Talking Politics: Langevin’s withdrawal touches off a chain reaction

By Ian Donnis
Posted 2/2/22

STORY OF THE WEEK: The chain reaction set off by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin’s decision not to seek re-election has resounded throughout Rhode Island. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, once …

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Talking Politics: Langevin’s withdrawal touches off a chain reaction

Posted

STORY OF THE WEEK: The chain reaction set off by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin’s decision not to seek re-election has resounded throughout Rhode Island. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, once described as the top Democratic rival to Gov. Dan McKee, jumped into the CD2 race. The change is meant to tackle two issues: 1) the concern among Democrats that the congressional seat could fall into Republican hands; and 2) the uncertain path faced by Magaziner in the race for governor.

During a press availability at a Cranston library, Magaziner framed his decision in a national context. (By hammering the unpopularity of George W. Bush, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse used the same approach when he beat the still-popular, still-Republican U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee in 2006.) Magaziner, 38, responded to questions about political opportunism by citing a need for Democrats to prevail in CD2: “National Republicans like Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy seek to divide America, undermine democracy, and appeal to the most chaotic, hateful and dangerous elements of their party.”

With a Republican takeover in the U.S. House likely, the counter-argument is that a GOP representative would have more cache in DC. For Democrats, Magaziner is a proven fundraiser who has won two statewide elections. (Former state rep Ed Pacheco and refugee advocate Omar Bah are also running as Democrats; Pacheco has resigned from his job at Rhode Island College.)

At the same time, with the CD2 field still taking shape – and with former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a Republican, on the sidelines for now – the race offers a rare opportunity for the GOP to make a big splash in little Rhode Island.

A GO OR NO? Admirers of Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott felt a surge of excitement following my report that she was open to considering a Democratic run in CD2.

As an African American woman who has been at the forefront of Rhode Island’s leadership during the pandemic, Dr. Alexander-Scott is an interesting potential candidate. But she has never run for office and appears more likely to pursue another public health job after ending her almost seven-year tenure as director of the state Department of Health.

News coverage of Alexander-Scott’s three-month consulting contract, at $46,000 a month, also offered a reminder of the kind of glare faced by candidates.

GOP THUNDER: A hard-fought GOP primary, a rarity in Rhode Island, may loom in CD2, but questions remain about whether Allan Fung will pursue that race or run for state general treasurer. State Sen. Jessica de la Cruz of North Smithfield is in the hunt in CD2, state Rep. Patricia Morgan of West Warwick tells me she’s considering it, and former state representative Bob Lancia of Cranston has been running for most of the time since 2020.

For Fung, his vote-rich base in greater Cranston-Warwick makes him a potentially strong candidate. Yet CD2 is appreciably more conservative than CD1 and that could boost de la Cruz in the primary amid the turnout of more right-leaning voters.

GOV. RACE FALLOUT: Seth Magaziner’s exit from the race for governor means his supporters can vote for someone else among the five remaining Democrats. This could offer a boost to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and/or former CVS exec Helena Foulkes. Gorbea has unveiled an updated web site with additional policy materials. Foulkes has so far conducted a mostly low-profile campaign, via media interviews and tweets, although she remains a wild card due to her deep pockets and ability to launch a lot of broadcast advertising.

Gov. Dan McKee maintains the benefit of incumbency and of being in office when a lot of federal aid is flowing to the state. But with Matt Brown and Luis Daniel Munoz competing on the more progressive end of the Democratic primary for governor, the narrowing of the field represents a new dynamic. 

THE FIELD: Here’s the latest on the CD2 field in addition to the candidates already mentioned in this week’s column. State Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston) announced he is not running in CD2 and will seek re-election to the state Senate. State Rep. Carol McEntee (D-South Kingstown) tells me she is still seriously considering it. Other Democrats looking at the race include Joy Fox, a former comms director for Gina Raimondo, state Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown), and Michael Neary, a former supporter of John Kasich. 

SCOTUS: Ketanji Brown Jackson, one of the oft-mentioned candidates to be Joe Biden’s pick for the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, clerked early in her career in the First Circuit Court of Appeals for Judge Bruce Selya (h/t Matt Jerzyk).

MERGER: With a decision drawing closer on the proposed merger of Lifespan and Care New England, House Minority Leader Blake Filippi said he doesn’t believe regulators can impose adequate safeguards that would prevent the downside of monopoly behavior. Supporters such as Brown President Christina Paxson, who backs creating an academic health system with the combined entity, call the merger a key for building necessary scale and efficiency. Filippi has a different view.

“By creating this monopoly, and whatever type of state regulatory agency is going to oversee this monopoly, essentially what you’ve done is remove power from the healthcare consumer and transfer it to the monopoly and government.”

Depending on who is in office at a given time, the state can offer tough regulatory review of healthcare. Consider how Attorney General Peter Neronha imposed serious conditions last year on an ownership change involving Prospect Medical Holdings, owner of Roger Williams Medical Center and Our Lady of Fatima.

Looking ahead, if state and federal regulators reject the Lifespan-Care NE merger, it’s hard to know what will happen next.

GOP MIA: Aside from Charles Calenda, a Republican running for state attorney general, virtually no other GOP members have mustered a public presence while running for any of the five state general offices in 2022. Even some staunch Democrats acknowledge that having a viable opposition is an important part of good governance.

For now, Republicans hold 10 seats in the 75-member House of Representatives and five in the 38-member Senate. Asked why the GOP has not presented a slate of general officer candidates, House GOP Leader Blake Filippi offered this response on Political Roundtable: “Running for office is a difficult proposition, and we are definitely a bluish-very light purple state. And our focus is really on recruiting General Assembly because that’s where all the power lies in this state.”

Filippi ruled out a run for governor this year, although he added, “I think there is a path to victory for a moderate Republican, and I anticipate one stepping up soon.”

JEOPARDIZED?: Tom Nichols of the Naval War College laments in The Atlantic the growing frequency of long winning streaks on Jeopardy! The show, he believes, “has lost the spirit that made it an American institution.” People and institutions are gaming the system all over America, however, so perhaps bringing more expertise to the game-within-the-game is quintessentially American. Regardless, Ken Jennings is absolutely killing it as the current host.

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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