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. The three candidates running for general treasurer – Ernie Almonte, Frank Caprio and Seth Magaziner – squared off Friday in the first of this month’s pre-primary debates on Newsmakers, and the hour-long exchange gave a clear indication of how Caprio and Magaziner are pitching themselves to Democratic primary voters. Caprio, a familiar face, touted his record during his previous term in the treasurer’s office, casting himself as not only more experienced than Magaziner but also wiser today than he was when he made his botched run for governor. Even though he’s not technically the incumbent, in many ways Caprio is really running a re-election campaign, with all the advantages and challenges that implies. Magaziner is keeping a tight focus on the pension fund’s investment returns, and the need for the state to start matching the national average. (Cate Long might approve.) The 30-year-old is also trying to use his youth to his advantage by arguing the State House needs new faces, and to cast Caprio as a fair-weather Democrat who isn’t loyal to the party. Waiting in the wings is Almonte, a Democrat until last month who now has tacit GOP support for his independent bid. He emphasized his background as an accountant, suggesting the treasurer should be focused on math and money rather than partisan politics. That message could resonate in a state where one in two voters are registered independents, though non-party bids are always uphill battles.

2. Both Frank Caprio and Seth Magaziner are trying to navigate political tightropes in their campaigns. Caprio’s political profile was long that of a moderate or even conservative Democrat, and he’s acknowledged flirting with the Republican Party. Yet in his comeback bid for treasurer he’s striking a populist tone critical of Wall Street and high finance that wouldn’t be out of place with the party’s Elizabeth Warren wing: he strongly opposed the rehiring of the state’s longtime financial advisers at First Southwest, suggested the state is wasting money with hedge funds, and raised doubts about paying the 38 Studios bonds. All that sounds like an appeal to voters who dislike Gina Raimondo – but when asked to judge Raimondo’s work as treasurer, Caprio gave her an “A” grade. Magaziner, though, has challenges of his own. He is strongly supported by some progressives, who bonded with him while he was serving on the Marriage Equality Rhode Island board, and has won the endorsement of unions such as the National Education Association Rhode Island. Yet he’s also backed by some pro-Raimondo types who see him as the best option to protect her pension law, he is open to investing with hedge funds, and he supports paying the 38 Studios bonds. Meanwhile, a huge question remains unanswered: what will Bill and Hillary Clinton do to help Magaziner, the son of their old friend Ira?

3. A surprising moment in Friday’s debate came when the candidates were asked whether they voted for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney two years ago. Obama had very publicly snubbed Frank Caprio in 2010, which of course led to the infamous “shove it” comment. Caprio went on to disaffiliate from the Democratic Party and expressed seeming disdain for the president the weekend before the 2012 election, writing on Twitter: “This election has come down to who shows up-JFK’s ‘silent majority’ for @MittRomney- or women & the celebrity culture for @BarackObama.” But Caprio surprised Tim White and me during the debate by saying he nevertheless walked into the voting booth the following week and cast a ballot for Obama. Seth Magaziner said he voted for Obama; Ernie Almonte said his vote is a private matter.

4. Two more pre-primary debates are coming up on Newsmakers this month. Next week, the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor – Frank FerriDan McKee and Ralph Mollis – will square off. The following week it will be the Democratic candidates for secretary of state – Guillaume De Ramel and Nellie Gorbea. Be sure to tune in!

5. It’s hard to miss Democratic gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell on TV these days, and for good reason. Pell has spent $764,000 on TV ads so far this year, not much less than the $836,000 that Gina Raimondo has spent; Angel Taveras is far behind, having spent just under $300,000. Pell just put up a new ad – check it out here – that features Amanda Boswell, a Portsmouth high-school teacher, lauding his education policies. What we don’t know is how much benefit Pell and Raimondo have gotten out of all this TV time. With no new public polls since the last WPRI 12/Journal survey in May it’s impossible to say for sure, but their campaigns have to hope the numbers have moved significantly. Pell, in particular, had plenty of room to grow from his 12% in May. Taveras, meanwhile, is well aware he needs to find the cash to hold his own. “With just 60 days left until the election, Danny and I will be making critical budget decisions based on where we are at midnight tonight,” he told supporters in a fundraising email Friday. (Danny Kedem is his campaign manager.)

6. Aaron Renn, the Urbanophile blog author who was a Rhode Islander for a short time, is following up his recent City Journal article laying out Rhode Island’s economic problems with a series of posts that flesh out his views and what he thinks would help turn things around. “Rhode Island’s fundamental economic problem,” he argues, “is that it has been acting like it’s selling a premium product from a structurally advantaged position when in reality it’s selling a commodity product into a highly competitive global marketplace.” Renn isn’t alone in thinking that; in recent months, state leaders from Nick Mattiello and Gina Raimondo to George Nee have all emphasized the need for Rhode Island to make sure its policies aren’t regional or national outliers. Renn’s Part I is here and his Part II is here.

