1. The Democratic lieutenant-governor primary between Frank Ferri, Dan McKee and Ralph Mollis isn’t exactly the hottest race in town, but it’s still a feisty fight. And it could matter: as Tim White points out, a lieutenant governor became governor 22 times between 2000 and 2010 alone. The three candidates met Friday for the second of this month’s pre-primary debates on Newsmakers to make their pitch for the votes – and attention – of viewers at home. The conventional wisdom has Mollis as the frontrunner in the race, and the debate will reinforce that thinking. The two-term secretary of state stayed calm and collected throughout, and kept his cool in the face of a blistering series of attacks on his record by McKee. The man had done his homework. McKee was on the offensive throughout the debate, jabbing Mollis – and occasionally Ferri too – about everything from 38 Studios to North Providence’s bond rating; he also spoke passionately about education policy. Ferri, a latecomer to the race, was understandably nervous and sometimes spoke haltingly in his first major debate with the other two. He eschewed attacks – other than one on Don Carcieri – and drew clear distinctions on issues such as health care, marijuana and immigration that could play well with progressives. Right now, though, it looks like Rhode Island could be in for a rematch between Mollis and Republican Catherine Taylor.
2. Frank Ferri has represented Warwick in the Rhode Island House since 2007, and he made some interesting comments during the debate when he expressed regret about his vote for the 2011 pension law championed by Gina Raimondo. “When we were presented with a pension reform, we thought we had the best offer on the table. We thought that was the best that we could get,” he said. “I know I worked hard on trying to lower the [retirement] age and a little more consideration to COLAs. But now we learn – after the court ordered that they go back into negotiations – there was a better deal. So knowing that there was a better deal, knowing now that not everybody that should have been at the table was at the table, I’m not sure how I would have voted back then.” In fact, he continued: “Now that I know there was a better deal for the workers I probably would have not voted for it back then.”
3. Is this still Joe Garrahy’s Rhode Island Democratic Party? In each of the last two debates, Tim White has asked the candidates which Rhode Island elected official they most admire; Ralph Mollis and Frank Caprio both named Garrahy, who served from 1977 to 1985 and famously oversaw the state’s response to the Blizzard of ’78. As it happens, both Mollis and Caprio are the state party’s endorsed candidates in their respective races. Or perhaps it’s generational – Mollis is 53 and Caprio is 47.
4. Pop quiz: who was the last Rhode Island lieutenant governor who took over as governor? Answer below.
5. Don’t forget – this month’s series of pre-primary debates on Newsmakers continues next week with the two Democrats running for secretary of state, Guillaume De Ramel and Nellie Gorbea. Tune in!
6. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “Taken at face value, independent Lorne Adrain’s decision to drop out of the Providence mayor’s race this week was only slightly more meaningful than Jeffrey Lemire failing to obtain enough signatures to get on the November ballot. Adrain struggled with name recognition (hence the switch from Democrat to independent) and put forward few policy proposals in the six months leading up to his departure. But it was the East Side businessman’s potential that left many observers believing his announcement may have turned the race on its head. Here’s why: if City Council President Michael Solomon is considered the favorite in the Democratic primary, some believed East Side residents who supported Brett Smiley or Jorge Elorza would then rally behind Adrain over Solomon and Buddy Cianci in the fall. Adrain’s decision also poured cold water on any momentum Cianci may have had following his high-profile entrance into the race. It suggested that influential folks on the East Side still do have enough to clout to pressure candidates – see Republican Dan Harrop – to get out of the race. (By the way, I’m told that while the organized campaign to defeat Cianci at all costs is real, it’s still very much in its infancy.) More than anything else, Adrain leaving the race simply changed the math game. It’s conceivable that he was never going to earn much more than 10% or 15% in the race, but even that number means Cianci is now probably going to need to convince at least 45% of Providence voters to give him yet another chance in City Hall. That was a tall task in 1990 when he squeaked by in a race that had three competitive candidates; it’s even taller with only two.”
7. Kim Kalunian explores the mystery of the Seekonk River Bridge, forever stuck in the air along I-195.
8. I keep looking into my crystal ball, but it’s still pretty foggy about the outcome of the Democratic primary for governor. Gina Raimondo just debuted the first explicitly negative TV ad of the campaign, with an out-of-work ironworker criticizing Angel Taveras for his stewardship of Providence. (In fairness, the reference to “Wall Street values” in Taveras’s most recent ad wasn’t aimed at Clay Pell.) With no public polls in the race since May, the political rumor mill is rife with speculation about whether the roughly $1 million Raimondo and Pell have each spent on TV has moved voters. Raimondo’s campaign has had a trying stretch, after its last ad led to a series of negative stories in The Journal and Taveras hammered her some more about Wall Street, leading Myrth York to email fellow Raimondo supporters that she is “really tired of the same old misleading arguments coming out of the Taveras campaign.” This new ad shows Raimondo’s campaign is pivoting to a more sustained critique of the mayor, with serious money behind it. Taveras’s side remains confident his hitherto bulletproof favorable ratings can hold up, while Pell seems to be getting some traction with his blizzard of commercials. With eight weeks to go, it looks doubtful that any of the three candidates will be able to build up a significant lead before Sept. 9; how close will the final result be?
