700,000. “OHIC has a number of other pressing priorities for next year,” Raimondo wrote. “OHIC cannot complete them all and will need to prioritize its programs carefully.”

15. Dan McGowan on the fascinating history of WWE in Providence.

16. Some Brown University academics making a mark recently in the national political press: Gordon Wood defending the American Revolution to the left, and Edward Steinfeld offering unique insights on globalization.

17. Have you ever thought hard about artificial-light pollution? You sure will after reading this examination of why darkness matters.

18. Why you really need to watch “The Great British Baking Show.”

19. How will we handle the rise of the robots?

20. Mister Rogers had it right. “Look for the helpers.”

21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – A political roundtable featuring Christine Hunsinger, Lisa Pelosi and Bob Walsh examine state and national politics. This week on Executive Suite – FM Global President and CEO Thomas Lawson. 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, Facebook and Instagram

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