7. “Fossil industry is the subprime danger of this cycle,” argues Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. Worth reading.

8. Adam Brand, who served as former Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s chief of staff from 2007 to 2010, is leaving Capitol Hill. Four years ago Brand departed Kennedy’s staff as the congressman prepared to retire and became chief of staff to California Democrat Linda Sanchez. Brand told friends this week he’s taking a job as director of public policy and government affairs with Biogen Idec, the huge Massachusetts-based drug company. “It has been a pleasure working with you all, whether in my capacity as a young kid with Leader Gephardt’s operation, at Akin Gump, or over the last eight years as Rep. Kennedy’s and Rep. Sanchez’ chief of staff,” Brand told them in an email. “It has been a great honor and privilege to work for three outstanding, hard-working, and compassionate members of Congress.”

9. Our weekly dispatch from reporter Dan McGowan:Buddy Cianci has spent the better part of the last three weeks telling anyone who will listen that ‘elections are not about the past, they’re about the future.’ But for the 125 or so supporters – some generous estimators suggested the crowd was double that size – who attended his $1,000-a-head fundraiser at the Hilton Hotel in Providence Thursday night, there was a lot of talk about how things used to be. As former longtime Democratic Councilwoman Joan Diruzzo gave me the play-by-play of how ‘we moved the rivers,’ she stressed that Cianci’s ability to get things done was his greatest asset. She also told me that she had no interest in a return to city politics – she lost her Ward 15 seat to Sabina Matos in 2010 – in its current form, but said she will be one of Cianci’s top supporters this year. And that’s what Cianci’s opponents have to contend with. We don’t yet know how many Joan Diruzzos are out there, but we do know that jogging people’s memory about the Cianci era may not be as easy as some of the candidates have hoped. Consider their strategies so far: Democrat-turned-independent Lorne Adrain was the first candidate to openly call for people to stop fawning over Cianci, publishing a Providence Journal op-ed the week before he entered the race. East Side Democrat Brett Smiley has been even more aggressive, sending email blast after email blast ripping the two-time felon. This week, Democrat Jorge Elorza gave us a slight look into the strategy he may incorporate if he advances in the Sept. 9 primary. ‘You’re talking about a guy who takes credit for things he hasn’t done and deflects blame for things he has indeed done,’ Elorza said during a taping of Dan Yorke State of Mind. On the other side is City Council President Michael Solomon, who has seemingly made a conscious effort to avoid stirring it up with the former mayor. The candidates are different, but their message is clear: This is not Joan Diruzzo’s Providence anymore. At least they hope not.”

10. Should Scott Avedisian be worried about his GOP primary challenger, Stacia Petri? Hear her here.

11. Local reformers have spent years pushing Rhode Island lawmakers to crack down on payday loans. But a new analysis from the Urban Institute’s Gregory Mills suggests payday loans aren’t the type of high-cost credit Rhode Islanders are most likely to use. According to Mills, 22,000 Rhode Island households used alternative financial services in 2011, but only 18% of those used payday loans, while 88% used pawnshop loans or rent-to-own agreements. In fact, the use of pawnshop loans was higher in Rhode Island than in any other New England state. “New England households tend to use high-cost nonbank credit products at lower rates than elsewhere in the nation, but regionwide, Maine and Rhode Island have high usage rates,” Mills writes. He suggested their “somewhat less restrictive pawnshop loans and rent-to-own policies may explain the prevalence of such loans in those states.”

12. A hearty congratulations to Warwick Beacon sports editor Will Geoghegan and Langevin spokeswoman Meg Fraser on their wedding Friday! Check out Will’s great column about it.

13. Rhode Island policymakers are always talking about the promise of jobs in the STEM sector – short for science, technology, engineering, and math – but not all STEM skills are created equal, Danielle Kurtzleben reports for Vox. “STEM makes no sense as a category,” Rutgers’ Hal Salzman tells her. “What you have is science and engineering, and then you have this IT labor force.”

14. Also from Vox, check out this fascinating Q&A with Scott Sumner about the Fed and money-printing.

15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a debate between the three candidates for general treasurer: Ernie Almonte, Frank Caprio and Seth Magaziner. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, Sunday at noon on WPRI 12 or Sunday at 7 p.m. on myRITV. This week on Executive Suite – Joe Paolino on Newport Grand, plus The Providence Foundation’s Dan Baudouin and MojoTech’s Nick Kishfy on the new campaign promoting downtown. 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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