The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

Welcome to the latest edition of my new weekly column. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I may include them. Thanks for all the great feedback so far. Let’s jump in.

1. Governor Chafee’s media team put out another YouTube video this week and managed the impressive feat of making the municipal fiscal crisis feel like the trailer of a summer blockbuster. There was only one problem. The video calls on viewers to “stand with Governor Chafee” because “the time to act is now.” Yet it never spells out what exactly we’re supposed to do “to act” right now. Contrast that with Engage Rhode Island’s ads, which created the same sense of crisis but told those watching to call their lawmakers and and urge them to vote for the pension bill. Chafee’s video is a call to action that’s missing the action; he and the mayors haven’t even filed a bill yet. Should we call Providence’s retirees? Protest at Rhode Island Hospital? Perhaps call Chafee and ask him to appoint a receiver in Providence?

2. Mark your calendars – this year’s first exclusive WPRI 12 poll of the 2012 campaign drops Monday at 6 p.m. Is Doherty ahead of Cicilline? How do people feel about Chafee? Should Providence go bankrupt? All the questions are here, and I’ll be on John DePetro’s WPRO radio program Monday morning at 9 to preview the results.

3. With Brown University President Ruth Simmons set to retire in June, attention is turning toward the question of her legacy. There’s no question Brown is a much more formidable institution than it was when she took the reins, with more professors doing more research, a new medical school and stronger finances. Brown’s troubled relationship with the city, however, points to the inward focus of her tenure. Simmons was never a big presence in the community, and she’s largely unknown at the State House. That’s left her (and Brown) with few allies as the school tried to fight off Mayor Taveras’s push for a bigger contribution to the city budget.

4. The Projo’s Ed Achorn ended his column Tuesday by asking, “Do voters in Rhode Island care enough to elect less conflicted members to represent them? They haven’t yet, but you never know.” A new study suggests, however, just the opposite is possible: “Voters can become disillusioned and withdraw from the entire political process if there’s evidence of broad-scale corruption without the promise of further reform,” Wonkblog’s Suzy Khimm reports.

5. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie has been a conservative hero for taking a hard line against higher taxes and state spending. Governor Chafee, by contrast, has been pilloried by the right as a spending-happy union toady. But dig into the numbers, Chafee’s proposed budget for 2012-13 is actually more austere. Christie wants to boost spending 3.7% over this year’s revised level in New Jersey, while Chafee wants to reduce spending 2.8% here.

6. The media landscape in Rhode Island is in quite a state of flux. The Providence Journal will reportedly launch its paywall on Tuesday, an apparent sign management remains committed to the new website despite a 33% decline in traffic since its October debut. (Projo editor Tom Heslin didn’t reply to my email requesting confirmation.) Next week will also see the unveiling of The Ocean State Current, a news site edited by Anchor Rising founder Justin Katz and funded by the right-leaning R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Katz says its mission will be “to expose the consequences of bad government and its effects on real people.” And Friday brought news of more layoffs at the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call, neither of which was exactly overstaffed before.

7. Few people at the Projo have done a better job embracing social media than health care writer Felice Freyer, whose Twitter account has 1,537 followers. She does a great job finding that elusive mix of links to her own stories and great material elsewhere. Alas, we’re still waiting for @kathyprojo to dive in – though she’s racked up an impressive 170 followers without so much as a tweet.

8. There will be plenty of speculation about what, if anything, is portended by Governor Chafee’s position as a co-chair of the Obama-Biden re-election campaign. With a 23% approval rating and an uncertain outlook for 2014, perhaps Obama will find a position for the governor in his administration should he win re-election, making Elizabeth Roberts the state’s new leader. Or perhaps this will be the final step before Chafee officially joins the Democratic Party and decides to run on the “D” line of the 2014 ballot. We’ll see.

9. Few people are working crazier hours these days than Department of Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly and Division of Municipal Finance Director Susanne Greschner. They’re two unsung heroines of the municipal financial crisis.

10. Rhode Island held its last constitutional convention in 1986, which led to the state’s sweeping Code of Ethics. Voters are required to be asked every 10 years whether or not to hold a “con con,” with the next mandatory vote in 2014. (State Sen. Paul Fogarty wants to ask them this November.) Holding a convention would allow a host of issues to be tackled, including gay marriage, but the one some lawmakers will worry about most is restoring the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over them, a power the R.I. Supreme Court took from the commission in 2009. Ask your lawmaker what they think about the idea.

11. A few weeks back, in a spirit of rebellion, I switched my default search engine from Google to Microsoft’s Bing. I’ve switched back. Google may be weighing its platform down with Google+ and controversial privacy policies, but it’s still the best bet for somebody who spends his days ferreting out very specific pieces of information. Bing didn’t do a bad job, but I found myself returning to Google when I really needed to do a thorough search. On a related note, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum made an astute point last week: “The Internet makes dumb people dumber and smart people smarter. If you don’t know how to use it, or don’t have the background to ask the right questions, you’ll end up with a head full of nonsense. But if you do know how to use it, it’s an endless wealth of information.”

