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

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column here on – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. I hope all of you had a safe and happy Independence Day! (Rhode Island, of course, effectively declared its independence on May 4, 1776. Is a second holiday in order?)

2. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is hoping an uptick in Rhode Island’s economic growth – spurred in part by the tax cuts he just pushed through the General Assembly – will be enough to wash away the budget deficits currently projected for the coming years, which are set to rise from more than $100 million in 2015-16 to more than $400 million in 2018-19. If growth alone isn’t enough, though, don’t expect Mattiello to raise taxes to fill the gap. “I’m not looking to raise taxes in the future,” Mattiello said on this week’s Newsmakers. “My goal is to continue to create a better economic environment and atmosphere and to grow our economy. I think the way we work on reducing that structural deficit is to do things differently, and this budget was the first budget to do things differently and move in a different direction, to create that better economic environment, that better economic activity.” When pressed on what spending cuts he might consider if tax increases are off the table, however, Mattiello sounded a note of caution: “The reality is, even though it’s an $8-plus-billion budget, a lot of the spending is fixed and there’s not a lot of areas to look at anymore. But we will always look at efficiencies and making cuts where appropriate.”

3. Something else that’s off the table for Speaker Mattiello: defaulting on the 38 Studios bonds. Fitch Ratings’ statement last month that declining to pay the bonds “would not bring the [state’s] ratings below investment-grade” didn’t make him rethink his position, he said, because his focus is on avoiding any downgrade, not just a downgrade to junk. “Rhode Island has to have the reputation that it keeps its obligations, whether its relative to bonds or whether its relative to businesses,” Mattiello said on Newsmakers. “When it makes a promise it has to keep its promise, and as long as I’m speaker that’s going to be the case.” (I can already imagine how state pensioners will respond to that.) Mattiello also expressed confidence that last week’s $4.4 million settlement with 38 Studios defendant Moses Afonso Ryan will be the first, saying he is also hearing that Adler Pollock & Sheehan PC and Curt Schilling himself are preparing to tap their professional liability policies to settle, too.

4. And speaking of 38 Studios, don’t expect Speaker Mattiello to replace Rep. Karen MacBeth as House Oversight chairwoman when the new session starts in January. While MacBeth has expressed public frustration with Mattiello for refusing to let her issue subpoenas to key figures involved in the deal, the speaker dismissed suggestions that the headline-grabbing Cumberland Democrat has become too much of a thorn in his side to keep a gavel. “She is just as likely as any of the other committee chairs to be appointed again next year,” Mattiello told me after the taping, and he didn’t mean it as a backhanded endorsement. (First, though, MacBeth has to defeat Tom Kane, her challenger in the Democratic primary for District 52.)

5. Word on the street is that Alison Lundergran Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat running for U.S. Senate against Mitch McConnell, will be in Rhode Island next weekend to raise money at a fundraiser hosted by East Greenwich’s own Mark Weiner and his wife, Susan.

6. My post last week that roughly 40% of the General Assembly will be unopposed on the ballot this year drew the responses you’d expect. How can so many lawmakers skate by in a state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate and debacles like 38 Studios constantly in the headlines? Why can’t the Republican Party take greater advantage of the situation? There are many answers, not least the unappealing prospect of joining a much-maligned institution that meets at odd hours for little pay. A more subtle reason is the advantages those incumbents have, especially when they’re members of a near-monolithic Democratic supermajority. As Derek Willis noted in The New York Times this week, new research on the U.S. House demonstrates that sitting lawmakers reap a significant fundraising advantage from their incumbency that helps protect them from challengers. In Rhode Island’s case, the overwhelming electoral advantage of the Democratic Party may make non-ideological donors like business interests reluctant to back GOP candidates for fear of antagonizing those who’ll hold power after the election. It becomes a vicious cycle: Republicans can’t get traction, so they lose, so the Democrats look unstoppable, so good Republicans don’t win (or run), so Republicans can’t get traction … and on and on. That may not be the whole story, but it’s surely part of it. If succeeds breeds success, the reverse is true, too.

7. Incumbents aren’t invincible, though. Among the Republican challengers to keep an eye on: Robert Nardolillo, who is challenging Rep. Scott GuthrieSharon Gamba, who is challenging Rep. Bob CravenStephen Tetzner, who is challenging Rep. Teresa Tanzi; Lillian Jean Delmonico, who is challenging Rep. Mike MarcelloDan Reilly, who is challenging Rep. Linda FinnHasan Alsawaf, who is challenging Sen. Stephen Archambault; and Mike Smith, who is challenging Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. Who are you watching?

