1. The Republican primary for governor between Allan Fung and Ken Block continues to be quite a fight. As Walt Buteau put it after Tuesday’s WPRI 12/Providence Journal debate, the gloves didn’t have to come off during it because they were never on in the first place. Fung once again hammered Block for backing Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012; considering only 6% of Republicans voted for the president two years ago, that certainly makes him an outlier. Yet the former Moderate Party chief has worked to offset his heresy by acting as a relentless – and effective – opponent of top General Assembly Democrats, whom some Republican regulars dislike even more intensely than Obama. Looking ahead, Fung is set up well to win the Rhode Island Republican Party’s endorsement Thursday after being recommended by its Steve Frias-led nominating committee, though that wasn’t enough to secure previous nominations for Jim Bennett or Ron Machtley. Either way, the final decision will be made by a tiny swath of Rhode Island’s 743,000-strong electorate: as Scott MacKay noted after Tuesday’s debate, Don Carcieri defeated Bennett with just 17,227 votes back in 2002.
2. Speaking of Republicans, the party is now set to field competitive candidates for at least three of the five statewide offices. Either Fung or Block is poised to lead the GOP at the top of the ticket, and both could have crossover appeal to some independents and Democrats. Catherine Taylor – a proven vote-getter who nearly defeated Ralph Mollis in 2010 – will kick off her campaign for lieutenant governor Monday at Saul Kaplan’s Business Innovation Factory. (It could easily wind up being a rematch against Mollis.) Dawson Hodgson is running a spirited, if underfunded, campaign for attorney general against incumbent Peter Kilmartin that’s trying to harness voters’ anger over 38 Studios. (Rhode Island State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell didn’t help Hodgson’s cause this week, though.) Also, John Carlevale, who placed fourth in the 1994 Democratic primary for secretary of state, will make another attempt this year on the GOP ticket. That leaves general treasurer as the only office without a known Republican candidate at this time. Over in the General Assembly there’s almost nowhere to go but up for Republicans, who control just 11 of 113 seats in the wake of Obama’s 2012 landslide. GOP Chairman Mark Smiley tells RIPR he expects the party to field at least 40 “viable” candidates in “targeted races that we believe we have a really good shot at winning.” One tough break for most GOP candidates: the Rhode Island Senate kept the master lever in place for this November’s election.
3. Just three months into his tenure as speaker, Nick Mattiello is turning out to be quite a canny politician. The Cranston Democrat’s biggest achievement so far, the 2014-15 budget, delighted the Chamber of Commerce and even won Republican votes by lowering the corporate and estate taxes; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dan DaPonte had been working on corporate tax reform for a long time, but Mattiello got the credit for pushing it through. On the master lever, Mattiello not only passed the bill but did so in a way that ensured he got the credit, while Teresa Paiva Weed and the Senate got the blame for delaying its effective date. The session’s end has seen been a far cry from Gordon Fox’s finale in 2013, with little drama on the House side and even the 38 Studios issue handled deftly (for now). Indeed, the House has looked strikingly united under Mattiello’s leadership, particularly compared with how it looked at the height of the campaign for speaker in mid-March. Outside the chamber, he’s managed to convince potential skeptics such as the Journal editorial page and RI Taxpayers that he’s a change of pace in spite of the “D” after his name and his years as Fox’s top lieutenant. As mentioned above, he also avoided a fight over the Democratic Party endorsement that could have soured his relations with the eventual winner. It had once looked like there might be a significant number of primary challenges in September because of fallout from the speaker’s race, but that may not be the case when candidate declarations are filed Wednesday.
4. It’s becoming clearer each week how serious Clay Pell is about winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The latest evidence: a new 30-second TV spot his campaign will begin airing in heavy rotation next week, in which the candidate talks about concerns he’s hearing from voters out on the trail and what he’ll do to address them. Pell is also making a play for Rhode Island’s growing Hispanic voter bloc by deploying his multilingual skills in Spanish-language ads on Latino TV and radio outlets, where Taveras has already been advertising. The latest moves by Pell have vaulted him into second-place for spending on TV ads so far, according to internal tracking by one of the three camps. Through June 30, Gina Raimondo’s campaign has spent $599,000 on the airwaves, while Pell has spent $333,000 and Angel Taveras has spent $175,000. (On the GOP side, Fung has spent $102,000 and Block has spent $65,000.)
5. The Pell campaign was also pleased this week when Speaker Mattiello convinced the gubernatorial candidates not to seek the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s endorsement at Sunday evening’s convention. Just hours before the decision was revealed, Tim White spotted Angel Taveras and campaign manager Danny Kedem leaving a closed-door meeting at the speaker’s office; the mayor was thought to have a strong shot at getting the endorsement if it went to a vote, but his team clearly didn’t want to defy the speaker and Chairman David Caprio if they wished to avoid a fight. Endorsements matter less in the modern era, but in a game of inches like this year’s Democratic primary the party imprimatur might have provided an extra boost to the recipient, and one that wouldn’t cost any money. This decision is just the latest evidence of how competitive the primary is; only a few weeks ago the Rhode Island Association of Democratic City and Town Chairs also deadlocked on the question. The fight continues.
