Nesi’s Notes: Feb. 11

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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. Jack Reed is often described as mild-mannered, even unflappable. But if one person knows how to get under the skin of Rhode Island’s senior senator, it’s Donald Trump. New evidence of that came Thursday, after Trump rapped John McCain on Twitter for suggesting the Yemen military raid was not “a success.” Reed is usually a tad less colorful than Trump when it comes to tweeting, but on this occasion he responded with some rare snark: “You know what really emboldens the enemy? An uninformed & inexperienced leader who tries to bully Americans while cozying up to Putin.” The remarks brought to mind Reed’s angry reaction last summer as Trump feuded with Gold Star father Khizr Khan; Reed called Trump’s comments then “outrageous and beneath contempt.” On both occasions Trump struck a nerve by, in Reed’s view, failing to respect those who’ve suffered in service to the country. And this week Reed was also defending the right of his fellow Armed Services Committee leader to speak candidly about military policy. (McCain’s original comment was made after a closed-door briefing that both men attended.) It’s not just rhetoric where Reed’s unusually negative view of Trump comes through: he is set to vote against at least six of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, after opposing only two of George W. Bush’s back in 2001. Still, as one of the Senate’s longest-serving members, Reed must have at least some concern about what the early Trump era is doing to the institution’s norms. Each time one party ratchets up its level of obstruction, it only increases the likelihood the other party will go a step further the next time.

2. Speaking of John McCain, he and Sheldon Whitehouse are once again heading to Germany together next week. For the past several years McCain has invited Whitehouse to be the lead Democrat on the delegation to the annual Munich Security Conference, a major international summit on foreign affairs, which takes place Friday through Sunday. “This year in particular, the Munich Security Conference is an opportunity for us to reinforce bipartisan commitment in the Senate to our NATO allies and our partners in Europe at a time when many abroad are increasingly worried about what they’ve seen from President Trump’s initial forays into foreign policy,” Whitehouse says. The two senators got to know each other the first time they attended the conference together, as McCain told me last year.

3. David Cicilline was the champion fundraiser of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation over the course of 2015 and 2016, bringing in $1.5 million, according to his latest disclosure. Sheldon Whitehouse came in next, with $1.16 million, followed closely by Jim Langevin, who took in $1.15 million. Jack Reed, who was just starting a new six-year term during the last cycle, raised only $437,000. But Reed still finished last year with the most cash on hand ($1.5 million) of the group, followed by Whitehouse ($1.1 million), Cicilline ($733,000) and Langevin ($640,000). All four also have leadership PACs: Whitehouse’s Oceans PAC brought in the most during 2015-16, at $719,000, followed by Reed’s Narragansett Bay PAC ($353,000), Langevin’s Ocean State PAC ($65,000) and Cicilline’s DNC PAC ($43,000).

4. The two most powerful Rhode Islanders in the White House – Sean Spicer and Michael Flynn – have been the subject of a lot of negative headlines in the Trump administration’s short history. Spicer is constantly reported to be on thin ice with Trump, and Flynn is now the subject of damaging stories about what he told a top Russian official. David Cicilline jumped on the latter news, calling Friday for the president to “suspend General Flynn’s access to classified intelligence” pending “a complete, thorough investigation into this matter.”

5. Less than 48 hours after Sunday’s unbelievable Patriots victory, Rob Gronkowski, Bob Kraft and the Lombardi Trophy were celebrating at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. So how did the Rhode Island rally come together? Governor Raimondo’s spokesman, Mike Raia, said she’s been friendly with Kraft’s son, Patriots President Jonathan Kraft, since her days in the private sector, so she texted him to get the ball rolling first thing Monday during her daily senior staff meeting. With the players set to leave town Wednesday, time was of the essence; Kraft agreed at 8 p.m. Monday to bring his father, the trophy and “a handful of players” to Providence for a rally the next day at 4. (Raia said the governor’s staff only found out Gronk would be on hand to headline the rally about 90 minutes beforehand.) Within minutes, Raimondo was on a conference call with Raia and another top aide, Gabe Amo, who convinced Dunk GM Larry Lepore to cap the ice at the arena in time for the rally. Despite the short notice, an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 fans filled the Dunk to celebrate the win. “In the 12 years I’ve been doing political communications, that was the most fun I’ve ever had, putting that together,” Raia said. (And he’s not even a Patriots fan!)

6. Did you know the Lombardi Trophy is made right here in Cumberland?

7. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “What ever happened to the ‘empowerment schools’ proposal Education Commissioner Ken Wagner pushed through the General Assembly last year? Wagner told me this week between one and three public schools have expressed interest in the program, which was designed to give principals and teachers more control over decisions made in their schools. But he declined to name the schools and we’ve heard very little about the proposal since it was approved by lawmakers. Wagner acknowledged that the ‘brand became tainted’ – with superintendents raising concerns about the idea of allowing open enrollment so students in one district could attend school in another (the legislature killed that part of the plan) and then some teachers’ union leaders opposing it from day one – but said he still considers it one avenue schools could take to become more innovative and improve outcomes. It’s far too soon to say whether the idea will be a bust or a success, but given all the political capital spent on it last year, it seems unlikely any new major K-12 proposals will be on the horizon this year.”

