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. It’s looking increasingly likely that Rhode Island will raise its minimum wage again before long, perhaps up to $10.10 an hour, as the issue gets talked up locally by Democratic gubernatorial candidates and nationally by a host of liberal politicians. But what if they focused instead on easing Rhode Island’s housing regulations to allow more building? That idea comes from National Review’s Reihan Salam. He notes that making it cheaper to pay the rent or a mortgage lifts the living standards of the lower-paid, too, and unlike a minimum wage hike it doesn’t have the potential to reduce employment – though it could upset current residents who don’t want their neighborhoods to grow. Salam writes: “It turns out that for affluent liberal voters living in picturesque cities, it is cheap to back minimum wage hikes that might reduce employment levels for the less-skilled or raise prices for the kind of people who frequent quick-service restaurants and other establishments that employ low-wage workers while it is very dear to back policies that will increase housing supply.” Of course, this isn’t necessarily an either/or proposal – Rhode Island can encourage more residential construction regardless of the minimum wage. But it’s a reminder that just as raising wages can improve living standards, so can lowering prices.

2. Tim White and I have a new investigation into the 38 Studios deal coming Monday at 11 p.m. It’s already making waves, even before we’ve aired it. Watch the preview and tune in Monday night.

3. Seth Magaziner is trying to thread an interesting needle in the Democratic primary for general treasurer. On the one hand, he’s casting himself as the progressive in the race by highlighting his support for marriage equality, his endorsements from a number of unions and his status as a millennial. On the other hand, he’s a finance professional who briefly worked for Gina Raimondo’s old firm Point Judith Capital, who agrees with many of her policy decisions, and who has the backing of some of her allies in the local business community, including Paul Choquette and Jon Duffy. That leaves an opening for one of Magaziner’s two opponents – Frank Caprio or Ernie Almonte – to cast themselves as the anti-Raimondo choice for any voters who are still seething about the incumbent’s role in the pension overhaul. Magaziner indicated on this week’s Newsmakers that he’ll try to convince those voters he’d be the most responsible steward of the pension assets they’re relying on – and he quickly lumped together his opponents as two blasts from a discredited past. “If we are going to get back on track,” Magaziner said, “we need to have the courage to make a clean break with the old ways that got us into this mess, and elect leaders who are going to bring new energy, new ideas, to the State House.”

4. Treasurer is also the down-ballot primary race where the candidates are closest to financial parity: Almonte is in the lead with $253,000 on hand, Magaziner is in second with $233,000, and Caprio is in third with $219,000. In the lieutenant governor race, Dan McKee has $202,000 on hand, more than three times as much as Ralph Mollis, who has $59,000. And in the race for secretary of state, Guillaume De Ramel has $586,000 while Neillie Gorbea has $187,000. They’d better keep fundraising, because when I asked WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming how these largely unknown individuals are supposed to build name recognition, he said: “It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be very hard.” For one thing, he said, the down-ballot candidates will need to buy TV ads to build their profiles down the stretch, but the local airwaves will already be jammed with spots from expensive gubernatorial primaries in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. For another, turnout in the Democratic primary is likely to be higher than usual due to the heavily contested race at the top of the ticket, “so you can’t just zero in on normal Democratic primary voters – you’ve got to expand your base.” Fleming said it could also make a difference which candidates secure the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s endorsement: “The party endorsement doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as it used to at all, but if people are going down the ballot and they don’t know who the candidates are, that could help some.”

5. Allan Fung and Ken Block are squaring off for governor, and Dawson Hodgson is in for attorney general. But are any viable Republicans going to run for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, or treasurer?

6. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan: “Democratic gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell unveiled an ambitious – and expensive – education plan this week that centers around providing free tuition to some Community College of Rhode Island students and freezing tuition at all of the state’s public colleges. But while his opponents will likely criticize the expected $28.8 million annual price tag for his entire proposal, it’s worth noting how deep Rhode Island has cut funding to higher education since 2008. A new study from the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows per-student funding for college students in Rhode Island was slashed 23.1% between 2008 and the current fiscal year, forcing tuition rates to soar. We’re not alone. Rhode Island is one of 37 states that have seen at least a 20% cut in per-student funding – and that includes a $6 million increase that was approved by lawmakers last year. ‘Unfortunately, since the start of this recession Rhode Island, like most other states, has significantly reduced spending on higher education,’ Board of Education Chairwoman Eva-Marie Mancuso told ‘The good news is that in the past few years the governor and the General Assembly have worked to reverse this trend and we are now seeing increased investments.’ For the current fiscal year, the state is providing $153.7 million to its colleges. Pell’s plan would require a substantial bump in state funding, but the 32-year-old former deputy assistant secretary for international and foreign language education at the U.S. Department of Education said, ‘We will fund this because it is a priority.’”

7. Congratulations to the great Felice Freyer, a terrific health reporter, who is leaving The Providence Journal for a new gig at The Boston Globe. Freyer has been supportive and helpful to a number of young journalists, including me, and her departure is a loss for Rhode Island; check out her overdose series to see why.

