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. The last time a Republican who wasn’t named Chafee won a Rhode Island U.S. Senate seat was in 1930, when Jesse Metcalf beat Peter Gerry. That bit of history illustrates just what an uphill battle erstwhile Jack Reed challenger Ray McKay would face this November – even if his employer, Warwick City Hall, weren’t trying to bar him from running, and even if his opponent, Reed, hadn’t been given 99% odds of victory by Nate Silver and The New York Times. (Reed refused to weigh in on McKay’s legal battle during an interview on this week’s Newsmakers.) True, Reed is a uniquely well-liked politician. But even his more partisan colleague Sheldon Whitehouse managed to pull off a 30-point landslide in 2012. So what made John Chafee different from just about every other local Republican who’s run for Senate over the last 84 years? Among other things, he built trust with the state’s heavily Democratic electorate by serving as governor first and establishing a reputation independent of his party’s. By 1976 he was a known quantity, not a generic Republican; he also got his start as a three-term state lawmaker. That said, even John Chafee might have trouble winning an open federal seat in Rhode Island today, with the congressional parties so clearly sorted by ideology. But Republican hopefuls still might be well-served by his model of starting out farther down the ballot and winning their way up.

2. As for Jesse Metcalf, he lost his seat to legendary Democrat T.F. Green in 1936; Peter Gerry, who’d previously been a senator from 1917 to 1923, made a comeback to win two more terms in 1934 and 1940.

3. How much will Gina Raimondo’s money matter? Aides say the treasurer’s campaign will report roughly $3.3 million on hand next week, while rival Angel Taveras will report about $1.35 million; Clay Pell will probably come in around $2 million. To put those numbers in perspective, Frank Caprio – seen at the time as a champion fundraiser – had $1.6 million at the same point in 2010, or only half as much as Raimondo. Anyone who tells you her financial advantage doesn’t matter is wrong – but so is anyone who tells you it ensures she’ll win the race. (Caprio outspent Lincoln Chafee, after all, though only by about $200,000.) While Taveras just had his best fundraising quarter yet, raking in more than $500,000, he’s still likely to finish with significantly less money than his rivals. That’s a tough spot to be in, and the pressure on him will only increase this quarter. Raimondo isn’t building a permanent endowment, though – that $3.3 million needs to be spent, and spent effectively, if she wants to win the primary. How long before one of the three candidates goes up on TV with the first ad of the campaign?

4. I renewed my driver’s license on the R.I. DMV’s website the other day, and was pleasantly surprised by how quick and painless it was – took less than five minutes. Try it out next time yours expires.

5. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s proposal to return to the state’s pre-2013 education governance structure – with separate boards of elementary and secondary education and higher education – was mostly praised by education insiders who’ve long questioned how one board could oversee all facets of the state’s education policies. Still, the plan raises other questions about the future of education in Rhode Island. Fung is calling for his commissioner of education to lead a cabinet made up of the two boards’ members and to report directly to him, a seemingly monumental role for one person to assume; he was noncommittal on whom that commissioner would be. It’s worth noting that Deborah Gist’s current job focuses solely on elementary and secondary education, and the state is currently searching for a commissioner to oversee the state’s three public colleges. Appointing one person to oversee all things education could lead to the same problems the current Board of Education has had. Meanwhile in Providence, Fung’s friend and potential opponent Angel Taveras received a visit this week from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock as the city played host to the final stop on the Mayors For Educational Excellence Tour. The two largely agreed on the key issues that affect urban students, but Hancock made it clear that he believes the ‘testing situation in our nation has exposed how children in our nation have been miseducated.’ Taveras, of course, has railed against the use of NECAP for high-school graduation, but has also said he supports the use of testing for students moving forward.”

6. A great long read: how Billboard builds music charts these days, and why it’s so hard to track R&B.

7. It was a solid week on the campaign trail for policy wonks, with new proposals from Clay Pell, Gina Raimondo, Angel Taveras and Allan Fung on jobs, energy, the environment and education. Another challenge that deserves their attention is the plight of Rhode Island’s nearly 50,000 unemployed. While the candidates talk a lot about the economy, the problems facing out-of-work Rhode Islanders aren’t necessarily the same as the ones facing the broader state economy. Improving K-12 education, for instance, won’t do much for a 45-year-old whose factory closed in 2009. Who are these people? How many of them are long-term unemployed? What sorts of skills do they have, and what is the likelihood Rhode Island’s economy is going to create jobs that fit them? Can they be retrained? And how many more are out there when you include those who’ve dropped out of the labor force after giving up?

