STORY OF THE WEEK: With a little more than three weeks until the Sept. 5 primary in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, the race has entered a more combative phase. A case in point was a …
STORY OF THE WEEK: With a little more than three weeks until the Sept. 5 primary in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, the race has entered a more combative phase. A case in point was a forum staged last Thursday by podcaster Bill Bartholomew with eight of the 12 Democratic candidates. A few of the candidates focused their attack lines on Aaron Regunberg, and how a super PAC mostly funded by his father-in-law has helped back his campaign.
To critics, the support clashes with the progressive’s self-description as a foe of corporate money in politics. Regunberg responded by denying coordination with the super PAC and saying that his record reflects his values. Regardless of the competing arguments, the critiques underscore the perception (in the absence of public polling) that Regunberg could be the frontrunner in CD1.
The debate offered more exposure for rivals, including Sandra Cano, John Goncalves, Gabe Amo and Stephanie Beauté. Not surprisingly, the signature-gathering controversy involving Sabina Matos, which has generated weeks of news coverage, also came up for discussion. Rival Democrat Don Carlson suggested the issue raises a question of competence, while Matos countered by again accusing rivals of trying to politicize an act of subterfuge by a rogue campaign worker.
While there are some clear distinctions between the candidates and their experience, there’s a lot of overlap in their policy stances. Voters will have more chances to scrutinize the Democratic CD1 candidates through upcoming debates and forums, including an Aug. 17 debate at Roger Williams University (6-7:30 p.m.), sponsored by The Rhode Island Association of Democratic City and Town Chairs; an Aug. 22 forum (6-8 p.m.) at Rhode Island College, sponsored by The Public’s Radio, The Providence Journal and Rhode Island PBS; an Aug. 29 debate (7 p.m.) on WPRI-TV, Channel 12; and an Aug. 31 debate from Rhode Island College on WJAR-TV, Channel 10.
THE SIGNATURES: The state Board of Elections reversed course, voting this week to review all of the signatures submitted by Sabina Matos’ campaign. With the findings due to be revealed during a BOE meeting Tuesday, the expectation is that the results will not reveal any big surprises. On a 5-to-2 vote, the board nonetheless decided that examining the signatures is an important step to bolster public confidence in the political process.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Hopkinton) was part of a reception in Indianapolis on Sunday, Aug. 13, ahead of an Aug. 16 vote that will make him the new president of the National Conference of State Legislatures. About a dozen or so reps are expected to make the trip. Kennedy, who came to the Statehouse as a page while in college at PC and won his first term in 1988, will be the first Rhode Islander to have the honorary role of NCSL president. He serves as speaker pro tempore in the House.
PAWTUCKET: While a quarterly briefing by Bryant University and RIPEC this week indicated that economic growth has stalled in Rhode Island, Fortuitous Partners reported that it has secured the final necessary equity investment to move ahead with a public-private partnership with the city and the state. “Despite global financial challenges, the Fortuitous Partners development team raised another $14.5 million of private equity over the last two months without taking on any additional debt,” the company said in a statement. “The additional equity investment announced … signifies the completion of the development team’s equity raise, and both the stadium and Rhode Island FC are fully capitalized. In all, Fortuitous Partners and Rhode Island FC have combined to raise $50 million in private equity.” Plans call for Rhode Island FC to play its initial season at Bryant University next year.
GOP PROSPECTS: Like a string of predecessors, RI GOP Chairman Joe Powers is bringing personal energy and solid communication chops to the task of boosting the state’s long-struggling minority party, which currently holds 14 of 113 legislative seats. Local Republican fortunes have faltered over the last two decades, since a GOP candidate hasn’t won election as governor since 2006 and the party has been locked out of other state general offices for years.
Regardless, Powers rejects the idea that the growing progressive tendency within the General Assembly over the last decade suggests the GOP is out of step with voters. Rather, he said during an interview on Political Roundtable, “That far to the left of it has gotten so much louder that people kind of kowtow to what’s going on. I mean, you see it now where you see progressives, where the so-called conservative Democrat isn’t really a Democrat anymore, because they’ve pulled the line so far over.”
Powers will have his first major test during legislative elections next year, a time when the challenge of boosting GOP ranks could be tougher since state Rep. Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick) has launched an uphill fight against Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, joining Ray McKay on the GOP side of the race, and state Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (R-Cranston) is seen as a likely mayoral candidate.
