Nesi’s Notes: Oct. 28

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. At this point in the 2014 election cycle, Rhode Island’s Republican primary for governor had already taken shape. Allan Fung was the clear frontrunner, with widespread establishment support and a base in the state’s third-largest community; Ken Block was a long-shot challenger, recognized as an outsider but facing deep reservations about his GOP bona fides. Fung prevailed, but by a more narrow margin than you might expect against a rival who’d voted for Barack Obama two years prior. Fast-forward four years, and the outlook is much cloudier. Fung is back, with a tougher tone and a fusillade of attacks on Gina Raimondo meant to position him as a fighter and a partisan. But Block’s role is being played this time by Patricia Morgan, who faces no such qualms about her Republican credentials, being a former party chair and relentless Raimondo critic. Meanwhile it could be months before the GOP field is set: Joe Trillo says he’s leaning toward running, as does Giovanni Feroce, who also says he won’t kick off until next spring if he runs. Morgan launched her campaign with a slick video and media interviews; Fung held a large rally followed by $82,000 in TV ads, looking to establish an early advantage. Geography is another reason to expect a competitive race: Fung can count on Cranston, but Morgan and Trillo have both represented Warwick, a crucial city in GOP primaries. (As for Block, Ian Donnis reports he won’t run for governor in the GOP primary again, leaving open the possibility of an independent run.) For now, keep an eye on two things: next week’s fundraising reports, which will show who’s raising money, and how the candidates try to differentiate themselves.

2. A candidate’s first job in the early months: fundraise, fundraise, fundraise. Allan Fung is holding a “Cigar Night” reception on Nov. 2 at Broadway Cigars in Providence; tickets are $75 for individuals, $125 for couples. Patricia Morgan has a private reception on Nov. 5 at the Daedalus Center in Hopkinton, new headquarters of the data company B2B Gateway; suggested donation is $50, and they’ll also be auctioning off a weekend at a retreat in Vermont. Gio Feroce, meanwhile, made light of the process, quipping on Facebook: “I’ve been asking everyone I know for $200k to $2M for 3 years. Sometimes they took my calls, sometimes they didn’t. Now that they heard I might run for Governor they all just breathed a sigh of relief, they said ‘what? Only $1k? That’s all you need, ok call me next week’ Lol.”

3. How much will Donald Trump matter in Rhode Island’s 2018 elections? The president has been a constant focus for local Democrats, criticized by both Peter Neronha and Aaron Regunberg at their respective kickoffs and regularly pilloried by Gina Raimondo. Republicans Patricia Morgan and Allan Fung by contrast made no mention of Trump in their launch remarks this week, focusing squarely on statewide issues. It’s no secret what’s going on here: Rhode Island is a blue state, the president’s national approval rating is in the 30s, and progressives are intensely energized around opposition to his administration. Trump’s standing will shape campaign strategy on both sides over the next year (and could even influence former Trump campaign chairman Joe Trillo’s decision on whether to run). “Fung, Morgan and Trillo’s embrace of Trump is going to come back to bite whoever ends up winning,” argued Democratic Governors Association spokesman Jared Leopold. GOP Chairman Brandon Bell countered that Joe DeLorenzo, who until Thursday was the state Democratic Party’s third-ranking official, had backed Trump on the national anthem protests. “The Rhode Island Democratic Party has no credibility when it comes [to] attacking Rhode Island Republicans about Trump when the members of their own leadership have sounded a lot like Trump,” Bell said. “They should either come up with a new talking point or find some new leaders.” (In the end, they picked the latter option.)

