Nesi’s Notes: Nov. 11

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. Governor Raimondo doesn’t have the fiscal wind at her back as she heads into her re-election year. On Friday night the state’s revenue forecast for the current budget year was cut by $10 million, adding more red ink after projected spending on social services was bumped up by $29 million earlier in the week. And next year is looking little better: tax revenue is expected to rise by only $39 million, not enough to cover the $44 million more that will be needed for rising social-services costs. True, these numbers aren’t catastrophic; this year’s $10 million swing in revenue represents a change of just 0.3%. But they will require Raimondo to make some tough choices when she presents her campaign-year budget in January, and they don’t do much to buttress her broader narrative of economic progress in Rhode Island.

2. One of Rhode Island’s most renowned – and feared – political operatives has a new gig. Jeff Britt, the bare-knuckled strategist who helped Speaker Mattiello hold onto his seat last fall, has signed on as a general consultant for the Rhode Island Democratic Party in the 2018 election cycle, party executive director Kevin Olasanoye confirmed Friday night. Britt is expected to provide support for Governor Raimondo’s re-election bid as well as other Democratic campaigns on the ballot next year. “I’m excited about it,” Britt told me, declining to say more. Britt’s prominence dates back to 2002, when he helped his stepfather Bruce Bayuk mount a competitive write-in campaign against then-Speaker John Harwood. For years Britt worked mainly for Republicans, including Don Carcieri and Ken Block, though he was also on Frank Caprio’s team in 2010. But he left the GOP in late 2015 due to his distaste for Donald Trump. One reason Britt’s hiring is interesting: Raimondo aides remain convinced Allan Fung is her most likely opponent next year, and Britt has experience running a tough campaign against the Cranston mayor. Another reason: it means Britt will not be working for Mattiello if the speaker runs for re-election in his Cranston district next November.

3. The drubbing Republicans took in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere on Tuesday has some analysts warning President Trump could be a drag on GOP candidates in 2018. So did the results give pause to Joe Trillo, who’s synonymous with Trump in Rhode Island, as he considers seeking the 2018 Republican nomination for governor? “No, actually, it hasn’t,” Trillo told me. “The Democrats have got to get some wins. I’m not discouraged by it. I think the president is doing so many good things that there’s going to be a point where it’s going to topple over some of the negativity.” As examples, Trillo ticked off record stock prices, reduced border crossings, regulatory rollbacks, judicial appointments, progress against ISIS and Trump’s trips abroad. “I’m still 99% in,” Trillo said of a run for governor. “I gave myself a period of time to wait until January to totally see what’s going on, and part of it is seeing where the president stands in January. But I’m working on the campaign every single day.”

4. Who’s polling? A loyal reader reports getting a call this week from a firm called TPC Research, testing the approval ratings of President Trump and Governor Raimondo, followed by a battery of questions on potential 2018 gubernatorial matchups.

5. Time to stick a fork in the PawSox for 2017? Not so fast, supporters say. Team consultant Guy Dufault reports that volunteers from Pawtucket 20/20, the PawSox staff and organized labor plan to drop 5,500 flyers in Speaker Mattiello’s Cranston House district today, taking their case for a new stadium directly to his voters. (The flyers look like this.) Dufault says more flyer drops will follow in other lawmakers’ districts. Meanwhile, Senate Finance Chairman William Conley says his panel still plans to release a report this month recommending a path forward (“it won’t be an advocacy piece”) and reports Senate President Dominick Ruggerio remains hopeful the full Senate could vote on the proposal this month. But even if the Senate passes the stadium bill, if Mattiello doesn’t allow it to pass the House before the end of the year, it would need to be reintroduced and voted on again in the new legislative session that starts in January.

6. Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s re-election kickoff this week suggested he wants to make next year’s Democratic primary partly a referendum on whether Rep. Aaron Regunberg is experienced enough to be a governor-in-waiting. “We don’t want anyone to learn on the job,” Johnston Mayor Joe Polisena warned as he introduced McKee. Regunberg, though, wants voters to be thinking less about him or McKee personally and more about the potential for progressive policy in Rhode Island. He countered McKee’s announcement with the endorsements of three environmental groups – the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and 350 RI – in a bid to show early momentum. “Clean Water Action very rarely makes endorsements this early,” John Berard, the group’s Rhode Island director, said in a news release. “This speaks to how excited we are about Aaron’s candidacy.”

