Talking Politics: Gov. McKee's budget comes at a great time for candidate McKee

By Ian Donnis
Posted 1/26/22

STORY OF THE WEEK: With the September 13 primary fast approaching, RI Gov. Dan McKee last week unveiled a spending plan that doubles as a way to appeal to a wide swath of Rhode Islanders. Big spend …

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Talking Politics: Gov. McKee's budget comes at a great time for candidate McKee

Posted

STORY OF THE WEEK: With the September 13 primary fast approaching, RI Gov. Dan McKee last week unveiled a spending plan that doubles as a way to appeal to a wide swath of Rhode Islanders. Big spend on housing? Check. Money for education? Yep. How about climate change? Yes.

Timing is a vital quality in politics, and McKee has the benefit of being governor during a time of massive federal COVID aid and better than expected state revenues. The rare quality of this moment is evident in how the governor’s $12.8 billion budget proposal marks the first time in more than 20 years that state lawmakers will not have to wipe out a deficit.

McKee’s team pitches the plan as a way to help the state recover from the pandemic and move purposefully into the future. Still, it’s worth remembering that the General Assembly gets the last word on how the state spends its money and typically makes a series of changes to a governor’s budget. Watch for state lawmakers to examine McKee’s proposed spend with an eye on the use of earlier federal funds sent to the state.

CD2: Can Democrats stop Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District seat from falling into Republican hands? That’s a top question following U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin’s announcement this week that he will not seek re-election.

With his base in Cranston, former GOP Mayor Allan Fung is considered a potentially strong candidate. (In a statement, Fung said, “It’s just been a crazy week with people all over the map encouraging me to take a real serious look at this. That’s what we are doing – looking at the entire chess board – before we make a decision.” (Fung was previously eyeing a run for general treasurer.)

Sen. Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield), a rare bright spot for the RI GOP, is pursuing a run. Former state Rep. Robert Lancia, who ran against Langevin in 2020, previously announced that he’s pursuing a rematch.

On the Democratic side, former Rep. Ed Pacheco, a Burrillville native and previous chair of the state Democratic Party, is running, as is refugee advocate Omar Bah. Other prospects include Sens. Josh Miller (D-Cranston) and Sam Bell (D-Providence), along with Reps. Carol McEntee and Teresa Tanzi, both of South Kingstown.

THE DECISION: Langevin has been in politics his whole life – winning election as a state rep when he was in his early twenties, before becoming secretary of state and then winning the open CD2 seat in 2000.

At age 57, he said it’s time for a change. That’s unsurprising given the length of his tenure, the political losses of such friends as former Reps. Joe Crowley of New York and Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, the likelihood of a GOP takeover in the House, and the demanding daily routine of being a paraplegic.

Over the years, Langevin has been considered a potential candidate for governor and U.S. Senate. But he’s stuck it out in the House, an inherently disputatious chamber that has grown increasingly sour and more combative over time. While Rep. Cicilline relishes the partisan fight, Langevin seems to have had enough.

THE INDEPENDENT EFFECT: Langevin’s decision could give Gov. McKee a significant boost by motivating more conservative-leaning independents in CD2 to vote in the Democratic primary. That would complement the Blackstone Valley base of McKee, a former mayor of Cumberland. At the same time, the emergence of a lively congressional race will present a new storyline, potentially

dividing a bit of media attention this election season.

LAUNCH: Gov. McKee’s campaign has delayed a public campaign announcement due to concern about bringing together a crowd of people when COVID remains a concern, campaign spokesman Mike Trainor tells TGIF. “He clearly is running,” and is active raising money, Trainor said, although it remains unclear for now when McKee will publicly launch his campaign to win the governor’s office through the support of voters.

THE RIVALS: Helena Foulkes reported a big fundraising quarter, pulling in more than $1 million in Q2. With just a bit more than seven months until the primary, it’s unclear when Foulkes’ campaign will start airing television commercials – an important decision since she hasn’t had the time in public office as such rivals as Gov. McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, and Matt Brown, a former secretary of state. (Foulkes’ campaign did not respond to a question about when it will take to the airwaves.) 

THE RIVALS II: Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, my guest this week on Political Roundtable, said she quickly ruled out a run in CD2 because she considers the governor’s office a better fit for her skill set. While Gorbea said she supports the spending priorities outlined by Gov. McKee – including housing, education and supporting small business – she argues she’s better equipped to implement and oversee the spending.

By way of example, Gorbea pointed to how she was advocating for affordable housing 14 years ago as the director of HousingWorksRI. “At that time when we are arguing that, Governor McKee was then a mayor of the town of Cumberland,” she said. “And I didn’t see anything in his leadership at the time that really made affordable housing a stellar issue for him as a mayor. And I haven’t seen anything as a governor that proves it otherwise.”

However, while the state has lagged at times in spending money for affordable housing, McKee supporters can cite how he has helped raise the profile of the issue, for example, by calling for spending $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act money on housing. 

STEM CELLS: With Rep. Langevin in the news, it’s worth remembering how he supported embryonic stem cell research while being opposed to abortion rights early in his congressional career. That’s pertinent in the current moment since some vaccine opponents base their objection on the use of fetal stem cells. (“These same cell lines are also used to test and advance our understanding of several routine drugs,” reports National Geographic, “including acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin, and they continue to be used for treatment research in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and hypertension.”

At any rate, opponents of abortion rights had a stormy reaction when Langevin backed stem cell research. As former ProJo columnist M. Charles Bakst wrote 20 years ago, “It is easy for antiabortion crusaders to suggest that Langevin's stem-cell stand is a departure from a policy of preserving human life in all stages. But I thought he deftly handled that by noting that the embryos in question would otherwise be discarded. Better, he said, to use them for research that could ease human suffering by finding cures for such maladies as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and spinal-cord injuries.” 

TRUMP EFFECT: The board at URI has voted to revoke honorary degrees granted to retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. A committee at the university made the following findings, among others: “In June 2021, at a conference in Dallas, Texas, General Flynn appeared to suggest that a military coup was needed in the U.S., much like the one staged by the military in Myanmar in 2021 … Mayor Giuliani participated in the January 6, 2021, rally that incited the assault on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. His words encouraged domestic terrorist behavior aimed at preventing Congress from certifying the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

UNDER THE RADAR: My colleague Alex Nunes reports on a rare distinction in the town of Charlestown – it’s the only community in the state with a special solicitor dedicated to so-called ‘Indian affairs.’ Joe Larisa is a former East Providence mayor who served as an advisor to former Gov. Lincoln Almond. As Alex reports, Larisa defends his work, describing Charlestown as the only part of Rhode Island “with a sovereign nation within our borders.” Critics see Larisa’s focus on the Narragansetts as a matter of discrimination.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit thepublicsradio.org

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.