4. What are the lessons in the Democratic defenestration of Joe DeLorenzo? The first is obvious: sexual harassment cannot be treated cavalierly, especially in this climate. While DeLorenzo’s initial criticism of progressives certainly outraged those on the left, it was only when he questioned Rep. Teresa Tanzi’s #MeToo story that big names like Governor Raimondo, Senator Reed and Senate President Ruggerio said he needed to go. (It would be interesting to know how events would have transpired if DeLorenzo had given no further interviews after his initial “left-wing whack jobs” remark.) Another: the House speaker’s oft-touted control of the state party apparatus is not absolute, and is vulnerable to public pressure. Looking ahead, victory on DeLorenzo could embolden progressives as they prepare for next year’s General Assembly primaries, especially after Dawn Euer’s special election win in Newport. At the same time, there’s no doubt Speaker Mattiello spoke for others when he warned last week about factional splits among Democrats. And although DeLorenzo was a fatally flawed messenger after his comments on Tanzi, he is not alone in questioning how far left the party should go if it wants to maintain its dominance in Rhode Island.

5. Joe DeLorenzo’s newly named successor as the 2nd vice-chair, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, is still raising money despite being term-limited in 2020. Diossa is holding a fundraiser Nov. 2 at Providence’s Black Sheep, the newish bar co-founded by local lobbyist Will Farrell.

6. If Lincoln Chafee doesn’t challenge Gina Raimondo for governor and Peter Neronha clears the field for AG, next year’s marquee Democratic primary could be the likely race for lieutenant governor pitting incumbent Dan McKee against challenger Aaron Regunberg. In his opening salvo this week, Regunberg talked less about the problems with McKee and more about the potential for the LG’s office to be a statewide platform for progressives. McKee won’t announce his plans until Nov. 7, but CNN has already taken notice of the race, christening it one of 9 Democratic primaries to watch nationwide in 2018.

7. Not for the first time, the Pawtucket Red Sox have found themselves on the wrong side of public opinion, facing a new backlash now for refusing to disclose their profit and revenue numbers to the Senate Finance Committee. The team’s owners may be loathe to reveal that information, but their decision has come at a high price: it’s thrown a monkey-wrench into stadium supporters’ hopes of having a vote on the ballpark soon, further delaying a debate that could soon enter its fourth year. It’s looking very unlikely that Speaker Mattiello will bring back the House for a ballpark vote this calendar year, especially now that he’s suggested rewriting the terms of the deal. And the vote won’t get any easier for rank-and-file lawmakers if it happens in an election year.

8. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “He might be a big favorite to win re-election next year, but this week Mayor Elorza got his first taste of what campaign season may look like in Providence. His already-announced Democratic primary opponent Kobi Dennis landed a punch when he called for an assistant principal at Central High School to be fired after a video emerged of the man pinning a 15-year-old student to the ground. Elorza privately pushed for the principal to be terminated – even though the police investigation hasn’t been completed – but he ended up resigning Thursday morning. The strategy from Team Elorza so far is to not publicly acknowledge their opponent, but the mayor’s aides feared Dennis might speak out on the Central situation. For his part, Dennis told a crowd of more than 60 people at his kickoff fundraiser this week he doesn’t intend to run a negative campaign against Elorza, even as he jabbed the mayor on a variety of fronts. As the only candidate in the race so far, look for Dennis to keep swinging. And while Elorza has no real reason to respond to Dennis at this point, it will be worth watching how the mayor handles incumbency over the next year.”

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9. The UHIP fiasco has been unfolding for so long that your eyes may glaze over when you see another headline about it. But this week seemed to mark a new deterioration in the status of the nearly half-billion-dollar computer system. First came the announcement that Deloitte had uncovered yet another serious bug, this one bad enough for the company to fork over a new credit of $58 million. Then came a statement from Middletown Sen. Lou DiPalma, a tech-savvy lawmaker who is generally friendly to the Raimondo administration, basically throwing up his hands in disgust. “I am extremely frustrated and disappointed,” DiPalma said. He went on to warn, “In my professional opinion, we shouldn’t expect major improvements to occur any time soon operationally or financially without significant changes. The system remains unstable, and it is unclear what the adverse impact to the state budget and our residents will be in the coming months.” Governor Raimondo herself – likely aware that UHIP is already a millstone around her re-election campaign – appears to be increasingly open to a more radical solution, floating the possibility that a court-appointed special master should take over the entire project.

