Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Oct. 15

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. Letters from government bureaucrats don’t usually make for exciting reading, which gave extra force to the words used by a federal food-stamp official in early September when he tried to get Rhode Island to delay launch of its new UHIP computer system. The state’s plans were “inadequate and unacceptable,” he warned, and Rhode Island was going forward “at its own risk.” Governor Raimondo was apparently never informed of those concerns, and Department of Administration Director Mike DiBiase said Friday, “I’m not going to speculate on whether she should have known.” Raimondo herself suggested seeing the letters wouldn’t have mattered much, saying, “Probably not. … Should they have held it until it was perfect? I don’t think there’s such a thing as a perfect IT rollout.” DHS chief Melba Depeña Affigne also looked at the bright side, contrasting the federal letters from September with an even harsher one back in May: “We were able to demonstrate, with two months of testing and providing information, and they moved from ‘no’ to, you know, non-concurrence.” The latest data (released, naturally, at 4 p.m. Friday) showed long wait times and more than 4,000 SNAP documents unprocessed earlier this month. But administration officials are adamant that the system’s bugs are normal and to be expected in a $364-million project, points they’ll surely emphasize at Thursday’s hastily called legislative oversight hearing. Meanwhile, Nov. 1 looms larger than ever – not only is it the next first of the month, a key date for benefits programs, but it’s also the start of open enrollment for HealthSource RI, which is tied into the new system.

2. Governor Raimondo made some revealing comments during her on-stage interview with Tim White at Common Cause’s annual gala Thursday evening. Here are a few examples. First, would she take a job in Hillary Clinton’s administration? “No,” she replied, before adding: “It wouldn’t be a surprise if she called, just because there’s not that many Democratic governors.” So she’d even turn down a huge job like, say, treasury secretary? “Yeah, I would. I would. I’m deeply committed to Rhode Island and there’s a lot of work to do. … I plan to seek re-election.”

3. Raimondo on picking judges: “If I were to sit here and tell you horse-trading doesn’t happen in politics, I’d be lying to you. That happens at every level. There’s politics in judicial nominating everywhere, and to think that we can eliminate politics from judicial nominating – I would love it if we could. I would do anything to have a truly and fairly merit-based system, and I’ll think about how we can move us there. But the United States Supreme Court has a vacancy there, at the highest court in the land – we have politics sidelining that. And you see that every time. Every time, there’s politics. United States senators brag about, oh, we got the president to nominate such-and-such. So I don’t think Rhode Island – it’s not right and I have had to make some difficult decisions, obviously – people I didn’t choose who came out of the legislature. Those are difficult decisions. But, you know, that’s my job. You have to pick people who are most qualified from the list that you have, and I need to do even more to send a signal that you’re going to get picked based on what you know, not who you know, and we’re going to pick qualified people.”

4. Raimondo on staff diversity: “When you’re making decisions, you need to make good decisions, and when you’re solving really difficult problems – which is what we do every day – you want a diverse group of people around the table to help you make those decisions. And in my career as governor, treasurer, businesswoman, when I’ve made mistakes – and there have been many – it’s, many times, because I didn’t listen to a broad enough group of people to get great advice, and I had a blind spot. And so if all you listen to is white men, women, one group of persons, you’re not going to make the best decision that you would have if you had listened to a broad group of people with different experiences.”

5. Raimondo on campaign fundraising: “Money in politics is a huge problem – it is the problem. We see it in this presidential election. We have to find a better way. And I can’t sit here and tell you I have the answer. But it’s out of control. … I don’t take any money that comes with strings attached. Period. And that’s whether you live in Providence or Palo Alto. And I have refused plenty of money. If there’s an insinuation, I say, you know what, just keep it, because you ought to invest in my campaign if you believe in what I’m doing. You know, Mayor Bloomberg supported me, and he’s had numerous fundraisers for me at his house in New York – he has no expectation he’ll get anything from that, but he believes in my positions. And the folks in California, they really liked what I did around pensions. And there’s a lot of people, believe it or not – even though money in politics is a problem – who just want to back good leaders. A lot of people give to me because they want women in politics. They may not live in Rhode Island, but they want women governors. So you know, I don’t think it matters what state you raise money in; what matters is you have to have faith in the elected official not to be influenced by where that money comes from.”

6. Lastly, Raimondo says she’ll ask to have the 38 Studios documents released.

7. Rep. Robert Craven, a Democrat and likely 2018 candidate for attorney general, faced off on Newsmakers Friday against Mark Zaccaria, a former R.I. Republican Party chairman who’s challenging Craven for his House District 32 seat in North Kingstown. You can watch the full debate here. One interesting nugget: when the candidates were asked whether Rhode Island should legalize recreational marijuana, Democrat Craven said no but Republican Zaccaria said yes.

