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 tnesi@wpri.com. For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.

1. Mark your calendars: WPRI 12 and The Providence Journal will release a new exclusive Campaign 2014 poll next week. We asked Democratic primary voters whether they support Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo, Clay Pell or Todd Giroux for governor, whether they back Frank CaprioErnie Almonte or Seth Magaziner for general treasurer, and how they feel about other big issues. We’ll release the first results live on WPRI 12 and WPRI.com Tuesday at 5 p.m. Tune in!

2. This week’s Diversity and Inclusion Professionals gubernatorial forum illustrated how differently the Democratic and Republican primaries are playing out. Democrats Taveras, Raimondo and Pell were relentlessly polite, eschewing attacks and accentuating the positive. Most of their comments were, to be honest, pretty bland. Meanwhile over at the next table, Republicans Allan Fung and Ken Block took repeated shots at each other, with Block particularly aggressive in his criticisms of Fung. The Cranston mayor’s campaign is clearly having to work harder for the nomination than they expected, and their early TV debut and growing use of GOP surrogates is evidence of how serious the threat from Block is. Their debate June 17 should be feisty. As for the Democrats, there’s no way their race is going to stay as sedate as it looked at the forum. Taveras has a target on his back as the frontrunner; Raimondo has plenty of money but plenty of baggage; and Pell needs to shake things up if he wants to lap the other two. The Rhode Island Association of Democratic City and Town Chairs’ inability to reach consensus and endorse one of the three Thursday night is another reminder their party’s nod really is up for grabs. Watch for Pell to join Raimondo on the airwaves before long, increasing the pressure on Taveras to match them both – though his campaign has to be careful with its more limited financial resources.

3. Should Rhode Islanders vote to call a constitutional convention this November? Fung and Block say yes; Taveras, Raimondo and Pell all say no. The proponents argue state government needs major systemic reforms, such as a line-item veto for the governor; the opponents argue a convention would jeopardize the civil rights of minority groups. Despite the partisan divide between the gubernatorial candidates, though, the split on a con-con isn’t simply a left/right one: the Rhode Island Tea Party is opposed, too.

4. Kim Kalunian reports Rhode Island’s Democratic and Republican parties are gearing up to make their endorsements for governor by late June; the choice is up to 244 Democratic State Committee members and 267 Republican State Central Committee members. Do their endorsements matter? The conventional wisdom says not nearly as much as it once did. Still, in a tight race any advantage is worth having. The Democratic endorsement should be especially interesting. It’s long been seen as the House speaker’s choice, but this year there are complicating factors. For one thing, though Nick Mattiello is now the speaker, the State Committee’s members were picked under Gordon Fox. For another, as a smart operative reminded me, the Democratic State Committee used to have an executive committee that met privately and emerged with a recommended endorsement that the full group would usually ratify; that’s no longer the case, so the speaker can no longer channel his influence through the smaller group behind the scenes.

5. The National Education Association Rhode Island is all-in for Clay Pell, but what about the state’s other big teachers’ union? “I am not sure what we’re going to do about the governor’s race,” Jim Parisi, a top official at the state’s American Federation of Teachers chapter, said on this week’s Newsmakers. The AFT interviewed candidates this week, but Parisi says the union probably won’t decide on endorsements until late June at the earliest. He made clear, though, the AFT isn’t sold on Pell. “I don’t know that anyone has the inside track right now,” Parisi said. “He’s certainly a strong candidate who has a story to tell about public education, but there are a lot of other considerations that we need to look at in terms of candidates and their viability and their track record.” It’s possible the AFT will back Angel Taveras despite his infamous 2011 teacher terminations, as the mayor has steadily improved his relationship with the city’s AFT local. Adding to the intrigue, Taveras is currently negotiating a new contract with the union. A Raimondo endorsement seems highly unlikely, though Parisi cautioned to “never say never in the world of politics.”

6. Fellow Millennials, don’t keep so much of your money in cash! Try a target-date fund or something.

7. If you want to to read something really scary, check out Michael Strain’s Washington Post column explaining how robot workers could rip apart America’s social fabric. “We are a long way from the Luddite riots of 19th century England, when protesters smashed the trappings of progress,” he writes. “But worries about the rise of the machines are still with us, and for good reason. Will the machines take our good-paying jobs?” Strain’s piece is a relevant read for Rhode Island. Since William McLoughlin chronicled the state’s economic woes back in 1978, Rhode Island has had low unemployment three times: in the second half of the 1980s, the late 1990s, and the mid-2000s. The late ’90s were boom times nationally, while the other two full-employment moments were during real estate booms (soon followed by financial crises). At the same time, the state’s manufacturing base faced more risk from the rise of China than almost any other in the U.S. Short of another construction boom, how is Rhode Island going to generate middle-skill jobs in the coming years?

8. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “With so much attention being paid to the governor’s race and the raid on the State House, it’s easy to forget how much influence the state’s teachers’ unions continue to have on Smith Hill. The bill that would delay the use of standardized testing probably won’t move in the House – thanks solely to Speaker Mattiello – but as Rhode Island Association of School Committees executive director Tim Duffy asserted on this week’s Newsmakers, the bill that limits the use of teacher evaluations for nearly every teacher in the state is the real win for the union. That bill, which was approved 68-3 in the House and is likely to win overwhelming support in the labor-friendly Senate, would end yearly evaluations for all teacher deemed ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective.’ For context, last year 95% of teachers earned that rating; although both the R.I. Department of Education and two-thirds of school principals disagreed with the results. The bill has Education Commissioner Deborah Gist up in arms. ‘Just stopping something and saying ‘we’re not going to do something anymore’ or making it a debate about ‘do we do something or not do something’ instead of ‘how do we do it well’ I think is where I would be really concerned as a state if we start to turn around from some of the progress we have made,’ Gist told WPRI.com in an interview. Gist has had a long-running battle with the unions since coming to Rhode Island in 2009 on everything from evaluations to NECAP to Race to the Top and it appears this year, the teachers have scored a victory.”

9. Grantland TV critic Andy Greenwald is hopeful about “The McCarthys,” a new CBS sitcom set in Boston that’s premiering this fall. On a second viewing of the preview, Greenwald reports that “the gentle jokes about moving to Providence, of all places, begin to go down easy.” Of all places!

10. Greencore USA CEO Liam McClennon dissents from the widely shared view that Rhode Island is a bad place to do business. His Ireland-based company is the world’s largest sandwich-maker, and it’s currently building its new $40-million flagship factory at Quonset Business Park. “It was an easy choice in the end,” McClennon said on this week’s Executive Suite. “Quonset just kept coming out on top – whatever way you looked at it, whatever way you cut and diced the data, Quonset was just the right place.” Along with Quonset’s location between Boston and New York, McClennon said a major factor in its favor was the park’s vaunted Site-Readiness program that lets businesses quickly start building after picking a parcel. “I certainly think that Rhode Island is a very business-friendly state from my perspective,” he said, adding: “It definitely felt like one of the more easy places to work, and we work in several states in the U.S., so we have some good context for Rhode Island in and amongst its kind of peer group of other states looking to encourage inward investment.” All that will be music to the ears of Rhode Island policymakers, though it also highlights two problems – Quonset is running out of room, and its streamlined regulatory process hasn’t been replicated statewide.

11. Speaking of Greencore, a recent Financial Times article reported: “The London-listed Dublin-based group is investigating $35m in a new sandwich factory in Rhode Island, New England, to capitalize on US like-for-like sales growth of 25% in the six months to March 28.” Apparently we’re a province or something.

12. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the Rhode Island Association of Democratic City and Town Chairs endorsed Ralph MollisGuillaume De Ramel and Frank Caprio (but no one for governor) … the Providence Democratic City Committee and the Westerly Democratic Town Committee endorsed Angel Taveras … the East Greenwich, Exeter and North Providence Republican Town Committees endorsed Allan FungPatrick Kennedy endorsed Guillaume De Ramel … the Women’s Campaign Fund endorsed Nellie Gorbea and named Gayle Goldin a “Game Changer” … the Coventry and Westerly Democratic Town Committees endorsed Frank Caprio … and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 17 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: Michael Corso told Tim White he didn’t do anything wrong on 38 Studios … HealthSource RI’s budget request changed yet again, and the congressional delegation is mostly avoiding the fightKen Block attacked Allan Fung for his lobbying on flood insurance … Josh Brumberger, one of Gina Raimondo’s top aides, is leaving for the private sector … and Angel Taveras wants a study on a $15 minimum wage for hotel workers.

14. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersTim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, and Jim Parisi, field representative at the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Greencore USA CEO Liam McClennon. 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 ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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