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

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.

1. Late-breaking news out of Governor Chafee’s office. In a quintessential “Friday afternoon news dump” – the statement landed in my inbox at 4:14 p.m. – Chafee announced he’s replaced spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger with Faye Zuckerman, a former longtime Projo reporter who’s been working in his office since the departure of Christian Varieka. Hunsinger – whom the statement said is leaving “to pursue other opportunities” – has always been a straight-shooter in my experiences dealing with her, and I wish her all the best.

2. If you want to track the State House education of Lincoln Chafee, look no further than his four budgets. The first, presented shortly after his inauguration in 2011, was a bold call for sweeping changes to the state’s tax system that went down in flames; the last, presented this week, is a cautious document that mostly maintains the status quo. As such, opinions about the new budget aren’t so much a comment on the specifics of his proposal as they are a reflection of how people feel about the size and priorities of Rhode Island’s modern-day state government. Voters haven’t exactly been rallying to those who’d overturn the current arrangements: it was only 14 months ago that Democrats captured 101 of 113 Assembly seats. As long as the electorate sends a similar message to the General Assembly at the polls this November, there’s little reason to think the great ship of state will turn in a strikingly different direction come 2015. Meanwhile, one of the best analyses out there are the four charts put together by Anchor Rising’s Andrew Morse, which look at the size of the budget in both nominal and real dollars. One of Morse’s most striking findings is that once you adjust for inflation, state-government spending in Rhode Island has been basically flat during the Chafee administration following an increase of roughly $3 billion during the Carcieri and Almond years. But while overall state spending has been flat, where it comes from has changed significantly: the federal share has dropped since the stimulus ended, leaving state taxpayers to make up the difference.

3. As teased in this space last week, WPRI 12 is launching a new nightly newscast that will air at 6:30 p.m. on Fox Providence, anchored by Shannon Hegy and Steve Nielsen. It will be Southern New England’s first local TV news show at 6:30, which is partly a response to people’s changing lifestyles; many people aren’t home in time for the 6:00 news anymore. The show premieres Monday, Jan. 27 – tune in!

4. Clay Pell, hitherto the Greta Garbo of Rhode Island politics, dipped his toe a bit further into the waters of public life Thursday with two select interviews. (Your humble correspondent was not granted an audience.) The Q&As came as Pell prepares to launch his campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, an announcement that may come Jan. 27 or Jan. 28. (One good reason to get it done then – starting Feb. 7 Pell’s wife Michelle Kwan will be busy covering the Sochi Olympics for Fox Sports.) The 32-year-old kept things vague in his 10-minute interview with RIPR’s Ian Donnis, pledging to develop “a strategic and comprehensive approach that leverages all elements of state government to move this state forward.”

5. First-term state Sen. Gayle Goldin will have an opponent in the Democratic primary on Providence’s East Side. Chris Wall, a former TV reporter who is now a Realtor with Residential Properties, has filed paperwork to challenge Goldin in District 3 come September. Wall may seek to capitalize on lingering resentment over Rhoda Perry’s 2012 handoff to Goldin, a liberal voice in the upper chamber. The race could also be seen as a proxy battle between the two Democrats who’ll square off higher up the ballot, since Goldin is a longtime Angel Taveras supporter while Wall is backing Gina Raimondo. Wall, who’s lived on the East Side since 1997, told me he’s “received a very positive response to my core message of working to improve the quality of life for middle class East Siders. My campaign will be focused on improving our economy and creating jobs, continuing and expanding the progress we have seen in our public schools, bringing our infrastructure into the 21st century and making sure our streets and neighborhoods are safe.” He added: “I am pro-marriage equality, pro-choice, pro-wage equity, and pro-gun control.” Let the games begin.

6. One of the surprises in Chafee’s budget was what wasn’t in it: state funding for HealthSource RI, the new Obamacare marketplace. The governor says he’ll ask Washington for permission to stretch out federal startup cash for HealthSource RI, which is supposed to expire on Dec. 31, through June 30, 2015. That sounds reasonable enough if the sums work, but it leaves unanswered a huge question – how is the state going to pay for HealthSource RI once it needs to be self-sufficient? General revenue? A tax on medical claims? An assessment on insurance premiums? “I’m sure it will be one of those or some compilation of those ideas,” Chafee told us on this week’s Newsmakers. “I don’t think it will be anything but what we’ve already started to talk about.” Don’t look to him to decide, though. “I think the candidates for governor should be talking about how they’ll pay for it, and that should be part of the dialogue that we’re going to have in the next coming year,” he said. Chafee’s critics will say – perhaps rightly – that it’s the height of irresponsibility to set up a new bureaucracy with no plan to pay for it, especially with HealthSource’s Christine Ferguson pegging the bill at up to $20 million a year. But a more charitable interpretation is possible. First off, the governor himself doesn’t sound convinced Ferguson should need that much. “I think it’s high also, and as we get more success with it, I think it will go down,” Chafee said, adding: “I’d like to have it lower.” As an executive, he also values giving his successor maximum flexibility. “The candidates for governor should be weighing in, saying, ‘This is what I’ll do if I’m elected,'” Chafee said. “That’s the process and that’s the way it should work. Then the people can vote accordingly.”

7. Also on Newsmakers, Chafee dropped a hint about how a pension settlement would work. “It won’t be ’til the fiscal year ’16 budget that we’ll – if there is a settlement and the General Assembly approves that settlement, it will affect the ’16 budget, so it won’t affect this budget that I proposed [Wednesday],” the governor said, noting that the State Retirement Board sets pension contribution rates for the state and municipalities 18 months in advance. He added, smiling: “Everybody’s anxious to see that number.”

