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

Welcome to another edition of my new weekly column. I’m enjoying writing it, and I really appreciate all the advice and feedback I’ve gotten so far. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I may include them. Let’s jump in.

1. Is Rhode Island part of the U.S. economy? I’m starting to wonder. Friday’s national employment report offered more evidence the country has been recovering since last summer and is adding jobs at a decent clip. Rhode Island, on the other hand, is still losing jobs (and people). Only 59.2% of the state’s adults were working during the second half of last year – down from 65.5% in 2007 and even lower than the number during the official 2007-09 recession. At 59.2%, Rhode Island’s population is now employed at the same level as in 1978, when fewer women were in the work force. It’s no wonder people are gloomy.

2. Republican Brendan Doherty is in an enviable position heading into the November election, with plenty of money and a double-digit lead in a very blue district. But Friday’s “Newsmakers” taping made it clear the former state police colonel still needs to do his homework and bone up on policy. Votes don’t expect Doherty to become Reihan Salam, but they do expect a certain level of familiarity with federal issues; say what you will about David Cicilline, but the congressman knows his stuff (and his talking points).

3. On the other hand, Tim White pointed out to me that it’s a wonder Doherty and Cicilline are running at all when you consider, according to Politico, “the prestigious job of being a congressman sucks now.”

4. The first batch of sales numbers are in for “Reckoning,” and 38 Studios’ debut game sold 330,000 copies in the U.S., good for No. 4 on the February bestseller list. What kind of showing is that for Rhode Island’s newest corporate citizen? I put the question to Alexander Sliwinski, the savvy news editor of gaming site Joystiq, and he sees room for optimism. “It’s actually a strong showing for a new IP,” Alexander told me on Friday. “Placing fourth on NPD is really good. The console sales will trail off, but it’ll be interesting to see if it continues its life strongly on PC with Steam sales. It’s not a flop, which is the best that Big Huge Games and 38 Studios could hope for.” And, he added, “The numbers certainly guarantee a sequel is on the table.”

5. One lawmaker familiar with the ways of Smith Hill told me he’s skeptical about the actual popularity of the Cimini-Miller tax-the-rich bill despite their long lists of co-sponsors. He says it’s not uncommon for reps and senators to put their names on a colleague’s legislation as a friendly gesture, even if they have no intention of voting for it if and when it comes to the floor.

6. The FT’s John Gapper had an interesting column this week suggesting the economy’s structural problems aren’t going to be solved in “a gridlocked, indebted, constitutionally limited Washington” but rather through partnerships between states like Rhode Island and the companies located in them. “Today’s heavy lifting must be done locally, where companies thrive in clusters and large enterprises support a supply chain of smaller ones,” Gapper thinks. “They require some things from the public sector – solid infrastructure, good schools and supportive government – but they can do plenty themselves.”

7. Speaking of companies, I’ve got an unsolicited idea for publishers: They should start selling package deals on books that include both the print edition and the electronic edition. For example, I love my Kindle – it’s tiny, it’s distraction-free (unlike an iPad) and it’s portable. Yet I have trouble shelling out $15 for a book’s Kindle edition. (All that money and nothing physical to show for it?) But if I could put down $15 or $20 and get a print edition plus a code to redeem for the Kindle edition of the book, I’d be sold. Another option would be renting books Blockbuster-style – say, $5 for two weeks. Just a thought. (I’m also very bullish, as a reader and a writer, on Amazon’s new Kindle Singles.)

8. “Why,” a reader inquired of me this week, “are people assuming that Brendan Doherty will not have a Republican primary, when Rhode Island’s political couple of the last go-around may be interested?” He speaks, of course, of Christopher Young and Kara Russo, who need no introduction. There is a precedent: Ms. Russo challenged John Loughlin in the 2010 Republican primary, winning 1,301 votes to Loughlin’s 6,497. “In fact,” my correspondent added, “if Chris went as a Democrat and Kara ran again as a Republican, they could face off in a winner-gets-to-choose-the-honeymoon-location general election!” L’amour, l’amour.

9. I read two interesting articles about Mitt Romney recently: “Consultant in Chief” in Reason Magazine and “The Conversion” in Slate. Both are worth your time as we gear up for Rhode Island’s all-important April 24 primary.

10. As they put together the 2012-13 budget, Rhode Island lawmakers really ought to take a closer look at the obscenely outdated technology all over state government. Typewriters are still being used to handle HR in some departments. Employees waste valuable, taxpayer-funded time waiting for ancient Windows PCs to boot up. (Recently I saw one public servant carting in an iMac from home to do his job.) An Oracle system the state purchased is gathering dust because the money hasn’t been appropriated to actually get it up and running. We may be in an age of austerity, but some of this just seems penny-wise, pound-foolish.

11. I’ve been impressed with the initial posts penned by new Rhode Island’s Future contributor Samuel Howard, particularly this essay on why local progressives get so little traction. And, in classic fair-and-balanced MSM fashion, let me also extend a hat-tip to Justin Katz for his initial efforts at the new Ocean State Current site, especially his binding-arbirtration live blog on Thursday. The more the merrier, I say.

12. Is A.H. Belo CEO Robert Decherd bullish about his company’s prospects? The head of the Projo’s parent firm bought 87,000 shares of A.H. Belo stock for about $4.59 each this week amid a big burst of buying and selling by folks in the Dallas C-suite.

13. This week on “Newsmakers” – Republican congressional candidate Brendan Doherty. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. 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

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