STORY OF THE WEEK: The troubled March trip to Philadelphia by two Rhode Island officials continues to make waves. Following revelations, via ProJo, about a January lunch at the Capital Grill that …
STORY OF THE WEEK: The troubled March trip to Philadelphia by two Rhode Island officials continues to make waves. Following revelations, via ProJo, about a January lunch at the Capital Grill that included Gov. Dan McKee, lobbyist/political operative Jeff Britt, and officials with Scout Ltd., the Rhode Island GOP called on the state Ethics Commission to expand its examination of the Philly trip, and for a separate review of Britt’s lobbying.
One issue is how Britt paid for the $228 lunch at the Capital Grill, with the understanding, he said, that McKee’s campaign would reimburse him. Adding to the intrigue, McKee said he wasn’t aware that the meeting would include two Scout officials. Britt told WPRI the governor was aware, and the Scout execs each contributed $500 to McKee’s campaign the same day.
Among the questions from GOP Chairman Joe Powers: whether McKee violated the limit for gifts for an elected official. The GOP chairman added in a statement, “The Scout scandal just gets worse for Rhode Island’s reputation.” All this added to uncertainty about the future of the Cranston Street Armory. Asked about next steps, McKee spokeswoman Olivia DaRocha said via statement, “The governor is committed to a path forward with the Armory that is in the best interest of the taxpayers. As you know, the state is waiting on an outside financial review of Scout’s proposal before any significant commitment of taxpayer dollars is made.”
DUE DILIGENCE: Back in 2020, Sabina Matos appears to have been unaware of financial concerns involving California-based Prospect Medical Holdings, the owner of Roger Williams Medical Center, Our Lady of Fatima Hospital and other CharterCARE entities. Prospect and its majority owner at the time, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, were under fire for taking hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and dividends from Prospect’s 17 hospitals around the nation. Matos (and North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi, along with a host of CharterCARE physicians) spoke during a July 2020 meeting of the Health Services Council. United Nurses and Allied Professionals, which now represents about 800 CharterCARE workers, sought a meeting with Matos after she supported the deal to share its concerns about Prospect.
“She seemed to be surprised and taken aback and concerned about, you know, the magnitude of these business practices and the extent to which we believed that they were putting these institutions in Rhode Island at risk,” UNAP General Counsel Chris Callaci told me for a recent story. There were so many questions about Prospect’s proposed change of ownership that Attorney General Peter Neronha extended the deadline for reviewing it. Neronha ultimately required Prospect to fund an $80 million escrow account. Without that, he said, it’s highly likely Roger Williams and Fatima would have closed. Notably, for someone running for Congress, Matos declined to sit for an interview for my story or answer written questions, although she said in a statement that the process resulted in a favorable outcome for Rhode Island.
POLICE BLOTTER: State Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston) was arrested last week and charged with vandalism, in a case involving the keying of an SUV with a “Biden sucks” sign.
SCOTUS: Another blockbuster ProPublica story on the Supreme Court sparks related follow-up from U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (in a joint statement with U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois): “The Supreme Court is in an ethical crisis of its own making due to the acceptance of lavish gifts from parties with business before the Court that several Justices have not disclosed. The reputation and credibility of the Court are at stake. Chief Justice Roberts could resolve this today, but he has not acted. The highest court in the land should not have the lowest ethical standards. But for too long that has been the case with the United States Supreme Court. That needs to change. That’s why when the Senate returns after the July 4th recess, the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up Supreme Court ethics legislation. We hope that before that time, Chief Justice Roberts will take the lead and bring Supreme Court ethics in line with all other federal judges. But if the Court won’t act, then Congress must.”
ELSEWHERE IN CD1…
Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos got endorsed by EMILY’s List, which could provide important fundraising support. “Matos has been a champion for women, youth, and working families, and she has been a strong supporter of reproductive freedom throughout her time in elected office,” EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler said in a statement. Matos also won the endorsement of Elect Democratic Women — a major sign, according to Punchbowl News, “of institutional Democratic support for Matos.”
Aaron Regunberg unveiled an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a progressive favorite. “Rhode Island punches way above its weight class in Congress,” Raskin said via statement. “My close friend David Cicilline was an essential force for progressive change in the House who never cowered before MAGA Republicans or even the world’s largest corporations, and his departure is a sharp loss to Democrats. We need Rhode Island to send another fighter, organizer and leader to take David’s place, and that’s why I’m endorsing Aaron Regunberg as David’s replacement.” Regunberg also won endorsements from Climate Hawks Vote, a national group, and musician Vanessa Carlton.
Gabe Amo messaged on abortion and SCOTUS, saying in part, “The news that Justice Alito wined and dined with mega-donor to the conservative judicial movement, Paul Singer, is the latest in a saga of serious ethics concerns around our nation’s highest court. A lifetime confirmation to the Supreme Court was never meant to be a launching pad to a luxurious life of undisclosed trips on private jets and dinner parties with the uber-wealthy, some of whom have business before the Court.” If elected, Amo said he would “support legislation, like that championed by our very own Senator Whitehouse, to hold Supreme Court justices accountable by requiring the Court to implement and publicize a code of conduct and enact more strict guidelines for recusals and the disclosure of gifts and travel expenses.”
Sen. Sandra Cano added to her legislative backing with endorsements from Sens. Meghan Kallman of Pawtucket, Melissa Murray of Woonsocket, Robert Britto of East Providence and Mark McKenney of Warwick. “I am so honored to have earned the support of my fellow senators,” Cano said. “We have worked together to make big policy changes for our state with a focus on our children and working families. With their support, I am looking forward to working on policies that will help all American children and families in Congress.”
