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 For quick hits all week long, follow me on Twitter: @tednesi.

1. When the Rhode Island Senate backed same-sex marriage, the biggest winners included two people who voted no: Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and Senate Judiciary Chairman Mike McCaffrey. Gay marriage was a rare issue that not only split the Senate Democrats’ ruling coalition but represented a real political liability for its socially conservative incumbents, McCaffrey foremost among them. While most people aren’t experts on the General Assembly, it wouldn’t have been hard for Ray Sullivan to educate Democratic primary electorates next year if their local senators were blocking same-sex marriage – and to recruit activists to make that case at voters’ doorsteps. (Think about it: How many Warwick voters tick off McCaffey’s name every two years assuming they’re getting someone with relatively Obama-ish views?) Paiva Weed – one of the shrewdest political minds on Smith Hill – has deftly removed the biggest electoral threat facing men like McCaffrey, Dominick Ruggerio and Frank Ciccone, all without any apparent damage to her authority as leader of the upper chamber. She also cleared the path for McCaffrey, a labor ally, to succeed her as Senate president – while simultaneously earning plenty of goodwill from liberals in her caucus, not to mention Speaker Fox. Well played, Madame President, well played.

2. How’s the 2014 race for governor shaping up? Read my new Bloomberg View op-ed and find out.

3. Next month Brown University will move most of its Admissions Office out of the Corliss-Brackett House and down to the Jewelry District in order to free up space on College Hill for academic departments. The decision follows Brown’s announcement that the School of Engineering will stay on the main campus. So is the Admissions move more bad news for the much-hyped “Knowledge District”? Not necessarily. In fact, one smart observer suggested to me, offices might turn out to be better than labs for the long-term viability of the district – they’re denser, and their inhabitants are less likely to be locked inside all day, meaning more activity and more vibrancy. As Cambridge’s Kendall Square learned, all work and no play makes an innovation hub a drab place. The underlying challenge remains, though – getting enough cutting-edge work happening down there that it becomes a place-to-be for top researchers.

4. If you breezed over it Thursday, go take a closer look at House Democrats’ 18 economic bills. They backed the bulk of RIPEC’s proposals for an EDC overhaul and a new commerce secretary – ideas which got a frosty reception from Governor Chafee last year. They included three unsexy requests from the business community – legalizing biweekly pay, making Victory Day a floating holiday, and revamping unemployment benefits. (The first two drew immediate opposition from the AFL-CIO.) There are new initiatives with catchy names – Joe McNamara’s Back to Work RI, Chris Blazejewski’s Innovate RI, a “Rhode Island Made” branding push and a new Rapid Rhody loan program. Then there’s the mysterious Capital Expansion Manufacturing Jobs Credits, which sound like music to Electric Boat’s ears. The question, of course: how much of this will become law? That’s unclear. Speaker Fox told me the plan for now is to pass the economic bills on their own – but he didn’t rule out putting some of them into the budget, an option he has if he wants to play hardball.

5. A dispatch from ace Dan McGowan: “One of the many unanswered questions about the 2014 Providence mayor’s race is whether a candidate from the East Side will throw his or her hat in the ring. Much of the focus has centered on Speaker Fox, but at least one other prominent figure isn’t ruling out running for the office: Myrth York. The former state senator and three-time gubernatorial candidate told she isn’t looking at the mayor’s race right now, ‘but being a politician, you never say never.’ City Council President Michael Solomon, Councilwoman Sabina Matos and educator Victor Capellan have all said they intend to run if Mayor Taveras decides to run for governor. State Rep. John Lombardi, who lost to Taveras in 2010, told he’s ‘still very interested’ in running for the job and Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza is also considered a likely candidate.” (Editor’s note: check out the fancy new box featuring Dan, Tim White and yours truly on’s home page.)

6. Aaron Renn has a great piece over at Greater City: Providence bemoaning Rhode Island’s decision to spend $100 million extending commuter rail service to South County rather than speeding up service; he suggests “bringing a different philosophy to transit investment, one focused on improving the quality of the connection to Boston from areas that are well-positioned for success rather than expanding service to places like Wickford Junction.” (Imagine if Providence became Attleboro for MBTA trip times?) Don’t miss the 36 comments – not much love for the Wickford station there – and afterwards read Peter Brassard’s 2012 Pedestrian Observations post suggesting an in-state Rhode Island shuttle service.

