Nesi’s Notes: Oct. 21

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

SIGN UP: Get Nesi’s Notes by Email

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. When former Rep. Joe DeLorenzo made his incendiary remarks about Rep. Teresa Tanzi’s State House sexual-harassment allegations to John DePetro on Tuesday, he poured kerosene on a fire that was already smoldering inside the Rhode Island Democratic Party. Tanzi’s disclosure to the Projo’s Jackie Tempera – that a member of House leadership suggested sexual favors would help her advance legislation – had stunned the State House. But for DeLorenzo, the state party’s third-ranking official, to dismiss her account and downplay sexual harassment more generally, especially in this environment, was a firing offense for many of the state’s Democrats, progressives in particular. The 75-year-old DeLorenzo had already enraged them with his “left-wing whack jobs” remarks over the weekend; rather than lay low after that controversy he upped the ante, and in doing so linked himself with the unidentified legislator referenced by Tanzi. Nearly every prominent Democratic leader in Rhode Island has now called on DeLorenzo to resign, with one very important exception: Speaker Mattiello, who effectively controls the party apparatus. In a statement Friday evening, Mattiello said he expects DeLorenzo – a fellow Cranston Democrat – to apologize for comments that were “insensitive and out of place with societal values.” But Mattiello also took the opportunity to speak up for the party’s more conservative wing, which remains powerful but is increasingly on the defensive. Calling intraparty attacks “completely inappropriate,” the speaker insisted: “These ideological attacks must stop and we must respect every viewpoint within the party. I will work with the progressives, moderates and conservatives to make sure that the Democratic Party is inclusive of everyone.” With no sign DeLorenzo will go on his own or be removed by Mattiello, the party’s progressives will now have to decide how much energy they want to put into an attempt to force him out.

2. A few excerpts from Representative Tanzi’s interview on this week’s Newsmakers. On why she’s not naming her harasser: “I strongly feel that if I make this about one person, then that’s all we’re talking about, when this is obviously a much broader problem. … I’ve said that it was a power differential. I was a rank-and-file member of the General Assembly, and the other person was not. The other person had a title.” … On the reaction she’s received: “I was surprised, and a little overwhelmed. But to me there was the opportunity I had my whole life been waiting for, to change the culture that exists – [it] was handed to me, and I happen to be in a position that many women are not in. I am an elected official. I have an amplified voice. And after the hashtag happened, #metoo, I had a million people that were behind me, that were affirming that these are real experiences. Even I’m having difficulty in affirming and maintaining credibility. Imagine what an individual who doesn’t have that benefit experiences?” … On her broader message: “Six percent of people are responsible for 90% of all harassment and assaults; it’s one of those rules of thumb. Six percent of the people are creating 90% of the problem. It is up to the 94% of us to stop that.”

3. Teresa Tanzi has represented House District 34, which includes South Kingstown and Narragansett, since 2010, when she defeated David Caprio in the Democratic primary and then held the seat in November. Her district has been a perennial pickup target for Republicans, who held her to 57% of the vote in 2012 and 53% in 2014. Last year Tanzi ran unopposed in the general election after winning a three-way Democratic primary. Asked Friday whether she’ll run again in 2018, Tanzi told me: “One-hundred percent.”

4. The General Assembly is often described as male-dominated, and it’s hard to argue otherwise when women hold far fewer than half the legislature’s 113 seats. But there has been a divergence between the two chambers when it comes to the influence of female members. The Senate was led for most of the past decade by a woman, Teresa Paiva Weed, who had previously served as majority leader. Maryellen Goodwin has held the chamber’s No. 3 job, majority whip, since 2011. And one of its most powerful committees, the Judiciary Committee, is now led by Erin Lynch Prata. There are certainly women with power in the House – Charlene Lima serves as deputy speaker and Patricia Serpa has made waves as Oversight Committee chairwoman, for example. But no woman has ever held any of the House’s top jobs. On the other side of the aisle, though, House Republicans broke the glass ceiling when they chose Patricia Morgan to be their leader this year.

5. It’s been a rough decade for Memorial Hospital. The Pawtucket facility wiped out its whole $30 million unrestricted endowment from 2010 to 2013, rapidly drawing down money that was supposed to be available to Blackstone Valley for generations to come. Then Care New England took over the hospital in September 2013, only to spend the next four years hemorrhaging cash and reducing services there; Memorial’s operations have lost more than $80 million since CNE took over. Now a deal with would-be buyer Prime has collapsed, and Care New England executives want to close Memorial altogether – asap – so they can finalize their merger with Partners. But the political pushback has already begun, with Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien urging the appointment of a special master to take over all of Care New England and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee suggesting the company’s future plans should be reexamined. Meanwhile, Roger Williams Medical Center parent Prospect CharterCARE is already making noises about a renewed attempt to swoop in and take over the hospital chain. (Keep an eye on Brown University, which “has a longstanding interest in the future of Care New England,” as spokesman Brian Clark put it to me this week, and is thought to be wary of Partners’ links to Harvard.) There’s no doubt that closing Memorial would be a major blow to Pawtucket and the hospital’s nearly 700 employees. At the same time, a study back in 2013 warned Rhode Island would have roughly 200 more licensed hospital beds than it needed by this year, stretching the sector’s resources thin; closing Memorial would eliminate 290 of those.