10. New nominations from Governor Raimondo: Elizabeth Tanner, currently a senior R.I. Commerce Corporation official, as director of the Department of Business Regulation, and Mark Furcolo, previously a senior vice president at Dealertrack Technologies, as director of the Department of Revenue.

11. The bombshell that Woonsocket-based CVS is trying to buy insurer Aetna for a cool $66 billion has had phones lighting up in the Rhode Island business community since the news surfaced. (The Washington Post has a good primer here on why the deal makes sense for CVS.) Scott Gibbs, who tracks CVS closely as president of the nonprofit Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island, is optimistic about the idea. “A company like CVS, as critical as it is to this state’s economic trajectory, the healthier the company is, the more stable that company is as a long-term generator and preserver of jobs in our state,” Gibbs told my colleague Steve Nielsen on Friday. “This is an important strategic move by CVS which hopefully increases CVS’s strength and profitability, and that is good for Rhode Island, no question about it.” But, Gibbs added, “I don’t think it’s about moving Aetna to Rhode Island. I don’t see that happening.” (Aetna is currently in the process of moving its headquarters from Hartford to New York City.)

12. Care New England has been struggling with bad news lately, between ongoing financial losses and now the planned closure of Memorial Hospital. So CNE officials were happy on Thursday to announce that Integra, their three-year-old accountable care organization (ACO), saved Medicare more than $8 million last year. “These results show the accountable care model is here to stay and that Integra delivered exactly what we promised: comprehensive care coordination that unites primary care, specialists, care managers, and skilled nursing facilities,” Dr. Al Puerini, Integra’s board chair, said in a statement. The announcement drew a congratulatory tweet from Senator Whitehouse, who’s long championed ACOs as a way for health providers to save money and help patients. Kaiser Health News explains ACOs here.

13. Attleboro is the ninth-largest city in the Providence metropolitan area, with about 44,000 residents and a prime location along both I-95 and the MBTA commuter-rail line. The city has had the same mayor for the past 14 years: Kevin Dumas, a Republican elected in 2003 at the ripe old age of 27. This year, though, Dumas is facing an unusually tough re-election fight – in the September preliminary election, he came in second to Paul Heroux, a Democratic state representative. Dumas and Heroux met to debate on this week’s Newsmakers, tackling issues including a proposed new $265-million high school, economic development and term limits. Next week’s Newsmakers will feature another Massachusetts mayoral joust, this time between Fall River incumbent Jasiel Correia and challenger Linda Pereira.

14. The late industrialist John Carter Jr., whose death was announced this week, is being remembered as an icon of philanthropy in Rhode Island. Carter made his fortune by founding, in 1963, what is today Nordson EFD. He sold the company in 2000 for $280 million, and he and his wife, Letitia, have spent the years since supporting a host of worthy causes in Rhode Island. Scott MacKay, whose own employer Rhode Island Public Radio is a beneficiary of the Carters’ largess, has a nice remembrance here.

15. Mark your calendars for Thursday, Nov. 9 – Common Cause Rhode Island is holding its annual meeting, and the topic is “In News We Trust? Disruption in the Media and the Future of our Democracy.” I’ll be moderating a panel discussion with three of Rhode Island’s most influential media figures: Rhode Island Public Radio GM Torey Malatia, Providence Journal executive editor Alan Rosenberg, and AP correspondent Michelle Smith. More information is available here.

16. Will GateHouse buy every daily paper from Boston to Newport?

17. Many of the problems in the Massachusetts housing market, documented extensively in this new CommonWealth Magazine article, are also issues in Rhode Island.

18. The L.A. Review of Books has an interesting piece on the role of public theologians in modern life, focused on former PC Professor David Bentley Hart.

19. Dan McGowan and Walt Buteau have a great story coming Monday:

20. Happy Halloween!

21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a debate between Attleboro mayoral candidates Kevin Dumas and Paul Heroux. This week on Executive Suite – former Utilidata CEO Scott DePasquale. 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