Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Nov. 26

Quick hits on politics, money and more in Rhode Island

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Happy Saturday! Welcome to 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. They say there’s no place like home for the holidays; in Rhode Island, there’s apparently not much place for home construction either. At least that’s one takeaway from two studies that look at which parts of the country put the most restrictions on adding more dwellings. The older of the studies dates back to 2007, when Wharton professors discovered the Providence metropolitan area is the most heavily regulated in the country when it comes to land use. (Boston was second.) “Part of the reason they rank so highly is that some of their smaller communities have the requirement that zoning changes be put to a popular vote, but … that is not the only reason,” the authors wrote. “The communities in these metropolitan areas tend to be relatively more intensely regulated on almost all the dimensions we measure.” Another study, by Harvard researchers in 2013, ranked Rhode Island fifth-highest among the states for regulations on housing supply. Both studies were cited by Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in a speech last year; Furman argued “excessive or unnecessary land use or zoning regulations” can “impede mobility and thus contribute to rising inequality and declining productivity growth.” As the second-densest state in the country, Rhode Island will never have as easy a time building homes as, say, Texas. But with housing prices once again on the rise and new construction still at recession-level lows, Rhode Island leaders may need to take a closer look at the issue in the months ahead.

2. Women will hold nearly one in three Rhode Island House seats come January, with their total number rising by two, to 23. Women also make up half the incoming class of 10 House Democratic freshmen (Moira Walsh, Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Julie Casimiro and Susan Donovan). With all that in mind, and acknowledging that the top four members of his leadership team are all men, Speaker Mattiello pledged at last week’s House Democratic caucus to make a concerted effort to put more women in senior positions next year. “I will have a well-balanced leadership team and committee leaders that reflect the society we serve,” Mattiello tells me. “There are a number of women under consideration for committee leadership positions that will be available.” While the full House elects the speaker and the Democratic caucus elects the next three top jobs (majority leader, majority whip, and deputy majority whip), the speaker himself appoints all other leadership and committee jobs. The new session begins Jan. 3, and Mattiello is expected to announce committee chairs and members later that week. Currently the most senior woman on his leadership team is Deputy Speaker Charlene Lima; others with titles include Patricia Serpa, Deb Ruggiero and Grace Diaz.

3. Rep. Aaron Regunberg has emerged as arguably the most vocal progressive in the General Assembly, and was out front this past week when the anti-Trump group Resist Hate RI rallied at the State House, demanding Rhode Island leaders do “everything we possibly can do starting right now” to block the incoming president’s policies locally. Yet at least three of the group’s legislative priorities appear in conflict with the positions of the man Regunberg just backed to continue leading House Democrats: Speaker Mattiello. Resist Hate RI wants state funding to replace federal funding if programs like Medicaid and food stamps are cut, but Mattiello has promised major tax cuts; Resist Hate RI wants protections for undocumented immigrants, but Mattiello campaigned on denying them driver’s licenses; Resist Hate RI wants the right to abortion enshrined in state law, but Mattiello is pro-life. Asked why he’s sticking by the speaker, Regunberg said Mattiello’s leadership team has made “a commitment to listen to folks’ concerns,” and expressed hope that he can be swayed. “There’s a whole lot of issues that I strongly disagree with the speaker on, and we argue and I push,” Regunberg said. “But in my freshman term I found that I was able to help get some progressive legislation passed working with the leadership team, and I think it’s more important now than ever that we be in a position to actually get some concrete things passed to protect communities, protect rights, et cetera. … My hope is to be able to work with the leadership team and push the leadership team to step up in the ways that I think we need to under the Trump administration.”

4. Deepwater Wind is hosting a Speaker Mattiello fundraiser on Thursday.

5. New House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan is racking up some frequent-flier miles. On the day after she was elected by the GOP caucus, Morgan flew to Orlando for the 2016 annual conference of the National Foundation for Women Legislators, where she and Governor Raimondo both received an Elected Women of Excellence Award. (The governor did not attend.) And next week Morgan is headed to Washington to attend a Women’s Democracy Network dinner where John McCain is expected to speak. Morgan said she’s volunteered for more than 10 years with the group, which encourages democratic government in emerging countries, and it’s brought her to nations such as Jordan, Turkey and Serbia. “We take democracy for granted in a lot of ways, and they are growing it,” she said. “It’s really exciting. It’s been really fulfilling.”

6. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “So how is the Providence fire department’s switch back from three platoons to four working out? We don’t know. When the mayor’s office announced the tentative five-year deal back in September, the change was supposed to take place Nov. 1. Then it was pushed back to Nov. 12. Two weeks later, the agreement remains far from finalized. The holdup stems largely from a disagreement over potential savings, with the administration claiming the deal will save $20 million and the City Council-appointed internal auditor predicting savings are around $9 million. The wide gap prompted Finance Committee Chairman John Igliozzi to issue a statement claiming the ‘administration’s haphazard approach to calculating the [tentative agreement’s] financial impact resulted in understated costs and bloated projected savings.’ As you can imagine, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare says he stands by the administration’s projections. Naturally, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The administration is counting $9 million in savings from the move from three platoons to four platoons, but the auditor refuses to count that because the department was already using four platoons during the last contract and only moved to three because the mayor incorrectly thought it would save money. At this point, it seems unlikely the deal will be in place before the end of the year. The Finance Committee still has to schedule a public hearing (with 10 days notice), approve the contract and then the full City Council has to pass it twice before it goes the mayor’s desk. The bigger fear for the administration is that the firefighters could just pull out of the agreement, sending the two sides to interest arbitration.”

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7. Barney Frank’s take on the Donald Trump presidency is interesting.

8. Governor Raimondo and other local Democrats have been talking a lot about working with President-elect Trump on his much-discussed trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. So it will be interesting to see their reaction to former Obama adviser Ronald Klain’s blunt warning: “It’s a trap.”

9. One of the many changes triggered by Donald Trump’s election will be the likely appointment of new U.S. attorneys around the country, including in Rhode Island. It seems unlikely Trump will retain Peter Neronha, an Obama appointee, and speculation has already begun about who’ll get the post. If the Trump administration wants someone with a background in politics, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, GOP Chairman Brandon Bell or National Committeeman Steve Frias could all make the list. (Don’t forget: Linc Almond had been an elected town administrator and just lost a race for U.S. House when President Nixon appointed him U.S. attorney in 1969; Almond held the job for most of the next quarter-century.) It’s also possible Trump could look to a lawyer in private practice, as Bob Corrente was when President Bush appointed him in 2004. And that’s not the only enticing legal job some local Republicans have their eye on – Trump’s team will also have to decide whether to scrap Obama’s nomination of Mary McElroy for Mary Lisi’s seat on the federal bench in Providence in order to offer their own nominee.

10. Speaking of Peter Neronha, no one will be surprised if he seeks the 2018 Democratic nomination for attorney general, presuming he’s replaced as U.S. attorney.

11. After waffling for a few days, Jim Langevin has thrown his support behind Nancy Pelosi to remain as House Democrats’ leader. “Just spoke w/ @NancyPelosi & reaffirmed my support of her leadership,” he wrote in a tweet on Thanksgiving Eve. “I look forward to working w/ her to move our caucus & country forward.”

12. A counterintuitive argument from labor academic Jake Rosenfeld: “Nevada unions demonstrate that right-to-work does not necessarily doom labor.”

13. If you’re one of those Rhode Islanders who never cross state lines, make an exception this Christmastime and go see a great holiday tradition in my hometown of Attleboro: the 62-year-old Festival of Lights at La Salette. (Tip: go on a weeknight for smaller crowds.)

14. And if you get a kick out of vintage Christmas TV specials, our sister station getTV is airing a ton of them over the next few weeks. (The getTV channel on the dial is 12.3, one of WPRI’s digital substations.)

15. Why commercial landlords prefer chains to local retailers.

16. Nicole Gelinas on the lessons of the Big Dig.

17. “The story of ‘Ella and Louis,’ 60 years later.”

18. Don’t miss this gorgeous aerial video of New England. (h/t Lauren Dezenski)

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – former R.I. State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell. This week on Executive Suite – Brown University economics professor Gauti Eggertsson. 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

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