6. Aaron Regunberg is kicking off his Democratic primary challenge to Lt. Gov. Dan McKee next week in Warwick – but will McKee actually be his opponent? The incumbent has set an announcement for early November, but so far isn’t tamping down talk that he might decide to challenge Gina Raimondo for governor rather than seek four more years in his current job. If nothing else, McKee is keeping his options open for a few more weeks. And they aren’t the only Democrats with an eye on the LG’s office – Central Falls Mayor James Diossa isn’t ruling out a run, either. “Mayor Diossa is focused on his work in the city of Central Falls but open to any opportunities in the future,” spokesman Wil Arboldea said when asked about the possibility this week. Diossa is barred by term limits from running for mayor again once his current term expires in 2020. He would seem less likely to run, however, if McKee seeks another term in the No. 2 office, since the two have bonds as Blackstone Valley leaders and one-time neighboring mayors. (One thing to watch if it is a McKee-Regunberg bout: where will the building trades unions come down?)

7. Former U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha’s path to the attorney general’s office got a little smoother this week, as North Kingstown Rep. Bob Craven confirmed he will not challenge Neronha in next year’s Democratic primary and instead seek another term in the House. While it’s possible Neronha could clear the field, it’s much too soon to say with eight months to go before the filing deadline for candidates.

8. Will the state’s other two general officers – Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner – face primary or Republican challengers when they seek re-election next year?

SIGN UP: Get Nesi’s Notes by Email

9. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and East Providence Sen. Dan DaPonte would not be expected to have the best relationship, considering DaPonte flirted with challenging Ruggerio earlier this year and Ruggerio stripped DaPonte of the coveted Finance Committee chairmanship after he won. But that hasn’t stopped Ruggerio from quickly backing DaPonte over former teacher’s union president Val Lawson, who announced Oct. 3 she’s challenging the incumbent. “Had lunch with my good friend @DanDaPonte today,” Ruggerio tweeted the next day. “Looking forward to his re-election!”

10. Even Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor acknowledges Rhode Island’s bid for Amazon HQ2 is quite a long shot. But “I do think we have a shot,” he told my colleague Steph Machado on Thursday. “The reason I think we have a shot is I think Rhode Island offers an exemplary quality of life.”

11. Don’t look now, but Rhode Island policymakers have made progress in improving the state’s business climate. That’s according to The Tax Foundation, which bumped Rhode Island three spots to 41st on its annual State Business Tax Climate Index. The biggest reason for improvement was the $30 million reduction in unemployment-insurance taxes enacted by Governor Raimondo and state lawmakers in 2016; the state’s ranking on that tax jumped from 50th to 23rd in just one year. What’s still dragging the state down most? No surprise: property taxes (43rd) followed by individual taxes (39th). For comparison’s sake, Massachusetts ranked 22nd overall, while Connecticut ranked 44th. The top five states were Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Florida and Nevada; the worst five were D.C., Vermont, California, New York and New Jersey.

12. Jack Reed will receive the Panetta Institute of Public Policy’s Jefferson-Lincoln Award during a Nov. 11 gala at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California. The institute was co-founded by Leon Panetta, the former Democratic congressman and defense secretary. Reed’s Senate colleague Ohio Republican Rob Portman is also being honored that night. (Want to be there to support Senator Reed? You can buy a sponsor table for a cool $15,000, or an individual seat for $750.)

12. Unsurprisingly, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse has maintained a huge financial advantage over his two potential 2018 Republican rivals, Bobby Nardolillo and Robert Flanders. (He’ll boost that total Friday when California Sen. Kamala Harris comes to Providence for a Whitehouse fundraiser that boasts a host committee of more than 60.) Nardolillo has already announced while Flanders is still in the exploratory phase, but that hasn’t stopped Flanders from taking the crown in the fundraising department, with $284,000 to Nardolillo’s $36,000 as of Sept. 30. Flanders’ campaign isn’t saying yet when he’ll make formally kick off his bid.

14. In sadder news for Senator Whitehouse, a major national news outlet questioned his charisma this week – Scientific American. The venerable magazine posted a story floating the possibility Minnesota Sen. Al Franken could steal Whitehouse’s mantle as chief Senate climate hawk. Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, put it this way: “Al Franken, as a former comedian and a very well-known comedian, has a level of interest in him and what he says and, of course, the way he says things, that is just not something Sheldon Whitehouse is going to match.” Sure, but can Franken give 183 speeches in a row?

15. Newport is ready for its closeup. C-SPAN will be visiting the City by the Sea next week to tape segments for a special weekend of Newport programs on Jan. 20 and 21. More information is here.

16. Philip Eil on the reality of depression.

17. The hidden female heroes of the Greatest Generation.

18. Thank you to all who reached out with well-wishes about my recent wedding. Married life is great so far – I recommend it!

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – state Rep. Teresa Tanzi; RIDOT Director Peter Alviti. This week on Executive Suite – FM Global President and CEO Thomas Lawson. 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 and Facebook