Don Carlson got endorsed by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut (for whom Carlson formerly served as a campaign manager). Himes said, “Don is a business and community leader focused on creating good solutions and producing results, and he understands the importance of creating new, green jobs, protecting reproductive rights, mitigating the effects of climate change, and advocating for common-sense gun legislation not just in Rhode Island, but across America.”
Sen. Ana Quezada picked up the endorsement of Rep. Enrique Sanchez of Providence. “Ana Quezada is the fighter that Rhode Island needs in Washington,” he said. “I’ve seen her in action at the State House. She knows how to get things done and she does so with integrity and a fierce dedication to the people she serves. I know she’ll do the same in Congress.”
PVD FEST: Providence Mayor Brett Smiley is defending his decision to make a series of changes to PVD Fest, the signature event created by his predecessor, Jorge Elorza. During an interview on Political Roundtable, Smiley said the choice to no longer allow people to stroll downtown with an open cup of beer or wine was due to how PVD Fest in recent years “had turned into more and more of an outdoor street fair, focused on drinking and less on the performances.” The event will instead take place on the riverfront later in the year. In a nod to people unhappy with the changes, Smiley said the city is looking at allowing bars and restaurants to extend outdoor areas at which patrons can consume a drink. “But we need to make sure that we can properly police and secure those areas so that they’re safe for everyone to enjoy. We’re trying to work on that. And that’s our hope. We’re trying to work on the staffing models right now. And we’ll have a lot of guidance for businesses in the weeks to come.”
OPIOID MONEY: My colleague Lynn Arditi has an eye-opening look at the lack of transparency accompanying the distribution to cities and towns of more than $10 million in opioid settlement money. Excerpt: “Even finding out precisely how much each city or town is receiving was nearly impossible because neither the local governments nor the state had publicly reported the information – until now. After requests from The Public’s Radio, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office released a detailed summary showing exact dollar amounts of the settlement money allocated to cities and towns. (The state’s summaries, unlike those documented by OpioidSettlementTracker.com and the national KFF Health News, also include money Rhode Island received from separate settlements with Teva and Allergan.) The payments range from less than $800 to the Town of Exeter, to more than $2 million to the City of Providence.”
TAKES OF THE WEEK – a mix of views from various Rhode Islanders.
RI House GOP Leader MIKE CHIPPENDALE of Foster: “Reflecting on the 2023 legislative session, there is reason for encouragement. The widening divide along extreme party lines was bridged slightly, something that should be welcomed by Rhode Islanders. The size of our $14 billion state budget absolutely must come down, and as the deluge of federal funds ends with allocations to one-time expenditures, restraint must be exercised in 2024 to shrink the overall budget. House Republicans had quite a few sections in this budget where we moved the needle, but we are particularly pleased that our year after year advocacy efforts for various reforms finally resulted in allocations for conservation and forestry issues; and the enactment of significant Medicaid reforms — which were at the forefront of our priorities — ultimately saving Rhode Island taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. This year we also exempted 75% of Rhode Island’s small businesses from the suffocating ‘Tangible Property Tax.’ In our goal toward transparent and efficient core state government services, we enacted reporting reforms in all state departments which will proactively identify inefficiencies and eliminate waste. We have much left to accomplish, but if we stay focused on the right issues, and avoid legislating from the fringes, we can chart a better course for Rhode Island. I remain hopeful and look forward to building upon our progress next year.”
ADAM S. MYERS, professor of political science at Providence College: “Former President Trump’s federal indictment last week has raised a big question among political scientists: will the ‘invisible primary’ matter in 2024? This question relates to a well-known and (until eight years ago) widely accepted theory about how the modern presidential nomination process works. In brief, the theory holds that, during the period leading up to the presidential primaries, party leaders and affiliated power-brokers hold numerous behind-the-scenes conversations and negotiations (the so-called ‘invisible primary’) in an effort to coalesce around a candidate to be their party’s stand-bearer. Then, through endorsements, campaign contributions, and other signals, the party elite implicitly send a message to their voters that ‘the party has decided’ in favor of that candidate, who goes on to win the bulk of the primaries and, eventually, the nomination. This theory famously fell apart in 2016: the party elite appeared to have ‘decided’ on Jeb Bush early on, but his campaign quickly crashed and burned, and then party leaders weren’t able to decide on an alternative to stop Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the party. Going into 2024, one might predict that Republican party leaders will be similarly ineffectual this time around. But there are some crucial differences between 2016 and 2024. For one thing, Republican leaders are aware of Trump’s powerful hold on a large segment of the Republican primary electorate this time around. On top of that, they are increasingly convinced that, given January 6th and his various legal entanglements, Trump won’t be able to win the general election. The need to coalesce around a viable alternative to Trump therefore seems imperative to many of them. But will they be able to ‘decide,’ and will a sufficient number of Republican primary voters listen? Only time will tell.”
KICKER: We here at Casa Donnis are typically a few weeks behind in viewing current episodes of Jeopardy! – due to the time-consuming exigencies of following the Red Sox – but scuttlebutt indicates that Dan Meuse, a smart staffer during Elizabeth Roberts’ time as lieutenant governor – suffered a close miss in advancing on the show. Welp.
Ian Donnis can be reached at email@example.com