Nesi’s Notes: July 15

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. It’s been smooth sailing so far with Rhode Island hosting more than half the nation’s governors, plus Vice-President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the National Governors Association summer meeting. Organizers are elated that roughly 1,800 attendees have registered, significantly more than they say they expected, and by what NGA Chair Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s governor, describes as its best summer meeting attendance ever. “To have the first head of state come talk to us, the vice-president, all the governors from Mexico, the premier from Ontario – I mean, it was a great day,” McAuliffe told me Friday evening. “What we’re trying to promote is, come do business with the governors. If you’ve got issues with the federal government, don’t worry about it – you can deal directly with us and we can grow trade on our own, and that’s what you need to focus on.” Governor Raimondo has been in the spotlight throughout the NGA summit as its host and she’s tried to make the most of it, bending the ears of Pence and Trudeau during one-on-one meetings and encouraging the attendees to make the Ocean State a vacation destination. McAuliffe, for his part, is bullish on the governors’ ability to act as an independent force in American politics. “This is the action!” he declared. “You can forget Washington. Go to the states. That’s the action.” (And here’s a recap of how Saturday went.)

2. Some of the governors on hand for the NGA meeting have brought along their families for a Rhode Island summer vacation once they’re done with official business. Among them is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who told me when I caught up with him that he and his 10-year-old son had big plans for their visit. “I’m going to take him – um, ‘quay’…?” Bullock explained, a bit tentatively. After a pause, I said, “Oh – quahogging!” “Yes!” he replied enthusiastically. The true Rhode Island experience for a visitor from the west.

3. Among Saturday’s NGA speakers is Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO and owner of the LA Clippers, who is pitching his new USAFacts website that compiles government data at the federal, state and local levels. “What we’re attempting to do is to assemble government data in a way that is as clear and comprehensible and contextual as businesses have to provide to their public shareholders,” Ballmer told me Friday. When he began the project, he said, he was “shocked” at how difficult it could be to pin down some key data about the public sector in the U.S. He said one of his pitches to the gathered governors will be the need for them to engage with the issue and encourage their subordinates to make available to the public the most timely, complete information available about the jurisdictions they oversee.

4. Will Patricia Morgan join the 2018 race for Rhode Island governor? “It’s clear to me that regardless of party, Rhode Islanders want a government that is efficient, effective and, by staying as small as possible, helps each of us live better, more financially secure lives,” the House GOP leader declared in a testing-the-waters email this week. (“P.S. Please stand with me by donating today,” she added in closing. “The Governor has already raised MILLIONS of dollars!”)

5. There was a clear thaw at the end of the week in the ongoing State House standoff that’s prevented adoption of a new state budget. Speaker Mattiello told WPRO’s Tara Granahan he plans to call Senate President Ruggerio on Monday, and Ruggerio’s staff indicated he will take the call. The pair still need to find a way out of the impasse that allows them both to save face, but establishing direct contact is the first step. Another sign of progress: the Senate late Thursday sent a host of House-sponsored bills to the governor for her signature, the last move needed for passage in cases where she intends to sign them. (Ruggerio also made sure to email all the House members who had a bill transmitted to congratulate them on their legislative achievement – and to wish them a nice summer.)

6. Tim White has a must-watch Newsmakers this week with “Crimetown” creators Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier, talking about how they created the hit podcast and its deeper significance for Providence. (For what it’s worth, one of the first national NGA staffers I interacted with this week asked me about “Crimetown” – a reminder of how much the podcast is defining Providence for outsiders these days.) The pair are already looking for a new city to spotlight in the second season of “Crimetown,” but Stuart-Pontier acknowledged to Tim, “It’s going to be almost impossible to follow Providence.”

7. A “deeply disturbing” end-run around Rhode Island tradition? A “political stunt” by two senators obstructing the White House? My story Wednesday night on the war of words between the Trump administration and Senators Reed and Whitehouse was read both ways. Two points worth making. First, it appears part of the reason for the dispute is the fact the White House was making an effort to reach out to Whitehouse, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, but not Reed, the state’s senior senator, about the vacant U.S. attorney and federal district judge positions. That’s generally a faux pas in Rhode Island: there’s never any doubt who ranks first in the state’s congressional delegation. Second, there isn’t any recent precedent for the current situation, which is part of why the senators are fighting hard to set one that establishes their prerogative. While Rhode Island has had two Democratic senators facing a Republican White House before, this is the first time since 1954 those Democrats are not in the Senate’s majority party – which means the chamber’s leaders might be willing to advance the administration’s nominees despite the senators’ objections. Keep an eye on how this one plays out.