8. Speaking of The Journal, the paper made news a few times this week. First, an A.H. Belo executive expressed confidence about the sale of the paper, saying the process is roughly at the midpoint; it’s unclear whether the most likely buyer at this point is a local ownership group or a big chain like Gannett or Gatehouse. Then came Wednesday’s new earnings report, which showed a 2.7% uptick in revenue at The Journal in the first three months of 2014 compared with a year earlier. That’s unambiguously good news in and of itself, but another set of numbers that come out Thursday offered cause for concern: Journal circulation dropped another 12% over the past year, to only about 97,000 copies on Sundays and 72,000 during the week. Most of the paper’s revenue growth is coming from The Journal’s printing plant and its contracts to put out other newspapers, not the legacy publication itself – despite a 19% hike in the price of home delivery in recent months. Would-be Projo owners are going to have to take a close look at how much capacity is left to add additional printing contracts.

9. As previewed in this space last week, Gina Raimondo continues to hold a big financial advantage over her two opponents in the Democratic primary for governor. Raimondo had $3.4 million on hand as of March 31, while Clay Pell had $2 million and Angel Taveras had $1.4 million. Pell actually spent the most money of the three in the first quarter, shelling out $311,000, compared with Raimondo’s $265,000 and Taveras’s $152,000. Raimondo’s long list of donors included a number of famous names: Eli Broad, Dan Doctoroff, Joel Klein, Orin Kramer, Mack McLarty, Gavin Newsom, William Oberndorf, Mark Penn, Peter Peterson, Anna Quindlen, Sheryl Sandberg, and Meredith Whitney. Not to be outdone, Pell’s campaign noted his donors included David BorenTom DaschleColbie CaillatJeffrey Katzenberg and Janet Robinson. The Taveras list was a less star-studded group, but he did get a contribution from David Cole, the Georgetown Law professor known for his writings on civil liberties.

10. Mark your calendars: WPRI 12 and The Providence Journal will host the first two televised gubernatorial debates next month. Democrats Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell will debate on Tuesday, June 10; Republicans Allan Fung and Ken Block will debate the following Tuesday, June 17. Both debates will air live from PPAC.

11. I joined Rhode Island PBS for this week’s edition of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Maureen Moakley, Kate Nagle and Dave Layman. 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.

12. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the East Providence Democratic City Committee endorsed Clay PellRalph Mollis, Guillaume De Ramel, and Ernie Almonte … the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee endorsed Gina RaimondoRalph Mollis and Nellie Gorbea … the Pawtucket Democratic City Committee endorsed Angel Taveras and Ralph Mollis … the Woonsocket Republican City Committee and the Burrillville and Foster Republican Town Committees all endorsed Allan Fung … the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 328 endorsed Angel Taveras and Seth Magaziner … the chairmen of the Barrington and Burrillville Republican Town Committees endorsed Ken Block … Central Falls Mayor James Diossa endorsed Dan McKee … the United Steel Workers Local 12431 endorsed Nellie Gorbea … 20 Providence elected officials including Sen. Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Grace Diaz endorsed Frank Caprio … and 25 Rhode Island business leaders endorsed Seth Magaziner.

13. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the other items we published this week: HealthSource RI says 91% of enrollees paid their first Obamacare premiums … Rhode Island taxpayers are facing a $52-million bill for soaring Medicaid enrollment … spurned Landmark buyer Steward is suing Blue Cross for antitrust violations … Angel Taveras unveiled his final Providence budget … a bill to ditch the NECAP requirement is on the fast track … and Gordon Fox returned to the State House.

14. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersLorne Adrain, Democratic candidate for Providence mayor; Seth Magaziner, Democratic candidate for general treasurer. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Sylvia Maxfield, dean of Providence College School of Business; Neil Amper, vice president of Capstone Properties. 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. In order:

    1. The housing issue must address environmental and infrastructure issues to be informed. Build where? Turning farmland into McMansions may not be our best option. In-fill in urban areas? Better, but that means more water use, more electrical demand and probably more non-porous surfaces. Plus, housing takes time; raising the minimum wage will have an immediate impact.

    8. Amazing that neither this piece nor Ian D’s roundup includes Tuesday’s bizarre Projo Op-Ed by Mr. Baar. Talk about this raged all week among my people — move the undesirables (RIPTA) to the fringe, close all the bars to rid ourselves of drug-infected mobs and, our favorite, build an underwater parking garage at KP. It was a special brand of crazy and worthy of note. I thought it smelled like a political feeler, and now Buddy is “leaning toward running” for PVD Mayor. At least we’ll have plenty of laughs!

    12. So sad that the gubernatorial primary race is reduced to a celebrification of donors.

  2. Clay Pell will do just find in the coming months. For the reasonable voter who will evaluate his message. The zany voter who cares. Stay with Sesame Street/hate radio. Make up a name for a candidate, you might just get rewarded and earn a pair of Pawsoxs tickets for your IQ.

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