7. One of Washington’s most influential conservatives, longtime anti-tax campaigner Grover Norquist, was in Rhode Island on Friday to attend a fundraiser luncheon for Mike Stenhouse’s Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. He also visited WPRI to tape this week’s Newsmakers, and along with much talk of tax reform, he gave his response to GOP critics of President Trump like Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker. “I try to remind people who are political activists that whining is not the same thing as work,” Norquist said, arguing that “if you want to support more free trade, if you want to have a more pro-immigration policy, go out and work, go out and make the case. Get more people elected who agree with you. I’m disappointed that Flake, instead of staying in the Senate to argue for his vision of a modern Republican Party – which is very close to Reagan’s as well – he didn’t stay and work on that.” Norquist also gave an upbeat report card about what Trump has done so far, echoing a number of the points made by Joe Trillo. “If you’re a Reagan Republican, let’s see – judges, tax cuts, deregulation – sounds like Reagan. No stupid wars – that’s a good start. There’s an awful lot of good stuff going on,” Norquist said.

8. Among the stops on Grover Norquist’s Rhode Island itinerary was a private meeting Thursday with Speaker Mattiello. In an email, Mattiello told me, “Mike Stenhouse requested the meeting and I always appreciate hearing all sides of issues to enable the House to better serve all of our constituents. The more perspectives we hear, the better our analysis will be in putting together a final product on any issue. We discussed general topics and we came to no specific conclusions.” Looking ahead to the next legislative session, Stenhouse said his group may focus its 2018 advocacy on regulatory reform, particularly occupational licensing. He also said the Gaspee Project, the political group with which he’s closely affiliated, may create its own version of Norquist’s no-tax pledge for local candidates to sign in 2018.

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9. The Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus was revived earlier this year, mainly in response to the election of President Trump. It now increasingly appears that the caucus has the potential to become a rival power center in the historically male-dominated state party apparatus. Kathy Gregg has a dispatch from the group’s fundraiser this week.

10. Kristin Nicholson, who served as Congressman Langevin’s chief of staff for 16 years until her departure last fall, is making national news for her work helping to draft an open letter urging stronger action to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. Nicholson, now director of Georgetown’s Government Affairs Institute, wrote a blog post on its website detailing why she thinks action is needed. “The culture of Congress all but ensures that progress and change will be slow, but hopefully with more awareness, more sustained attention, and more staffers and members feeling empowered to speak out, change will come to Capitol Hill,” she argues.

11. Dan McGowan has the latest on Thursday’s police-involved shooting.

12. The local newspaper industry continues to be vexed by the media changes affecting all but a few outlets from coast to coast. The Providence Journal’s September circulation report shows its Sunday print edition down 13% versus last year, selling 67,500 copies, and weekdays off nearly as much at 52,000. (Digital subscriptions now total about 3,200.) The hitherto-independent Newport Daily News has just been sold to GateHouse Media, the same chain that bought the Projo in 2014; the company is fast developing a near-monopoly on print dailies in Southeastern New England. And now Attleboro’s Sun Chronicle, one of the few non-GateHouse dailies left, has just announced it will end its Sunday edition in January. Make no mistake: this is a civic crisis. Speaking at Thursday night’s Common Cause annual meeting, Projo executive editor Alan Rosenberg warned that if solutions aren’t found, many established news outlets could be gone in 10 to 15 years.

13. There was a new milestone this week in the months-long battle over control of East Greenwich Town Hall, as Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl issued a sharply critical ruling reprimanding town leaders for their actions. Throughout the controversy, town residents have been turning to an online-only news outlet for information: East Greenwich News, a nonprofit piloted by longtime EG journalist Elizabeth McNamara that has been chronicling events there since she relaunched it earlier this year. The weekly East Greenwich Pendulum and Bob Plain at RIFuture.org have also been tracking the developments.

14. First CVS-Aetna. Now Hasbro-Mattel?

15. “America’s ‘retail apocalypse’ is just beginning.” That’s the headline on a sobering Bloomberg article about the retail industry’s coast-to-coast challenges, and the implications. The story reports Rhode Island has lost 7.3% of its retail jobs since January 2007 – more than any other state.

16. A potentially worrying sign for economic development in Rhode Island: Brown’s computer-science department is struggling to keep up with demand for its courses.

17. Legendary New Yorker writer John McPhee has a new book out on the writing process, “Draft No. 4,” and it’s an enjoyable read for anyone who wrestles with words for a living. One passage, however, took me a bit by surprise. In a section on demonyms – the words used to denote people from a specific place, like “Bostonian” or “New Yorker” – McPhee writes that one of his favorites is “Providentian,” for a resident of Providence. Does anyone around here actually use that?

18. And speaking of books, here’s a recommendation appropriate for this Veterans Day Weekend – “World War II Rhode Island,” a newly published history of the Ocean State’s mass mobilization during the Second World War. The book is edited by Christian McBurney, who wrote it with a number of his fellow contributors at the Online Review of Rhode Island History website.

19. Dan Diamond on the future of American hospitals.

20. Maybe robots won’t take away all our jobs after all.

21. Matthew Continetti says class realignment broke the Democrats.

22. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersGrover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Mike Stenhouse of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. This week on Executive Suite – Gregg’s Restaurants co-owner Bob Bacon. 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