1. When are the gloves going to come off in the Democratic primary for governor? With less than three months to go, soft support for the frontrunner and 22% of voters undecided, it’s hard to believe the campaign will stay as polite as it looked at our WPRI 12/Providence Journal debate Tuesday night. It’s widely assumed Gina Raimondo will be the first to go negative on TV – she has the money, she’s running a close second, and Providence offers plenty of fodder for her to criticize Angel Taveras (fairly or otherwise). There are risks, though. Campaign pros say negative ads can be very effective despite voters’ dislike of them. But if Raimondo and Taveras get into a bruising battle, it could make some disenchanted voters take a closer look at Clay Pell – who went on the air Friday with a positive spot. As the debate showed, there are very few policy differences between the three candidates, especially Taveras and Raimondo; they’re going to have to find somewhere to disagree.
2. If Gina Raimondo wants a lesson in the promise and peril of negative advertising, she should look across the aisle to the Allan Fung campaign. His “Blockheads” ad attacking Ken Block got people’s attention, driving home his relentless message that Block is a squish who voted for Barack Obama. (“Twice!”) But the use of a phrase like “blockheads” has opened Fung up to criticism that he’s insulting primary voters, and the ad’s slippery phrasing about Block and Obamacare earned him a “Pants on Fire” from PolitiFact – not exactly the kind of free media you want. You only need to look at Eric Cantor’s shock loss in Virginia to see how an attack ad can backfire on an establishment candidate if it raises the profile of his opponent (and if it doesn’t pass the smell test, as in Cantor’s case); but if it works, Fung’s team will end up looking smart. Fung and Block are set for their first TV debate Tuesday night at 7 on WPRI 12, and as Scott MacKay puts it: “There may be more teeth on the floor at WPRI than at the ESPN fisticuffs.” Whatever happens Tuesday, the idea that Fung will be able to wait in the wings as the positive candidate while the Democrats drive up each others’ negatives has gone out the window.
3. Whichever one of those five candidates becomes Rhode Island’s next governor is going to have an enormous financial challenge on his or her hands. For all the praise lavished on the House budget, which passed overwhelmingly early Friday (even the GOP’s Joe Trillo voted for it), the nearly $8.8-billion tax-and-spending plan actually makes the state’s near-term deficit problems even worse. The AP’s Erika Niedowski reports annual deficits will climb from $137 million to $435 million during the next governor’s term; the Rhode Island Association of School Committees’ Tim Duffy argues the state is facing its very own “fiscal cliff.” True, big deficits were already baked into the cake due to autopilot spending increases and competition from new Massachusetts casinos, but the new budget’s tax cuts and transportation funding have just added more red ink. Yet out on the campaign trail, candidates are proposing policies that would make the shortfalls even bigger. The next few years ain’t gonna be pretty.
4. Thursday’s budget debate was a classic example of the odd ideology of Rhode Island’s parliamentary Democratic Party. House Majority Leader John DeSimone didn’t sound like a Democrat as he moved to block municipal minimum wages because they go “against just about every economic principle that there is,” or pushed for a lower estate tax by arguing it will pay for itself over the long term, or delivered a Moody’s warning without a hint of post-Lehman umbrage – and won super-majority support for all his proposals. The minimum wage move, in particular, drew criticism not only from RI Future but from national lefty publications like The Huffington Post and The Nation. The latter’s Sam Adler-Bell wrote that “supporters of the wage ordinance will be watching closely to see who is willing to defy the speaker” – the 17 House Democrats who did so were Edie Ajello, Joe Almeida, David Bennett, Chris Blazejewski, Maria Cimini, Grace Diaz, Spencer Dickinson, Frank Ferri, Linda Finn, Ray Hull, John Lombardi, Jim McLaughlin, Thomas Palangio, Scott Slater, Teresa Tanzi, Donna Walsh and Anastasia Williams.
5. A loyal Saturday Morning Post reader has an idea for how Rhode Island can deal with the coming reduction in revenue from Twin River: distributed gaming. As Global Gaming Business Magazine explains, distributed gaming involves setting up video-lottery terminals like the ones at Twin River at non-casino establishments such as bars, restaurants and T.F. Green Airport. Instead of just trying to draw people to gamble at Twin River, you can bring gambling to where people already are. Lots of people are squeamish about the state government’s reliance on gambling revenue, but to the extent that ship has sailed, policymakers should start thinking about alternatives to destination venues.
6. Rep. Elaine Coderre, the Pawtucket Democrat who is the longest-serving member of the House, may not seek another term this fall. During a break in Thursday’s marathon budget debate, Coderre told me she is “making a decision as we speak” about whether to run, ahead of the filing deadline later this month. Coderre was first elected in 1984. Another Pawtucket Dem, Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill, told me he does plan to run again.