7. John Chafee passed away more than a decade ago, but he’s still exerting influence over a new generation of politicians. The latest example is D.C. Republican Patrick Mara, who called Chafee his political idol in a Politico piece about “a renewed effort by a handful of GOP candidates and activists to edge the party into being more competitive in America’s cities.” Mara, a 38-year-old Rhode Island native who worked in Chafee’s U.S. Senate office years ago, mounted an energetic campaign for an at-large D.C. Council seat in an election held this week. (“I realized at a young age the benefits of divided government,” Mara told a local blog in 2011. “Rhode Island only had six GOP members of the state legislature. This caused a serious case of group think.”) Alas, Mara came in third despite an endorsement from The Washington Post and campaign support from Chris Christie, to the distress of local Republicans.

8. David Cicilline is a trendsetter in Rhode Island’s congressional delegation. After Cicilline got some attention for his heavily co-sponsored House resolution opposing President Obama on “chained CPI,” Sheldon Whitehouse decided to take a page out of his colleague’s playbook and signed onto an anti-chained-CPI resolution introduced in the Senate by Tom Harkin and Bernie Sanders. In fact, Whitehouse wants to give senior citizens more money through Social Security by switching to a new inflation measure specifically for them – although the CBO is somewhat skeptical about the benefit of measuring inflation specifically for the elderly, a so-called “CPI-E.”

9. Could this be the African Century?

10. Health wonks, mark your calendars for Tuesday at 5 p.m.: The Rhode Island Foundation and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island are co-hosting a screening of the documentary “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” at the Providence Place IMAX, followed by a panel discussion featuring BCBSRI CEO Peter Andruszkiewicz, Rhode Island Medical Society President Dr. Alyn Adrain and Lifespan CEO Dr. Tim Babineau, as well as a Neighborhood Health Plan member. Wonder what the three of them thought about Steve Brill’s magnum opus?

11. Congratulations to Barrington native Nancy Dubuc, who got a big promotion this week to become the new CEO of TV giant A&E Networks, parent of cable networks History, Lifetime and A&E. The New York Times called Dubuc “one of the most successful programmers in cable television” and “an executive who had become one of the most sought-after in the television business,” and the Los Angeles Times said the 44-year-old “led History Channel to historic ratings.” For more on Dubuc, check out this 2011 Marie Claire piece. Someone should invite her back to Rhode Island to speak soon.

12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Pawtucket Sen. Donna Nesselbush, Cranston Rep. Art Handy and the Ocean State Current’s Justin Katz discuss same-sex marriage. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Hunt Yachts’ Peter van Lancker and Social Venture Partners Rhode Island’s Kelly Ramirez. 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.

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

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

  1. #6 I don’t see why both can’t be a priority. Instead of looking for the next quick business fix, bring the MBTA into RI in a big way and speed up service. If there aren’t jobs in RI, let’s make it easier for people to get to Boston to work. Let MA residents buy cheaper homes in RI and make the Boston commute.

    Aside from the above economic benefits, we are in a little state with no way to get around. It really doesn’t make sense. Who knows, maybe we would be happier.

    • Well, you see, that’s a perfectly reasonable suggestion but unfortunately, it’d require a solid game plan spanning the next decade and willpower to both stick to the plan and set money aside for the plan – all things that are anathema to Rhode Island residents as well as Rhode Island politicians. Nobody wants to make the hard calls now so that the next politician can take the credit – and even if the hard calls were made, there’s no guarantee that the next Governor or Mayor or Congress won’t pull a Rick Scott and defund a project that would at that time be “shovel-ready,” sending us right back to square one.

      Why get to work now on implementing policies and undertaking projects that will catapult us to the top ten years from now, when we can instead sit on our hands and wait for the miracle quick-fix solution today?

  2. Bob, stay away from metaphors connected to the natural sciences. This is your second gaffe. How in the world can a tick latch on to an artery? Stick to the everyday nonsense you usually spout, you’re better suited to those comments.

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