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

Welcome to another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com. For quick hits all week long, follow me on Twitter: @tednesi.

1. Which side is going to win the pension lawsuit? Who knows? Both sides have plausible arguments. On the state side, David Boies​ says pension benefits aren’t a contract right since they’re codified in statute – and even if there is a contract right, as Judge ​Sarah Taft-Carter​ has already ruled, Rhode Island’s fiscal situation required changes. On the union side, Bob Walsh​ says the unions have already won a key victory on the contract question, and Rhode Island’s situation isn’t so dire that breaking the contract in this way was necessary. It’s hard to imagine Taft-Carter will have the final word on all this, whatever she decides, which means it will wind up coming down to the jurisprudence of Supreme Court Chief Justice ​Paul Suttell​ and his four associate justices: ​Maureen McKenna Goldberg​, ​Francis Flaherty​, ​William Robinson​ and ​Gilbert Indeglia​. Are they ready to set a major precedent by upholding the pension law? And will they hand down a decision before Nov. 4, 2014?

2. Speaking of Taft-Carter, there was a funny courtroom moment Friday amid the otherwise painfully awkward period when counsel ​John Tarantino​ was arguing to Taft-Carter’s face why she’d ruled incorrectly on recusing herself and can’t stay on the case because of her family’s stake in the pension system. At one point Tarantino put forward a hypothetical, suggesting that by Taft-Carter’s reasoning she wouldn’t have to recuse herself even if her husband was a plaintiff in the pension case. “Which he’s not!” the judge interjected, laughing nervously. “I want to get that out there.” Considering she made the front page of The New York Times this week, who can blame her?

3. By now you’ve heard all about David Boies​, the super lawyer of Bush vs. Gore fame whom ​Gina Raimondo​ has brought on to buttress Rhode Island’s defense. What you may not know is his opposing lead counsel, ​Lynette Labinger​ of Providence law firm Roney and Labinger, has won some well-known cases too – most famously, a six-year battle with Brown University over its violations of Title IX.

4. I never miss Mary Meeker’s annual PowerPoint presentation on the state of the digital world, and you shouldn’t either. The whole deck is available free here – a great read (click?) for anyone with an interest in technology and commerce.

5. Out and about this week at URI and the Providence Athenaeum to talk politics (thanks for having me!) there were a lot of questions about President Obama and the 2014 governor’s race. I’d argue, though, we should all be spending less time thinking about the people in the executive branch, and the legislative branch for that matter, and more time on the actual policies they enact. ​Ezra Kleinmade the point well last year when he described “a weakness that afflicts much punditry about the presidency: it is very surefooted in its reporting on personalities and the process by which decisions were made, and very vague when it comes to assessing the policy that was under consideration and judging whether the final approach performed better or worse than the alternative proposals.”

6. Outgoing Rhode Island GOP Chairman ​Mark Zaccaria ​thinks ​Mitt Romney​ could play a helpful role in the Republican Party going forward: by raising a lot of money. “To the extent he would be willing to lend his name to national Republican fundraising efforts, he’d obviously be a prime draw for things like that,” Zaccaria told The Wall Street Journal last week. Perhaps another event in Newport?

7. With ​Sheldon Whitehouse​’s​ former chief of staff ​Mindy Myers taking the same job with ​Elizabeth Warren,​ the senator didn’t have to look far to find Myers’ replacement: ​Sam Goodstein​, who took over when Myers left to manage Warren’s campaign. Goodstein, who has a low profile compared with Myers, was previously Whitehouse’s legislative director and his chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Before that Goodstein worked for then-U.S. Sen. ​Ken Salazar​ (who is now President Obama’s secretary of the interior).

8. Chris Hughes​, the 29-year-old Facebook multimillionaire who recently bought The New Republic, is also a generous supporter of groups pushing to legalize gay marriage. Generous may be an understatement: Hughes gave $250,000 to New York’s Freedom to Marry and at least $125,000 to other groups. Considering that Hughes’ husband ​Sean Eldridge​ has Rhode Island ties – he graduated from Brown University in 2009 – it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the pair eventually offered financial support for advocates in Rhode Island, too.

9. During her Washington-Chicago-New York swing this week, Gina Raimondo made an appearance on the WTTW-TV show “Chicago Tonight” to discuss pensions. Raimondo said she’s discussed the issue with Chicago Mayor ​Rahm Emanuel​, President Obama’s famously foul-mouthed former chief of staff. “We’ve had discussions, and he I think is doing a very noble and challenging job of trying to right the ship here in Chicago,” Raimondo said. “We’ve spent a lot of time with him and his staff.”

10. With the election over, U.S. House lawmakers are turning their minds to something that really matters – who gets the best office space. ​Tim White​ asked Congressman ​David Cicilline​ whether he’d be packing up for greener pastures now that he’s no longer a freshman, but Cicilline replied (via Twitter) that he chose to stay in Canon House Office Building Room 128. “Same floor & building as JimLangevin, the junior congressman explained. “Very convenient for visiting Rhode Islanders.” As someone who’s spent more than one Washington afternoon racing to try and get interviews with all four members of the delegation, I thank him.

11. And speaking of the delegation, ​Jack Reed​ watch continues: this week South Dakota U.S. Sen. ​Tim Johnson​ signaled he may not run for re-election, which would elevate Reed to the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee – unless Michigan U.S. Sen. ​Carl Levin​ retires, too, which would probably mean Reed takes the Senate Armed Services gavel. Levin says he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Providence Mayor Angel Taveras talks pensions and 2014. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Daniele Foods’ ​Stefano​ and ​Davide Duckevich​ discuss the pleasures of prosciutto from Pascoag. Watch Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.

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

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