9. When Republican fundraiser extraordinaire Tony Bucci joined Ken Block’s campaign as finance director last fall, it was a coup for the underdog gubernatorial candidate and helped give him some partisan credibility. Now Bucci, a respected GOP insider, is downplaying suggestions that he’s finished with Block’s campaign. “I haven’t really stepped aside,” Bucci told me. “I really have just taken a step back. I spent a fair amount of time working on a daily basis getting them going. But I’m still involved with the Block campaign – no changes. I’m just not putting the same amount of time I was putting in the first six months.”
10. A number of statewide and local Rhode Island campaigns are complaining about the problems they’re running into with polling of late. Voters are already getting fatigued by an onslaught of mostly private surveying, as well as supporter identifications, and that’s making it harder for campaigns to find enough poll respondents to meet their goals for sampling different subgroups. Annoyed voters aren’t likely to shed many tears over that, but it still poses a summertime challenge to strategists. And it’s only July!
11. Check out Brown University’s Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig on the nature of a successful marriage.
12. DLT Director Charlie Fogarty was justly pleased by the June jobs report, which showed Rhode Island unemployment falling below 8% for the first time in six years. “This is the best six-month start for the Rhode Island economy in years,” Fogarty crowed. But is this another statistical mirage along the lines of what we saw in 2013? It can’t be ruled out until revisions are completed early next year (a lucky break for local pols seeking re-election this fall). Yet there is also reason for optimism. As liberal economist Jared Bernstein noted in congressional testimony this week, the pace of the national jobs recovery has picked up speed this year, and Rhode Island’s small open economy is heavily influenced by national trends. So where are Rhode Island’s new job centers? Health care, social agencies, and business services are all well above pre-recession employment levels; the manufacturing, construction and information sectors are still struggling.
13. Jack Reed was in the national news a number of times this week. National Journal quoted him criticizing House Republicans for using the money he wanted for unemployment benefits to fill the highway trust fund, and Politico quoted him questioning the Obama administration over its handling of the migrant crisis. Those are all big issues – but did you know Reed is also working on a rewrite of sunscreen regulations?
14. And speaking of Jack Reed, congratulations to Reed aide Matt Bucci and his wife, Emily, on the birth this week of their baby boy, Theodore John “Teddy” Bucci. Great choice of a name if I do say so myself.
15. Former Rep. David Segal, now executive director of the advocacy group Demand Progress, is praising Sheldon Whitehouse for signing onto Ed Markey’s letter urging the FCC to reclassify broadband as a utility. It’s part of an effort by progressives to deal with a January court ruling that struck down 2010 FCC regulations designed to promote “net neutrality,” and Segal said that by signing onto the letter, Whitehouse is supporting the most far-reaching response out there.
16. Here’s a roundup of the latest Campaign 2014 endorsements we’ve received: the Jamestown Democratic Town Committee endorsed Gina Raimondo, Frank Ferri, Nellie Gorbea and Seth Magaziner … the Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council and the Elevator Constructors Local 39 endorsed Gina Raimondo … the Service Employees International Union Local 580 endorsed Angel Taveras, Frank Ferri and Seth Magaziner … International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 400 endorsed Angel Taveras … Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island PAC endorsed Frank Ferri and Seth Magaziner (but stayed neutral for governor and secretary of state) … the RI National Organization for Women endorsed Nellie Gorbea … the Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council endorsed Frank Caprio … the Young Democrats of Rhode Island endorsed Seth Magaziner … the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 328 endorsed Brett Smiley … and Unite Here Local 217 endorsed Mike Solomon.
17. Answer: Lt. Gov. John McKiernan became governor on Dec. 19, 1950, when John Pastore resigned to take his U.S. Senate seat; the following month newly elected Dennis Roberts was inaugurated as governor, and McKiernan went back to being lieutenant governor. Pastore himself had gone from lieutenant governor to governor in 1945, when J. Howard McGrath resigned to become Harry Truman’s attorney general. (All that history via Rhode Island’s indispensable state librarian, Tom Evans.)
18. Dan McGowan will be filling in for me here at the helm of the Saturday Morning Post the next two weeks. I hope he does a really good job. Just not quite good enough that you wish I won’t come back.
19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a debate between the three Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor: Frank Ferri, Dan McKee and Ralph Mollis. Watch Sunday at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. on WPRI 12, 10 a.m. on Fox Providence or 7 p.m. on myRITV. This week on Executive Suite – WaterFire Providence creator and executive artistic director Barnaby Evans. 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.