12. I was shocked – shocked! – to learn recently that there is an impostor version of “Newsmakers” airing out in Cincinnati. Not only is it another weekly public affairs show, but it’s on Channel 12, which is a CBS affiliate there. It may be time for an “Anchorman”-style news team battle.

13. This week on “Newsmakers” – R.I. Department of Transportation Director Mike Lewis and Dan Egan, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island. Watch Sunday at 10 on Fox Providence. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

11 thoughts on “The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

  1. Ted — I’ve found myself turning to this blog and your twitter more and more for news, especially since the ProJo is throwing all of their content behind a paywall, and ridiculously short and unhelpful ‘breaking news posts’, but I have to say I’m a little disappointed that you would opt to preview the new polling numbers on John DePetro’s show. Of all the WPRO show’s he’s got to have the most vitriolic, mean spirited and ill informed 3 hour blocks on radio today. And its a shame because I used to enjoy him on the WPRO morning news show, but as soon as he went from “newsman” to commentator everything has been a disappointment. Ah well, I guess you go where the ratings go, though if that’s where the ratings are, our populace is even more ignorant then I thought.

  2. Regarding Pat Crowley’s comments – it all depends on how you define corruption. For example, the only difference I can see between the shakedown by organized crime and public employee unions is the that latter legal while the former is not. The unions even resort to intimidation as evidence by the fact the Liedecker (not sure if I spelled it correctly) was found guilty.

    Rhode island ranks 4th in the country in amount spent per capita student and 9th in the country in terms of average teacher salaries. In 2009 Rhode Island ranked 16th in the country for median household income and 17th in the country for per capita income Despite the high ranking for expenditure per student he teacher’s unions can only complain that they need more money. You all sound like the Auto Workers unions in the 1980’s and 1990’s and look what happened to them.

  3. As far as the ProJo is concerned, I’m no longer advertising there. My company doesn’t want anything to a company that eliminates it marketing department and transfers them to the janitorial staff. Secondly, my former sales rep, a former Journal union official who took the recent “buyout,” has told me that the newspaper has been charged with unfair labor practices. Seems to me they’ll have a lot more on their plate than pushing a paywall this year. Not a place we want to do business with anymore.

  4. This Crowley character is really a piece of work and his hatred for Ed Achorn is something to behold. What an embarrassment he must be to actual teachers. It’s one thing to push an agenda but it’s something else entirely to just flat out spout BS.

    Achorn’s column was about State Senator John Tassoni. Fact: Tassoni publishes a “newspaper” that is nothing more than a propoganda rag. Go ahead and read it if you can actually find it anywhere and judge for yourself. This rag is paid for by “ads” that read like a who’s who of every union in the state. One wonders exactly what these unions are getting for their advertising? Who are they trying to reach? What product are they trying to sell? Why are they spending their members’ forcibily extracted dues on this rag?

    Is it really a stretch to think that they aren’t actually “advertising” anything but merely supporting the Senator’s personal income by printing ads in his bogus “newspaper”? Then the guy turns around and supports every absurd union backed bill at the State House no matter how ridiculous. He supports stuff that even Ruggierio and the other union backed legislators can’t support. Who does Tassoni work for? His district or the unions? Inquiring minds want to know.

    And Mr. Crowley, follow really closely here: Just because it’s “legal” doesn’t make it right. I hope the teachers who you speak for are better at making that distinction than you are.

  5. Meant to write, in explaining why my company terminated its advertising contract with the ProJo:
    “My company doesn’t want anything to do with a company that eliminates its marketing department and transfers them to the janitorial staff.”

    Sorry for the typo. Even VPs make them!

  6. Providence will be the first major city without a daily newspaper. I used to love to read newspapers, everyday. About 6 years ago I gave up on The Providence Journal because it had no indepth reporting. Rhode Island needs a hard hitting newspaper similar to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Houston Chronicle, San Franscico Chronical even The Florida Times Union has better reporting.

    • Oh I read the link to RI Future. The article completely misses the point. Much that is “legal” is not right. It is perfectly legal for unions to extract enormous amounts of dues from their members and funnel them to politicians who then “negotiate” sweetheart deals with the same unions. That isn’t something that is going to be prosecuted but it is hugely harmful to the taxpaying public. It is also harmful, as we are now seeing, to those younger union members who didn’t get in on the ponzi scheme early on. It would have been wonderful to be a public sector retiree in 1995. It isn’t so wonderful now to be a 50 something public sector employee who planned to retire in the next five years. The unions screwed their own members and people are finally waking up to it. Yet the union “leaders” continue to lie about what is really happening because their own big salaries depend on enough of their members continuing to buy into the charade.

  7. Ted I like that you are going on the radio, but with Depetro. He lost crediablity in 2008 with the Arbitron scandal. He is as much of a liar as Cianci. You should have went on the earlier news or with Dan Yorke or Matt Allen, they are more credible.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s