Nesi’s Notes: March 4

The Saturday Morning Post | Quick hits on politics and more in RI

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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. Donald Trump scrambled the political map in Rhode Island last November. Mitt Romney won just three of the state’s 39 cities and towns in 2012, but Trump won 14 and held Hillary Clinton to single-digits in eight others. Yet Trump also suffered a double-digit defeat in one of those three Romney communities, East Greenwich, while famously piling up votes in Johnston, where Barack Obama had won easily. The same scrambling can be seen in Rhode Island’s 113 General Assembly districts, as nicely illustrated in a quadrennial analysis by liberal website Daily Kos. Romney won zero Rhode Island Senate districts, but Trump won 10; Romney won just two Rhode Island House districts, but Trump won 18. The result: 18 of Rhode Island’s 97 Democratic state lawmakers – nearly one in five – are representing districts Trump won. And those districts elected some of the House’s most powerful members: Speaker Mattiello (56% for Trump), Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi (48% for Trump), Judiciary Chairman Cale Keable (58% for Trump). No Senate leader on the other hand represents a Trump-won district, with Teresa Pavia Weed’s giving Trump just 30% of the vote and Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio’s giving him 40%. No wonder the House is often seen as a relative conservative bulwark on Smith Hill these days. Republicans have some reason for caution, too: six of the GOP’s 16 state lawmakers – one in three – are in Clinton-won districts, including House Minority Whip Blake Filippi and Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere. As The Globe’s James Pindell notes, all this at least raises the question of whether New England could see a Trump-inspired political realignment in 2018.

2. Another interesting fact brought out by the Daily Kos analysis: Rhode Island legislative districts are designed to have a roughly equal number of residents in them, but that doesn’t mean they have a roughly equal number of active voters. East Greenwich Rep. Anthony Giarrusso’s district saw more than 8,000 votes cast last November, while Central Falls Rep. Shelby Maldonado’s saw under 3,000. And in the Senate, Barrington Sen. Cindy Coyne’s district saw more than 15,000 votes cast, while Central Falls Sen. Betty Crowley’s saw barely 6,000.

3. Friday news dump: a review by the auditor general of Rep. Anastasia Williams’ taxpayer-funded nonprofit is out, and it’s not pretty.

4. Will Karl Wadensten run for governor next year? The iconoclastic businessman – and lone “no” vote on 38 Studios back in 2010 – is still keeping his cards close to the vest. Asked for his thoughts Friday, Wadensten returned to the recent death of his mother, who passed away in December. “I’m reflecting on what life is and what I want to do and what I want to be when I grow up,” he told me. “I have a real allegiance to the people that work for me in my organization, and I need to, before I’d ever consider anything like this, make sure that the jobs and the people that work for me would be able to withstand doing such a commitment.” Wadensten, 57, also had some relatively kind words for his would-be opponent: “Governor Raimondo has allowed me a lot of liberties and freedom within the state government to help change Rhode Island, and I’m grateful for all those and having a lot of fun in helping implement a lot of things to make Rhode Island different. So do you really need a title to make effective change in our state?” Another question Wadensten would have to answer if he runs: should he do so as a Republican or an independent?

5. But who cares about 2018 when Jim Langevin is already mulling 2022!

6. The fight over free college continues to be a top Smith Hill storyline this session. Last week we had Speaker Mattiello and Governor Raimondo trading barbed tweets over the proposal. This week Mattiello’s Senate counterpart, Teresa Paiva Weed, hosted the governor for an event in her home city of Newport where she praised the proposal for two years of free tuition, giving a clear signal that her chamber is on board. Also at the event was Mattiello’s own House Finance chairman, Marvin Abney, and the Daily News quoted him calling Raimondo’s proposal “a great idea” and telling students, “We will find a way to make things work for you.” Woonsocket Rep. Bob Phillips, on the other hand, said Friday the proposal is “intriguing” but shouldn’t be considered until “five or six years down the road.” Abney’s committee takes up the measure March 15. Separately, URI President David Dooley appeared on this week’s Newsmakers to field questions on how the proposal would actually work. Among his answers: he only expects the new program to mean about 200 extra students a year at URI, and he expects the 2.0 GPA requirement to be changed as the legislation gets revised.

7. Tennessee’s Republican governor is pushing a free tuition plan, too.

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8. Someone in the Senate has a sense of humor. Josh Miller’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana has been classified Bill No. 420.