6. Mattiello may be staying neutral in the race for governor, but he’s picked three favorites in the contested down-ballot races: Ralph Mollis for lieutenant governor, Guillaume De Ramel for secretary of state, and Frank Caprio for treasurer. His choices nicely crystallize the conventional wisdom in those races, which seems to have those three as the respective frontrunners. (We already know Caprio has a double-digit lead.) The party endorsement could carry more weight in those down-ballot races where many voters won’t know too much about the candidates. Still, it’s only mid-June, and there’s plenty of time for their opponents to shake things up. Mollis faces Dan McKee (who could get ed-reform money) and Frank Ferri (who appeals to progressives). De Ramel faces Nellie Gorbea, whose campaign criticized the speaker directly this week. And Caprio faces Seth Magaziner – who got a ringing endorsement on RI Future Friday – and Ernie Almonte.
8. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “It won’t be long now before we know whether Buddy Cianci will run again for the city’s top job, as candidates are required to declare for office by June 25. While some say Cianci’s exploration process is purely a vanity project – and others suggest we shouldn’t even be talking about it – those closest to him say he’s very serious about jumping into the race. More than anything else, the financial hit he’ll take from losing his radio and TV jobs, as well as other sources of income, appears to be the key issue holding him back so far; after all, the 73-year-old needs to make sure his grandchildren are taken care of long after he goes. But former Mayor Joe Paolino, a key member of the inner circle helping Cianci weigh his options, made a valid point to me this week: ‘If he weren’t serious, would he really be going to all these graduations and events?’ Here’s something else to watch: Silver Lake powerbroker Vincent Igliozzi – John and David’s father – recently launched the 7th Ward PAC, and it’s widely believed that when campaign reports are filed at the end of July, we’ll see plenty of money was spent polling the mayor’s race. Officially, the Ward 7 Committee has endorsed Jorge Elorza for mayor, but it’s important to know the Igliozzi family is also part of Cianci’s inner circle. Either way, next week will be a big week in the mayor’s race. City Council President Michael Solomon is expected to win the Democratic City Committee’s endorsement Monday night, which could give him some momentum in the crowded field. No matter what happens with Cianci, one thing is certain: the real race for mayor begins Wednesday at 4 p.m.”
9. Also from Dan McGowan – Rep. Jim McLaughlin said “cracker” on the House floor Friday.
10. Rhode Island’s annual state budget for next year will be just under $8.8 billion. That figure gives a sense of just how much money taxpayers have gotten so far out of a provision U.S. Sen. Jack Reed added to the 2008 law that authorized the TARP bank bailout: $9.47 billion at this writing. The backstory: amid the frantic rush to pass TARP, Reed expressed concern taxpayers would be giving the banks major risk protection with little potential for upside if things went well. He got a provision added to the law so that taxpayers could receive warrants (to buy stock, a la Warren Buffett and Goldman Sachs) that could later be sold at a profit. As Elizabeth Warren later explained, Reed “argued that if TARP worked, it wasn’t enough for the banks to pay back the TARP money; taxpayers should be compensated for the risk they had assumed. The warrants were an important component of that and he insisted that TARP include a provision for warrants.” It’s now paid off for American taxpayers to the tune of almost $9.5 billion.
11. Speaking of the Senate, did you catch the “Daily Show” riff on Sheldon Whitehouse’s climate change hearing featuring former Republican EPA chiefs? (Whitehouse himself didn’t get screen time.)
12. Newport Mercury editor Janine Weisman passes along some cool media news from the City by the Sea – the Society of Professional Journalists has named Washington Square a National Historic Site in Journalism thanks to a nomination by Weisman. The citation explains that Washington Square housed Newport’s only printing press during the Revolutionary War – dubbed the “Franklin Press,” after the family that owned it; Benjamin Franklin himself used it to train his nephew in the trade. It’s now on display at the Newport Historical Society’s Museum. Check out the plaque – very cool!
13. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the Providence Republican City Committee and the Hopkinton Republican Town Committee endorsed Allan Fung … Rep. Patricia Morgan endorsed Ken Block … the Warwick Democratic City Committee endorsed Gina Raimondo, Guillaume De Ramel and Ernie Almonte … the Middletown Democratic Town Committee endorsed Angel Taveras, Ralph Mollis and Frank Caprio … the Providence Fire Fighters Local 799 endorsed Angel Taveras, Ralph Mollis, Guillaume De Ramel and Frank Caprio … the Rhode Island National Organization for Women PAC endorsed Gina Raimondo and Seth Magaziner … the Brotherhood of Utility Workers Council/UWUA Local 310 endorsed Angel Taveras … House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello endorsed Ralph Mollis, Guillaume De Ramel and Frank Caprio … the North Providence Democratic Town Committee endorsed Angel Taveras, Guillaume De Ramel and Frank Caprio … the Exeter Democratic Town Committee endorsed Gina Raimondo and Nellie Gorbea … the United Nurses and Allied Professionals endorsed Guillaume De Ramel and Seth Magaziner … and Mayor Don Grebien endorsed Carlos Tobon.
14. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – an encore showing of Tuesday night’s Republican gubernatorial primary debate. Watch Sunday at 5 a.m. on WPRI 12. This week on Executive Suite – Martin Keen of Focal Upright Furniture and formerly Keen Footwear. 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.