8. Via Ian Donnis, the new Clay Pell TV ad highlights his U.S. Coast Guard service.

9. Lynn Vavreck has an interesting look at how younger Americans appear to be less patriotic than their forbears. “Here’s a striking example,” she writes: “81% of the Silent Generation (those who are 69 to 86 years old in 2014) love America while only 58% of millennials (18 to 33 years old) feel the same. Born between 1928 and 1945, the Silent Generation fought both the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Thirty-one percent of them report that they personally served on active duty in the United States Armed Forces. Only 4% of millennials have done so.”

10. Lost in last week’s Buddy Fever was some news made down in Washington by a very different politician, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, as chronicled by Politico. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who famously shot a cap-and-trade bill in a campaign ad, sat down for an interview with Whitehouse where they pledged to seek common ground on climate change. “We come from two different worlds if you look at Rhode Island and you look at West Virginia and what makes up our economies,” Manchin said. “But our commonality is that I have said many, many times over that I believe 7 billion people have had an impact on the climate.” As part of their effort, Whitehouse will bring Manchin up here to see “the effects of climate change in Rhode Island,” the senator’s office said. (Whitehouse will also visit coal country.) The same day, Whitehouse once again submitted his DISCLOSE Act, an effort to address secret campaign donations, though it remains doubtful whether he will be able to win the necessary Republican votes for it.

11. I wouldn’t know North Smithfield School Committee Chair Robert Lafleur if I tripped over him. But I do know that the way he’s apparently treated The Valley Breeze’s Sandy Seoane doesn’t sound right at all.

12. “If Walgreen were to move, would CVS Caremark be far behind?” That question was posed about Rhode Island’s largest for-profit employer – #12 on the latest Fortune 500 list – by the NYT’s influential business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin in an examination of Walgreen’s decision to move its headquarters to Switzerland to cut its tax bill. Sorkin also mentions another local company that is doing the same thing, Covidien of Mansfield, Mass. CVS already pays one of the highest corporate tax rates in the country; Rhode Island policymakers may want to examine what it would mean for the state if CVS were to follow in Walgreen’s footsteps.

13. George Washington University’s John Sides has become one of the most oft-quoted political scientists in the country of late as a contributor to The Monkey Cage and co-author of the new book “The Gamble,” which uses the 2012 presidential election to puncture myths about what really matters in election campaigns. Sides spoke with me for a Q&A about Rhode Island’s Campaign 2014 that I’ll publish on Monday. You’ll definitely want to read it. “State-level elections are typically less salient to voters,” he told me. “They don’t know the candidates as well, and, as you note, they don’t hear as much about them in the news media. I think this opens up more potential for a campaign to change voters’ minds. To be sure, state-level elections are increasingly ‘nationalized’ — meaning that voters’ choices depend more and more on the same partisan loyalties that determine their choices in a presidential election. But I still think that campaigns can matter more in these races than in presidential general elections.” Check back Monday for much more from Sides.

14. A happy 99th to Camp Yawgoog, the second-oldest Boy Scout camp in the country, which opened for the year this week. Loyal Saturday Morning Post reader David Preston, a Scout himself, notes the 1,800-acre reservation in northern Hopkinton played a formative role in the lives of many Rhode Island leaders, from Joe Garrahy and John Chafee (who saved Bruce Sundlun’s life there in the 1930s) to Paul Choquette and the Gilbane brothers.

15. I’ll be on 89.7 FM WGBH’s Under the Radar with Callie Crossley this Sunday at 6 p.m. Tune in!

16. In recent weeks I haven’t been including endorsements for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, among others, in my roundups since he isn’t facing a primary challenger. But Kilmartin campaign manager Matt Lenz suggested to me that the endorsements should run since the attorney general is facing a Republican opponent, Dawson Hodgson. Fair point! Leaving out the various city and town committees, Lenz says so far Kilmatin has been endorsed by the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, the Providence Fire Fighters IAFF Local 799, AFSCME Council 94, the Rhode Island Democratic Party and the Association of Democratic City and Town Committee Chairs.

17. And, as usual, here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals endorsed Ralph Mollis, Peter Kilmartin, Guillaume De Ramel and Frank Caprio (but held off, for now, on governor) … the Little Compton Democratic Town Committee endorsed Nellie Gorbea and Seth Magaziner … and the National Education Association Rhode Island endorsed Seth Magaziner.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Foolproof Brewing’s Nick Garrison; Absolute Commerce’s Kevin Wilbur. 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

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