9. Some outtakes from the latest cache of 38 Studios documents. Outtake #1 – according to the state police, “It was explained by the majority of senators that if a House bill comes over to the Senate, debate does not usually follow because there is an understanding that all of the relevant debate has already taken place in the House.” Oh. (GOP Chairman Brandon Bell suggested they atone by passing a line-item veto.)

10. Outtake #2 – ex-Rep. Rene Menard said, “I’m going to be very honest with you. For the most part, a sitting committee member really doesn’t have a say. You know, come the budget time, these members sit there and are given brand new articles they haven’t seen, and they vote on it. So someone’s made that decision beyond the committee process. Because the committees are set up that are supportive of leadership. … Nothing happens in that building without the speaker or the Senate president. … [I]f the average person in this state really knew how the legislative process worked, they’d vote everybody out. Because the rank-and-file member really doesn’t have a say. It’s leadership.” More from Menard: “Yeah, everybody wants to be on Finance because that’s the most prestigious committee. You know, ‘I’m on Finance.’ So for some point, lobbyists look at you differently. … [B]ecause if you’re on Finance and if you, you – you look at Campaign Finance reports, very few people raise a lot of money. OK, so you’re down for probably the leadership position and then people on Finance tend to – to be treated differently than someone who’s on HEW.” (That’s the Health, Education and Welfare Committee.)

11. Outtake #3 – John DeSimone told investigators that when he was House Oversight chairman, the committee “didn’t meet because he” – Gordon Fox – “didn’t want it to meet.” … Outtake #4 – ex-Rep. Jon Brien told them, “I mean, look, I’m a beer-drinking 43-year-old American male, so certainly I knew who Curt Schilling was.” … Common Cause’s John Marion has more on his Twitter feed.

12. Governor Raimondo is the new chair of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, succeeding Charlie Baker. In a news release, Raimondo cited “infrastructure, combating opioids, and resiliency” as three areas where the bipartisan group shares “common goals.”

13. Knead Doughnuts, a newish spot on Custom House Street in Providence, has been getting a lot of buzz (not least because of their ridiculously tasty PB&J offering) so I invited its team onto this week’s Executive Suite to chat. Co-founder Byran Gibb, who’s also one of the people behind The Dean Hotel’s Bolt Coffee, said the city of Providence is making strides when it comes to helping entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running, but indicated there’s still room for improvement. “I think in my experience, one of the biggest hurdles is just the unknown. ‘How do I even start a business?'” Gibb said. He noted there is now an online portal that provides a checklist of what needs to happen, but said, “I think the different departments and licensing and permitting – it’s at times disjointed. Sometimes there’s not a lot of interconnectedness, where I think if there was it would streamline a lot of these processes, especially with regards to getting your certificate of occupancy and getting all the sign-offs, and having Board of Licenses communicate with fire or buildings or whatever the case may be. As laymen in that world, a lot of that stuff is kind of just really overwhelming.”

14. There was a major outcry last year when a group of state lawmakers proposed a bill to require that employers give workers at least two weeks’ notice about their schedules; the legislation was quickly withdrawn. Worth noting, then, this December article in the conservative magazine National Review which reported how popular the idea was with a focus group of working-class Millennial voters in Ohio.

15. Here’s the latest on House Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill.

16. How much more attention would this week’s U.S. News Best States rankings have gotten if Rhode Island had come in at the bottom, rather than No. 21?

17. How’s this for a TV bout: David Cicilline vs. Tucker Carlson.

18. Speaking of Congressman Cicilline, he’s giving the keynote speech at the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals’ LGBT Housing Policy Summit this month in Washington.

19. Ian Donnis reports Cranston City Councilman Paul Archetto plans to challenge Lt. Gov. Dan McKee in next year’s Democratic primary. It seems a lot of folks are flirting with the idea of challenging McKee, something that could actually wind up helping the former Cumberland mayor if he ends up as the incumbent in a crowded field.

20. Providence PR guru Jon Duffy popped up Friday on public radio’s Marketplace to make that case that March Madness isn’t actually bad for office productivity. (Speaking of which, on Newsmakers Dave Dooley crossed his fingers and raised his eyes to God when Tim White asked whether he thinks URI will make the Big Dance.)

21. This essay is beautiful and heartbreaking.

22. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – URI President David Dooley; political roundtable. This week on Executive Suite – Knead Doughnuts’ Adam Lastrina, Byran Gibb and Wetherley Rouleau; Hope & Main founder Lisa Raiola. 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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