1. There’s an obvious winner in PPP’s new Rhode Island survey: the state’s political press, because the race for governor looks wide open 21 months from Election Day. (U.S. Senate, not so much.) The poll contains plenty to cheer both of the state’s leading Democrats. Gina Raimondo led the field in every ballot test, and she’s more popular with liberals and older voters than many believed; that said, she’s far from the untouchable territory of a Chris Christie. Angel Taveras tops the popularity contest with a 63% favorable rating, though he actually placed third in a four-way primary matchup, and his numbers with non-whites are so-so. Then there’s Lincoln Chafee. A normal politician wouldn’t run for re-election with a 32% approval rating and 57% of voters asking him to retire – but Lincoln Chafee has never been a normal politician. His best bet is clearly to run as a Democrat: he has a positive approval rating with voters in the party, and he even tops Taveras in a potential primary. But how many more of his family’s millions is Chafee willing to pour into a long-shot bid for a second term – particularly if he acts as a spoiler, only to hurt his friend Taveras and help his nemesis Raimondo?
2. Then again, maybe the treasurer would be better off running next year in California. A new report on pension reform published in the Golden State rather poetically declares, “Gina Raimondo made her rebellion with heart, with mind, with soul – calm, determined, and triumphant.” Now that’s what I call Raimondomania.
3. We’re now in the season where trial balloons get floated by prospective candidates for 2014, so here’s a rule of thumb from Nesi’s Notes editor emeritus M. Charles Bakst: “People who are going to run for a top office like governor don’t THINK about running. They run.” Charlie would know: he’s been watching Rhode Island gubernatorial races since he interviewed first-time candidate John Chafee half a century ago as an undergraduate Brown Daily Herald scribe. (He still remembers Chafee’s 1962 answers correctly – I’ve checked!)
4. One of Rhode Island’s savviest exports, Warwick native Matt McDermott, has a new gig in D.C. as field director for top Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. McDermott, a newly minted G.W. grad, worked the polls for Rep. Joe MacNamara way back in elementary school and grew up into wizard of cross-tabs. He credits his passion for the quantitative side of politics to Rhode Island’s bizarre Democratic coalition: “Until you experience it firsthand, there’s few that can understand the frustration that comes from living in such a microcosm of dysfunction – a state which has been dominated by one party for more than two generations but that still has a conservative core that’s been hard to break.” McDermott says he’d like to come back to Rhode Island down the road, and he hopes progressive successes in Providence are a harbinger of what’s to come on gay marriage and in next year’s gubernatorial primary. “I think it will ultimately be what breaks the stretch of conservative philosophy on abortion, taxes, a range of issues,” he says.
5. My colleague Tim White has been filing a series of reports on the troubled Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls after obtaining a state police report that found the jail’s chief of security may have destroyed video evidence of an assault on an officer. The next installment will air on WPRI 12 Sunday night (following some professional athletic event you may have heard about). It’s a fascinating interview with the officer who was attacked. This whistle-blower was ordered not to talk to Channel 12 but risked his losing his job by doing so anyway, saying he wants to shine a light on what he says are unsafe conditions at Wyatt. Be warned: there are some graphic photos in this one.
6. The Quonset Business Park posted another round of impressive numbers in 2012: total jobs topped 9,100 (up from 8,800), total companies passed 170 (up from 168), and total vehicles shipped out rose 15% to 215,300. What’s often forgotten is what a huge role the federal government – and especially U.S. Sen. Jack Reed – played over the past two decades in funding the freight rail line to allow growth at Quonset, at one point over the loud objections of New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg. Reed spokesman Chip Unruh puts the total federal investment in Quonset at more than $100 million since 1995. More evidence of why having an engaged and active congressional delegation matters to Rhode Island (and every state).
7. The best line in the various State of the Whatever speeches being given has to be a gem from the mayor of Rhode Island’s fourth-largest city: “This being Pawtucket, we also know how to have a good time,” Don Grebien declared in his address Tuesday.
8. If you missed it on Thursday, go read my colleague Dan McGowan’s jaw-dropping report about Providence students’ abysmal test scores. McGowan obtained a memo warning that two-thirds of high-school seniors are in danger of not graduating when new rules go into effect next year. Again: two out of three students might not get a diploma. And Education Commissioner Deborah Gist shows no signs of backing away from the tough standards, telling Dan: “I think the notion that giving a student a diploma when they’re not truly ready for what’s next is somehow helping them is really misguided.”
9. Should Rhode Island consider bringing Western Governors University here as a fourth state college?
10. Speaking of academics, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree will speak at URI Tuesday at 7 as the school’s keynote speaker for Black History Month. Ogletree may not be a household name, but he’s famous in the legal community – and in the political world as a longtime confidante of his former students Barack and Michelle Obama. “Student Barack Obama was not materially different from the state Sen. Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and President Barack Obama,” Ogletree told The Root last year.
11. Sorry, ambitious down-ballot Democrats: on Newsmakers this week Congressman Jim Langevin declared that he’s definitely running for an eighth term in the U.S. House next year.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Congressman Jim Langevin. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Rhode Island innovation fellows Allan Tear and Soren Ryherd discuss how they’re using their $300,000 grants. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.
The statistics about the Quonset Business Park have been clarified.