STORY OF THE WEEK: With summer fast approaching – and Rhode Island’s election season coming into sharper focus – how will the whipsaw of American life in 2022 affect the results? …
STORY OF THE WEEK: With summer fast approaching – and Rhode Island’s election season coming into sharper focus – how will the whipsaw of American life in 2022 affect the results? Rhode Islanders are hardly alone in facing the downside of inflation and higher gas prices. The war in Ukraine, the abortion debate, and ongoing fallout from the pandemic underscore the anxieties of an unsettled era.
At the same time, Rhode Island’s budget outlook is much better than it has been in years, giving top state officials room to talk up tax relief in general and the expedited elimination of the car tax in particular. Yet Providence’s troika of perennial problems (under-performing schools, an under-funded pension, and a lack of sufficient tax revenue) persist as four Democrats jockey to succeed Jorge Elorza at City Hall.
And despite the improved fiscal outlook, Rhode Island continues to be marked by big needs. “If anyone thinks we have too much money, it's because they're turning a blind eye to some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” state Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Barrington), said in a thread on Twitter.
Candidates for governor and CD2 are just starting to shift into a more active phase of their campaigns. The level to which most voters will tune in amid summer diversions is unclear. Ready or not, Rhode Island’s September 13 primary election is just four months away, with the days going by fast.
ABORTION: As abortion-rights supporters press for Rhode Island to back funding for abortions through Medicaid and the state employee health plan, Democratic candidate for governor Helena Foulkes made a related call last week. "While Governor McKee failed to lead in support of the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, he can still do the right thing today,” Foulkes said in a statement. “Governor McKee: please amend your budget to eliminate the ban on abortion coverage that impacts nearly one in three Rhode Island women.”
However, as House GOP Leader Blake Filippi responded, “This won’t happen because two-thirds of both the House and Senate won’t approve tax-payer funded abortions.” Meanwhile, back on May 3, McKee tweeted his support for the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, which would require a simple majority to clear the legislature.
HEALTHCARE: Speaking of our volatile world, the changes in Rhode Island’s hospital landscape continue, with Dr. James Fanale, the president/CEO of Care New England, last week announcing his resignation. That comes less than a month after Dr. Timothy Babineau, the president/CEO of Lifespan, announced his exit.
The timing stands out, since it follows the rejection by state and federal regulators of a proposed merger between CNE and Lifespan. In a statement, Fanale made no reference to that; said it is time for a change in his life. Yet more changes in RI’s healthcare landscape are sure to follow.
NURSING HOMES: Over the objections of the nursing home industry, the General Assembly last year passed legislation to bolster staffing for nursing homes. Now, SEIU Healthcare Is going on the offensive after Rep. Charlene Lima (D-Cranston) introduced two bills, H8063 and H8033, that would weaken requirements in the staffing laws. The union has sent out a mailer asking, “Why is Rep. Lima trying to put nursing home staff and residents at risk?” Lima’s bills were held for study in House Finance Thursday night, and they are considered unlikely to move forward.
Lima, deputy speaker in the House, offered a lengthy response. Here's the gist of it: "The SEIU has a bad habit of using half-truths and demagoguery to try to coerce legislators to do their bidding. Their recent flyer attacking me takes their bad habit to new unconscionable heights. It is political bloviating at its worst. I supported the Home Staffing and Quality Care Act in 2021. So, this is their first deception. My legislative history and action prove I do care about quality nursing home care and staffing. My history also shows that I will not put Union Leadership special interests over that quality of care. I do not bend or break to intimidation. I fight back." The new staffing law was supposed to take effect in January, but it was delayed until April, due to an executive order signed by Gov. McKee.
THE RACE FOR MAYOR: Like his Democratic rivals, Gonzalo Cuervo has improved his communication skills as the race continues to succeed Mayor Elorza. In making his pitch, Cuervo, a former chief of staff for Angel Taveras and Nellie Gorbea, said, “I think I bring a different perspective to this, my administrative and political experience, with also a lot of lived grassroots experience.” We discussed a range of issues on Political Roundtable, including schools, city finances, the pension, police, and the proposal for revitalizing the ‘Superman Building.’
CD2 WATCH: Things are getting more active on the seven-way Democratic side of the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin. Refugee advocate Omar Bah formally launched his campaign, with the motto, “Defend Democracy” …. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner picked up an endorsement from the National Education Association …. Sarah Morgenthau debuted the first TV ad of the race, highlighting the issue of abortion, and she has hired Bryan McNamara, who had worked on Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign as her campaign manager …. The Working Families Party endorsed David Segal.
GENERAL TREASURER: Newly announced GOP candidate for GT James Lathrop, who has served as a finance director for a number of different communities, is set to formally launch his campaign May 24. Lathrop had a minor miscue as part of his launch, prominently displaying a photo of him with John Simmons, the former RIPEC head and former Providence official. The photo was removed after Simmons, who is supporting Democrat James Diossa, asked that it be taken down.
Diossa, meanwhile, continues to roll up endorsements, most recently from Smithfield Town Council President Suzy Alba, Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, and state Rep. Mary Messier. Diossa was sitting on a $135,000 balance in his campaign account at the end of Q1.
THE LEAK: When a leaked copy emerged of the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft opinion on overturning Roe v Wade, veteran NPR SCOTUS watcher Nina Totenberg called it the most significant leak since the Pentagon Papers. Now, at age 91, Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said the SCOTUS leak is good for the public interest, via NPR: “It’s obvious why they want to keep it secret. No organization really wants to show how the sausage is made or legislation is made, and they prefer to be the only voice on policy to the public.”
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: Back in the day, an expression warned against picking fights with someone who buys ink by the barrel – a reflection of the power of newspapers to dominate public discourse. To bring things into the present, one of the upsides of the internet is how it offers an opportunity for young up-and-comers to more easily establish their own profile. A case in point in Rhode Island is the two Rs – Raymond Baccari and Ryan Lukowicz – who have each done a series of online candidate interviews that are well worth the listen.
NEWPORT: A 171-page report received this week could spark some big changes to the seven-person Newport City Council. Via my colleague Antonia Ayres-Brown: Following 14 open meetings with public comment, the group’s final report calls for term limits to prevent councilors from serving more than four consecutive terms. If enacted, that could disqualify multiple longtime members of the council from seeking reelection, including current Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, who has continuously held a seat on the council since 1999.
The report also addresses a long-running debate over how Newport’s mayor is chosen. Under the current charter, the City Council selects one of its members to serve as mayor for each two-year term. In 2020, the Council chose the current mayor by a 4-3 vote, and some have blamed this early dividedness for lasting internal tension. The Charter Review Commission is instead recommending the position go to the highest vote-getter across the city.”
Ian Donnis can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit thepublicsradio.org