8. It’s going to get wicked cold again next week, so you’ll want to follow my colleagues: @PinpointWXTeam.

9. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “The stream of Gina Raimondo endorsements flowing in from the majority of Providence’s Latino elected officials was quite a coup for the newly announced candidate for governor, but for close observers of city politics, it wasn’t a surprise. Angel Taveras was the first Latino elected mayor of the capital city, but he’s clashed with several other Latino lawmakers (both from the City Council and the General Assembly) since 2011. It started when elected officials across the city were flooded with complaints from residents after the city lowered its car tax exemption from $6,000 to $1,000, effectively imposing a tax on every car owner in the city. For many low-income residents who rent apartments, it was the first city tax bill they had ever received. Combine that with gaffes like the Davey Lopes pool closure and the lack of economic development in South Providence, and the picture becomes more clear. But Councilman Luis Aponte – who is in the running to become the city’s first Latino council president if he’s re-elected this year – said that as displeased as he has been with Taveras, he endorsed Raimondo because ‘she’s what the state needs.’ Speaking about his relationship with Taveras, Aponte said: ‘There have been several issues on which we disagreed both politically and on policy. But when you consider decisions about who is going to lead our state, it goes beyond that. I talked with Gina and it was like music to my ears. I like her message.’ Aside from Aponte, Councilors Sabina Matos and Davian Sanchez as well as Reps. Grace Diaz and Anastasia Williams have already backed Raimondo. Councilman Kevin Jackson, who was one of the first elected officials to back Taveras’s bid for mayor, has also endorsed the treasurer for governor.”

10. Here’s a fun new Twitter account you should start following: @OldRhody, which posts historic pictures of Rhode Island. I like this 1945 snapshot of Westminster Street in downtown Providence.

11. The state budget passed in 2012 expanded Rhode Island’s film-and-TV tax credit to include pre- and post-Broadway productions, in a bid to help PPAC compete for national tours with Louisiana, which has a similar policy. A year and a half later, PPAC President “Lynn” Singleton says the tax credit is having its desired effect, as evidenced by the fact that three national tours opened at PPAC so far this season. “It really levels the playing field,” Singleton said on this week’s Executive Suite, arguing that it gives PPAC “a slight competitive advantage” over other cities, including Boston. He also said business is on the upswing at PPAC, with season-ticket subscriptions back above 8,000 after falling to a post-recession low of about 6,500 last year. But even PPAC will be affected by this year’s big race for governor. “We’re going to have this enormous governor’s race,” he said. “They’re going to buy a lot of TV, so I couldn’t get a TV spot if I tried. So I will stay away from [opening a show in] September.”

12. Possibly the most memorable article I read this week was the obituary of Hiroo Onoda, an Imperial Japanese Army soldier who stayed at his jungle outpost in the Philippines fighting the Second World War for 29 years after it ended. Japan surrendered in 1945; he didn’t stand down until 1974!

13. A hearty congratulations to former Boston Phoenix executive editor Peter Kadzis, who this week was named the first senior editor of WGBH News’s website, as the storied Boston public radio-TV giant continues the expansion of its news coverage. Kadzis has a long and fruitful association with Rhode Island by helping to found two key publications, the Providence Business News and the Providence Phoenix; in doing so he provided gainful writing gigs to a number of local journalists including yours truly (thanks to PBN) as well as Ian DonnisDave ScharfenbergPhil Eil and my colleague Dan McGowan (at the Phoenix).

14. Governor Chafee grabbed everyone’s attention by finishing his State of the State with a quote from Taylor Swift. But there’s another local celebrity he could have quoted: DJ Pauly D. Or at least his agent, who told The Brown Daily Herald in 2010: “He loves coming home. His mom is there. All of his toys are there. … His motorbike, everything is there.” Maybe something for the new governor to use in next year’s?

15. When Chafee watches Bill Belichick coach the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship on Sunday, he’ll be watching an old chum. The pair were both members of the Class of 1971 at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Chafee says he, the coach and their significant others went sailing together along Nantucket last summer. “He took the helm, and it was very windy – a lot of water coming over the board,” Chafee said on Newsmakers. “He comes from Annapolis, so he was a good sailor.” But, Chafee added, “We didn’t talk much football. Hernandez was in the news.”

16. Rhode Island PBS was kind enough to include me on the panel for this week’s episode of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Pablo Rodriguez, Ed Achorn and Dave Layman. Topics include Chafee’s budget, the Cranston ticket controversy and the governor’s race. Watch tonight at 7 p.m. on WSBE Learn (Ch. 36.2), Sunday at noon on WSBE-TV (Ch. 36.1) or online at the RI PBS blog.

17. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the items we published this week: Gina Raimondo kicked off her campaign for governor … there was no pension settlement after lawyers met Friday … Chafee introduced his 2014-15 budget … leading lawmakers liked it, others not so much … the candidates for governor weighed in on Chafee’s budget, too … HealthSource RI data showed Blue Cross and older enrollees dominating so far … a study found poor NECAP performance is tied to poor college attendance … Providence finished the 2012-13 fiscal year with a $1.3 million surplus and Sen. Dawson Hodgson kicked off his campaign for attorney general.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Gov. Lincoln Chafee on his budget proposal and his final year in office. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – PPAC President J.L. “Lynn” Singleton on the business side of show business. 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

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

  1. For all the hype of Clay Pell entering the race, that just crashed to the floor with a very loud thud (perhaps his knighted armor in the background?) with that interview. He was awful. Just awful. RI has real problems and needs real leaders with a clue how to run things right now. This kid may have a wife who was a famous figure skater two decades ago, but not the skills to do this job. Shame on him for thinking otherwise. #Hubris.

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