7. Congratulations to the terrific Ethan Shorey on his new gig as The Valley Breeze’s online editor!
8. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “As the candidates for Providence mayor begin to consider their ad-buying strategies for the summer, they might want to ask Mayor Steve Costantino how spending a ton on television worked out for him in 2010. That said, the four serious Democrats in the race have struggled to separate themselves from one another so far, in part because three of them – Michael Solomon, Brett Smiley and Jorge Elorza – are all supporters of Angel Taveras, while the fourth – Lorne Adrain – is hardly a critic of the city’s current leader. The commercials released this week by Solomon and Smiley at least begin to show how they hope to define themselves this summer, with the council president attempting to capitalize on Taveras’s high favorability numbers and Smiley pitching himself as the policy wonk with a plan for everything. Solomon’s decision to go on air came as no surprise considering his massive financial advantage over the rest of the field – he hired AKPD Message and Media for a reason. On the other hand, Smiley surprised some of his opponents by spending a substantial amount of his cash on hand to make an ad that features his husband, which is now getting attention from all kinds of national media – particularly in LGBTQ circles. The benefits there could be twofold: Smiley needs a large bloc of East Side liberals and West End hipsters to win the race and the ad appeals to those crowds. At the same time, national same-sex marriage groups could help Smiley raise enough to cash to compete with Solomon’s war chest as well as former Mayor Buddy Cianci, who sounds like a mayoral candidate every afternoon on his WPRO radio show. As for the other Democrats in the race, Adrain and Elorza haven’t yet announced plans to go on air, but Solomon and Smiley may have just forced their hand.”
9. Brown’s Taubman Center for Public Policy, which handles the university’s much-criticized polling, is getting a new leader: Professor Jim Morone will take over from Marion Orr next month. “Please join me in offering our sincere gratitude for Marion Orr’s great work as Director over the last several years,” Kevin McLaughlin, Brown’s dean of faculty, wrote in a brief email to colleagues announcing the change. “Marion has been a great advocate for the program and he has represented the Taubman Center honorably and effectively.”
10. John McCain’s visit to Rhode Island this week to speak at the Naval War College offered new evidence of his warm relationship with Sheldon Whitehouse, who invited him here. McCain began by praising Rhode Island’s senior senator: “As you know, I am a proud and committed Republican. I must say that Rhode Island is well-represented, with Senator Jack Reed – despite his education handicap.” (McCain’s a Navy man, of course.) The jokes continued when McCain turned to Whitehouse. “Sheldon and I have had some wonderful shared experiences,” McCain said. “He is committed to the United States of America, and his service and his family’s service is also remarkable.” Then the punchline: “And how I ever became friends with a socialist I will never know.” Yet the friendship between the conservative from Arizona and the liberal from Rhode Island shouldn’t be too shocking. Just last year, McCain reminisced to The New Yorker about his “wonderful relationship” with the late Ted Kennedy, his partner on immigration and other issues.
11. The New York Times argues Vermont’s Republican Party is in even worse shape than Rhode Island’s or Massachusetts’. But I bet House Minority Leader Brian Newberry would be glad to have his party control 22 House seats, comparable to the number his Vermont counterparts do, instead of six.
12. Woonsocket’s CVS Caremark is now #12 on the Fortune 500. The only U.S. public companies with more revenue than the Rhode Island-based pharmacy giant are Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, Phillips 66, GM, Ford, GE, Valero Energy and AT&T.
13. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the Central Falls Democratic City Committee endorsed Angel Taveras, Ralph Mollis, Nellie Gorbea and Frank Caprio … the Narragansett Democratic Town Committee endorsed Gina Raimondo, Ralph Mollis, Guillaume De Ramel and Seth Magaziner … the Newport and Warwick Republican City Committees endorsed Allan Fung … the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District 11 endorsed Guillaume De Ramel and Seth Magaziner … the International Brotherhood of Police Officers endorsed Guillaume De Ramel … the East Greenwich Democratic Town Committee endorsed Nellie Gorbea … Elizabeth Roberts endorsed Seth Magaziner … and Providence’s Ward 8 and Ward 15 Democratic City Committees 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: the Democrats running for governor debated – watch the full video, read McGowan’s recap and check out my five takeaways … Rhode Island’s budget has grown by $1 billion in the last two years … Urbanophile.com’s Aaron Renn labeled Rhode Island “the nation’s basket case” … and nearly one in three Rhode Island schools need improvement plans.
15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – an encore showing of Tuesday night’s Democratic gubernatorial primary debate. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – an encore interview with Marc Crisafulli of Hinckley Allen. 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.