8. Congratulations to General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and his new fiancée, Julia, on their engagement. No official wedding plans yet, I’m told.

9. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “It’s been nearly two months since Luis Aponte resigned as council president following his indictment on four charges related to his alleged misuse of campaign funds, and the council is nowhere closer to voting on his replacement. Now the question is what the likely election of Nirva LaFortune in Ward 3 will mean for the race (presuming she can beat Republican David Lallier Jr. and independent Chris Reynolds on Aug. 16). Understandably, LaFortune has been noncommittal up to this point. But if she were to side with the other two councilors on the East Side – Ward 1’s Seth Yurdin and Ward 2’s Sam Zurier – she would be joining a team that also includes Nick Narducci from Ward 4, Wilbur Jennings from Ward 8 and David Salvatore from Ward 14. That would give that side six of the eight votes it needs to secure the presidency, most likely for Salvatore. But finding the two other votes won’t be easy, especially if they don’t want Aponte to be their deciding vote. Alternatively, LaFortune could always back acting President Sabina Matos, who provided stability for the council as it finished up negotiations over the budget and a $45-million infrastructure bond. (Matos did attend LaFortune’s Democratic primary victory party on Wednesday night.) But it’s not clear whether LaFortune’s support would put Matos over the top either. While the jockeying continues, another outcome is possible: Matos could serve out the rest of the term as acting president and the council could wait for 2019 to vote on a new leader.”

10. Ian Donnis finds lots of Rhode Island jurisdictions still using First Southwest’s successor as a financial adviser despite its role in the 38 Studios debacle.

11. Congressman Langevin won a legislative victory on the U.S. House floor Thursday, beating back an attempt by Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry to kill one of his proposals. The language in question was an amendment to the 2018 military spending bill ordering the Pentagon to examine threats to the nation’s defense from climate change. Langevin managed to get his Republican colleagues to adopt the amendment in committee, then marshaled a bipartisan coalition that voted 185-234 to keep it in the bill over the objections of Perry and Liz Cheney, daughter of former VP Dick Cheney, among others. The initiative earned Langevin some ink in The Washington Post, in a piece that also highlighted Senator Whitehouse’s new bipartisan bill to beef up the tax credit for carbon capture.

12. Congressman Cicilline is expressing concern about Amazon’s proposed takeover of Whole Foods. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias noted on Twitter, “If I had the HQ of CVS or Target or another big retail chain in my district I would be very worried about Amazon.” (Cicilline represents Woonsocket, CVS’s hometown.)

13. The explosive new revelations about Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign actually has a Rhode Island angle. The meeting was set up by a British music publicist who represents the Russian singer Emin Agalarov. But Emin and his father, Aras Agalarov, already knew the Trumps. How? Olivia Culpo, the Cranston-born model crowned Miss Universe in 2012. Emin Agalarov told Forbes in February, “The story dates all the way back to 2012 or 2013, I think, when I was filming a video for my new single, which was called Amor, and me and my manager wanted to find the most beautiful woman – model – in the world that we could. And at the time we figured we should reach out to the Miss Universe organization and contact the current Miss Universe. So we did so. She agreed to be part of the video.” Here it is. Donald Trump owned Miss Universe at the time, and it was apparently through the Culpo connection that the Agalarovs became acquainted with his family. (Culpo did not respond to my request for comment this week.)

14. Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Tim Babineau is my guest on this week’s Executive Suite, a maiden voyage there for the head of Rhode Island’s top hospital group and largest private employer. Babineau says he remains disappointed that Care New England chose to merge with Partners rather than Lifespan – and is still leaving the door wide open to a deal if the Partners combo somehow doesn’t come to fruition. “The merger has always made sense – it continues to make sense,” he argued. “I’ve been very public about saying that I believe a merger between Care New England and Lifespan would be good for patients, would be good for the state, would be good for the economy, would be good for health care.”

15. Why one-party government in Washington doesn’t last anymore.

16. That time a foreign power meddled in a U.S. election: Britain in 1940.

17. How Arturo Toscanini changed classical music in America.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – “Crimetown” creators Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. This week on Executive Suite – Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau. 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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