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8. Donald Trump’s sinking poll numbers have led some General Assembly candidates to try and make the GOP nominee an issue in their own local races. Speaker Mattiello’s allies have worked to pin down Steve Frias, Rhode Island’s Republican national committeeman, who steadfastly refuses to use Trump’s name when he acknowledges he’s voting for him; “I support the Republican presidential nominee,” was all Frias had to say in an email this week. (Mattiello has reiterated his support for Hillary Clinton.) Another example was independent Vin Marzullo, who demanded that Rep. Patricia Morgan “denounce and repudiate” Trump; Morgan did not answer emails asking whether she still supports the GOP nominee. (Marzullo said he hasn’t made up his own mind and may write in a candidate.) The two 2014 GOP candidates for governor are also handling Trump differently. Allan Fung criticized Trump over the now-infamous video but so far hasn’t withdrawn his support. Ken Block, however, isn’t saying which candidate he’ll vote for, after facing criticism among Republicans for backing Obama over Romney in 2012. “I have never less wanted to vote for any candidate for president in a cycle than 2016,” Block said.

9. A FiveThirtyEight analysis reinforces what many of us have been thinking: Donald Trump has the potential to significantly outperform Mitt Romney in Rhode Island. (Though the campaign has taken such a strange turn over the past week that it’s hard to know how things will end.)

10. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum offers his take on what Donald Trump got right: “Trump saw that Republican voters are much less religious in behavior than they profess to pollsters. He saw that the social-insurance state has arrived to stay. He saw that Americans regard health care as a right, not a privilege. He saw that Republican voters had lost their optimism about their personal futures – and the future of their country. He saw that millions of ordinary people who do not deserve to be dismissed as bigots were sick of the happy talk and reality-denial that goes by the too generous label of ‘political correctness.’ He saw that the immigration polices that might have worked for the mass-production economy of the 1910s don’t make sense in the 2010s. He saw that rank-and-file Republicans had become nearly as disgusted with the power of money in politics as rank-and-file Democrats long have been. He saw that Republican presidents are elected, when they are elected, by employees as well as entrepreneurs.”

11. Community ties and Mormonism: why Utah is going rogue this election.

12. Donald Trump isn’t the only presidential candidate with some major headaches right now, as Hillary Clinton continues to deal with the Wikileaks hack into her campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. (Congressman Jim Langevin put out a statement Saturday criticizing Russia for its alleged involvement in the cyber attack.) There’s at least one Rhode Island angle so far in the emails. Just hours after news emerged of Justice Scalia’s death on Feb. 13, liberal activist Brent Budowsky shot an email to Podesta with the subject line “Scalia Supreme Court seat.” It read: “I suggest Senator Jack Reed. Nearly perfect liberal, pro-choice, Army Ranger, Harvard Law, highly respected Senator with friends such as McCain, quickly and easily confirmable, short circuits the holy war Republicans will try to wage.” It’s doubtful the suggestion made much of an impact, though. According to the New York Post, “Although Podesta received advice from Budowsky for years, he didn’t hold him in high esteem.”

13. You learn something new every day. While last Sunday was Rhode Island’s official deadline to register to vote in time for the November election, there’s one big exception: the state allows you to register on the day of the election and cast a ballot only for president. Thanks to Common Cause’s John Marion for the tip.

14. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “It’s been more than a month since Mayor Elorza called a news conference to announce a new five-year deal with the city firefighters’ union, but it appears the administration has not yet won the support of several key members of the City Council. Finance Committee Chairman John Igliozzi has said he wants to see changes to what future employees will contribute toward their pensions and is making it clear he’s unwilling to allow the proposed deal to sail through his committee. While union officials have begun to direct their social media criticism away from Elorza and toward Igliozzi, both the administration and City Council President Luis Aponte have gone quiet. Now other councilors tell me they’re taking a closer look at whether the deal will actually result in sufficient savings for the city. (Elorza claims it will save the city $15 million over five years, but a fiscal note wasn’t submitted to the council until Friday.) The clock is ticking. The tentative agreement would allow firefighters to go back to four platoons beginning Nov. 1. That’s only two weeks away, and Igliozzi’s committee hasn’t even scheduled a discussion on the proposal.”

15. Dan Baudouin has informed associates he plans to step down as executive director of The Providence Foundation next April after 24 years in the job. The foundation plays an influential role in the city, and Baudouin has had a hand in many major initiatives over the years. This may not be the only change coming to the organization, either. The Providence Foundation, the Providence Downtown Improvement District and the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy are currently in talks over potentially forming some sort of alliance to coordinate their efforts.

16. John Carnevale showed up at Speaker Mattiello’s recent fundraiser.

17. Next week Rhode Island will kick off its latest attempt to deal with its more than 30 locally-run municipal pension funds, many of which are woefully underfunded (notably Providence’s). An advisory council on the funds, created under a new law successfully pushed by Sen. Ryan Pearson, will hold its first meeting Thursday at noon at the State House. The five-member council includes Treasurer Magaziner, Auditor General Dennis Hoyle, and R.I. Department of Revenue Director Rob Hull; the other two members – one representing organized labor and one appointed by the R.I. League of Cities and Towns – have not yet been named. A key task for the council: putting together a new annual report, due by April 30, with data not only on the funds’ shortfalls but on their investment performances. The latter information was very hard to find when Tim White and I did a story on the topic in 2013.

18. The savvy person’s guide to reading the polls.

19. “Why does Siri seem so dumb?”

20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a House District 32 debate between Democratic incumbent Robert Craven and Republican challenger Mark Zaccaria. This week on Executive Suite – rVotes founder Steve Adler. 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 Sundays at 6 p.m. 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