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8. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has been coy about whether he has further political aspirations for after his term ends in 2018, even keeping open the possibility he could enter the Democratic primary against Governor Raimondo next year. But Kilmartin told me after taping this week’s Newsmakers he is at least a year away from beginning “the thought process” on whether to run for anything in 2018, and he’s also received inquiries about joining the private sector. Most of his Newsmakers appearance was taken up by a very spirited discussion of his opposition to releasing the 38 Studios criminal documents – it’s worth watching as that debate heats up.

9. Noted: Treasurer Magaziner has amassed $237,000 in campaign funds, fifth-most among state-level pols, as he prepares to seek re-election next year.

10. House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney got his first budget hearing of the year off to a fun start, introducing the committee members with a good-natured comment about each one. He praised Rep. Grace Diaz for joining a legislative skydiving field trip organized by Bobby Nardolillo last summer. (Speaker Mattiello declined the invitation – he quipped that he would not leap out of a plane at an event organized by a funeral director.) Also getting the Abney treatment were Anthony Giarrusso (the committee’s “best dresser”), Gregg Amore (“I’m looking for him to be the manager of the Patriots one of these days”), Mike Morin (“he’s had a great career as a firefighter, I believe chief – oh, not yet? – OK – trying to promote him”), Carlos Tobon (“I think he has more frequent flier miles than I do”), Jean Philippe Barros (“another great dresser”) and Joy Hearn (“very stylish young lady”). Also of note – all four of last year’s House Finance leaders are now gone. Ex-Chairman Ray Gallison and Ex-Vice-Chairman John Carnevale are both being prosecuted, Ex-Deputy-Chairwoman Eileen Naughton lost her primary, and Ex-Secretary Robert Jacquard (who represented Carnevale before the Board of Canvassers) left to chair House Corporations. To replace them, Speaker Mattiello named Kenny Marshall and Teresa Tanzi as first and second vice-chairs, respectively.

11. The progressive push for guaranteed paid sick leave formally kicked off at the State House this week, with a group of lawmakers gathering in support of a bill introduced by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Aaron Regunberg. Their legislation would require all employers to provide their workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a mandatory minimum of 56 hours per year. (The time could also be used to care for family members or to escape domestic violence.) They start with some strong support in high places: Governor Raimondo backed a paid leave law in the State of the State, her biggest speech of the year, and the Projo’s Jen Bogdan reports Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s powerful No. 2, Dominick Ruggerio, joined Goodwin at the legislative rollout. The outlook in the House is murkier, with Speaker Mattiello likely to be at least somewhat hesitant to place a new requirement on businesses, particularly since officials at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce tells me they are “opposed to the bills as presently drafted.” (Coincidentally, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed also introduced a federal paid leave bill this week, proposing “up to 66% wage-replacement for 12 weeks in the event of a serious personal or family medical emergency.”)

12. Keeping an eye on Rhode Island’s biggest public companies. … CVS Health (#7 on the Fortune 500) shares have had a rough run over the last six months, with some big prescription losses, though the company reported rising profits this week. CVS could also benefit from Republican promises to lower corporate taxes. … Citizens Financial (#486) shares on the other hand have doubled since July, as the bank makes progress in its post-spinoff life. … And Hasbro (bubbling under at #550) just finished a record year, thanks in no small part to its coup stealing Disney’s princesses from Mattel.

13. The WSJ has the tale of how Peter Eastwood, born and raised in Rhode Island, became a key executive in the Warren Buffett empire.

14. Tim White gives us a glimpse into Gordon Fox’s life in prison.

15. One issue with Rhode Island’s new freestanding ERs: surprise medical bills.

16. Tweet of the Week goes to Bond Buyer editor Rich Saskal, after learning about the Super Bowl’s high TV ratings in Providence: “How long before Brady suckers RI into a dopey economic development deal?”

17. Like Rhode Island, Massachusetts doesn’t hold its statewide primary elections until September. The Boston Globe editorial board thinks it should be moved to May or June: “The seemingly endless primary season is a longstanding problem in this state, since candidates of the same party generally use that time to bicker with each other over small differences that matter to their base but not to the general electorate.” Here in Rhode Island, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has made a similar suggestion.

18. Also in The Globe: a suggestion that Warren is “the Brooklyn of Providence.”

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. This week on Executive SuiteSteve Lewinstein, real estate investor; Stu Benton, president/CEO, and John Howland, executive chairman, Bradford Soap Works. 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 writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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