8. Speaking of the economy, a loyal Saturday Morning Post reader passed along this Boston Globe article announcing UMass Lowell’s new $7.8-million Innovation Hub will open this fall. In this reader’s view, Rhode Island talks a lot about creating an innovation economy, but rarely follows through with the resources to make it a reality (and sometimes screws up when it does). Or as Thomas Edison supposedly put it, “Vision without execution is just hallucination.”

9. Gauti Eggertsson, a rising star in the Brown University economics department, and his College Hill colleague Neil Mehrota are making waves with a new paper on the theory that “a permanent (or very persistent) slump is possible without any self-correcting force to full employment” – a theory better known as secular stagnation, and one lately being talked up by Larry Summers among others. Former PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian called the Brown paper “thoughtful and detailed” in a Bloomberg post, and said more research on the topic is needed. For more from Eggertsson, check out his appearance on Executive Suite with me last fall.

10. So much for “Move Your Money.” Bank of America Rhode Island President Bill Hatfield says the megabank, which has the second-most deposits in the state after Citizens, is actually “in growth mode” locally. “Candidly, we have resources that many other institutions don’t have and, candidly too, we are local,” Hatfield said on this week’s Executive Suite. “We are a national bank, but we are local; I’ve been in this community for 33 years.” The bank chief, who is also a top regional executive for BofA wealth-management arm U.S. Trust, said its Rhode Island loan growth topped 10% over the past year, and deposits are on the rise too – all of which has the bank planning to add up to 350 jobs in East Providence and Lincoln this year. “It also points to some underlying growth in the Rhode Island economy,” Hatfield said. “I know we’ve been struggling relative to other states, but the evidence that we see – when we look at underlying transaction levels, loan demand, deposit growth – points to something that is healthier.”

11. The average temperature in Rhode Island has risen by 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit every 10 years since the first Earth Day in 1970, according to Climate Central; only 10 states are warming up faster.

12. Thinking of running for office this year? Then you should stop by Operation Clean Government’s annual candidate school today at Rhode Island College – I’ll be there along with a host of others.

13. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the North Kingstown Democratic Town Committee endorsed Angel Taveras and Ernie Almonte … the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee endorsed Clay Pell and Seth Magaziner … the Narragansett Republican Town Committee endorsed Allan Fung … the Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local Union No. 17 and the United Steelworkers Local 12431 endorsed Gina Raimondo … the Ironworkers Union Local 37 endorsed Guillaume De Ramel and Seth Magaziner (and previously backed Raimondo) … and the Ward 10 Democratic City Committee endorsed Michael Solomon.

14. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the other items we published this week: a Gallup poll found Rhode Islanders the least proud of their state … Moody’s warned about the huge financial uncertainty surrounding pensions … three charts that show how construction has collapsed in Rhode IslandGordon Fox put his East Side home up for sale … the Providence mayoral candidates squared off about education … and how one robber wielded a potato as a weapon.

15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Bank of America Rhode Island President Bill Hatfield. 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

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

  1. RE #7
    A two pronged approach is necessary:
    1) Infrastructure investment will put people to work immediately rebuilding our roads and schools, making public buildings more energy efficient (and less expensive to maintain) as well technologically up to date. These improvements lead hand in hand into…
    2)Education and VoTech to provide skills needed in a new economy, which can only be achieved with updated physical resources.

  2. Paul, the problem with educating for the new economy, is that no one knows what the new economy will be. Giving kids a traditional education, including the liberal arts, math, science, and the arts, educates the whole child, giving him or her the ability to think, question, evaluate, analysis, and find joy in learning. This has served western civilization for thousands of years. Everything we are has been predicated by this type of education. It’s foolish and counterintuitive to try to design education to match some unknown future economy. Kids aren’t widgets, and they can’t have learning plugged in to match an economy. They are human beings who will create the unknowable, unforeseen future, through their imaginations. If we treat them as workers and wage slaves, and gear our educational system to supply corporate America. We won’t like the results.

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