R.I.P., JOHN HOLMES: The former RI GOP chairman, who died this week at age 74, was remembered as a gentleman, widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike. Republicans had a lot more local success in the ’80s and ’90s, with Ron Machtley defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. Fernand St German in 1988, and Lincoln Almond winning the first of two gubernatorial terms in 1994. Holmes was also the quarterback of the one successful attempt to dramatically boost GOP legislative ranks in recent memory, a 1983 special election that tripled the number of Republican senators, from 7 to 21, in the aftermath of a costly Democratic redistricting boondoggle.
TRUMP TV: The mythology of Donald Trump got a big boost from his years as the central figure on “Apprentice,” so should his high-profile trial be televised?
Via NPR’s Scott Neuman – “The trial of former President Donald Trump on charges related to his alleged attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election would likely prove among the biggest television events in history. But a federal rule forbids ’the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.’ House Democrats, led by Rep. Adam Schiff of California, are hoping to change that. A letter on Thursday signed by Schiff and 37 other congressional Democrats, calls on the Judicial Conference — the national policy making body for the federal courts, which is led by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts — to ’explicitly authorize the broadcasting of court proceedings in the cases of United States of America v. Donald J. Trump.’ ”
THIRD PARTIES: Dissatisfaction with politics as usual hasn’t translated into broad support for third parties in America, which have instead functioned in more of a spoiler role. Now, there are concerns that the group NoLabels – which has called for a centrist path – could toss the election to Donald Trump by backing a third-party presidential hopeful. Jay Nixon, the group’s director of “ballot integrity,” offered this response when asked about that concern on the public radio show On Point: “The bottom line right now is Americans do not want a rematch of this election, and there are strong reasons why at least one of those candidates should get nowhere near the White House. NoLabels is fully aware of that. Folks involved are fully available to understand that risk and challenge, but we do not think that it’s the best decision to step aside now. Because of what might happen later on or potentially happen, especially when the public is so demanding that they get not only change, but leaders that they’re going to continue to support.”
TAKES OF THE WEEK – a mix of views from various Rhode Islanders.
State Rep. BRIAN C. NEWBERRY (R-North Smithfield): “As the race for CD1 heats up (winds down?) it appears likely, as it always has, that the Democratic primary will prove determinative. If I were registered unaffiliated, I would definitely cast my vote in that primary -- and I would urge everyone else who can to do so as well. Regardless of your views, you will want some say in your next congressman. But who to vote for? Well, this Republican will be voting for the Republican candidate in the fall, but if I had a choice in the Democratic primary, after first screening out any obviously character-deficient candidates, I would pick the person most closely aligned, however imperfectly, with more conservative values.
What if I was an actual Democrat? Well, not that actual Democrats are likely to listen to me, but I’ll put this out there anyway. If you are a left-leaning Democratic voter, you have several left-leaning options to choose from among people of character. Please do us all a favor and vote for someone genuine, someone with real life experience, someone who has actually held a real job. Don’t saddle the state with anyone who says one thing and does another and puts themselves first while harboring delusions of grandeur. Congress has enough of those.”
CEO/President of the Rhode Island Foundation DAVID CICILLINE: “I started here a bit more than two months ago. Even after working closely with the foundation for nearly 30 years as a state legislator, mayor and congressman, there are still things to learn. Did you know we award millions of dollars in scholarship assistance annually? Dozens of individual and organizational donors have established funds with us to help students pay for tuition, fees and books. This year alone, hundreds of young people are going off to college with the help of nearly $4 million in scholarships through the foundation.
Many of our recipients have inspiring stories. Emanuel Kanger and his mother immigrated from Liberia in 2014. Now the East Providence High School grad is headed to Dean College with the help of a Carter Roger Williams Scholarship. which is among our largest, at up to $80,000 over four years. Cranston High School East grad Isabella Ba also dreamed big. Now, she’s headed to Rhode Island College with our Rhode Island PBS Scholarship, which is worth up to $15,000 a year for students pursuing journalism. Who knows, one day Isabella might be the next Ian Donnis. Talk about big dreams.” [I see what you did there, David!]
DANTE BELLINI JR, chief hooligan of Hooligan Film Productions: “I was prepared to offer an outrage about CD1 shenanigans, but took a deep breath and submitted something that we can be proud of. We have a superstar in our midst. Dr. Jack Warner. In his brief time as interim president of Rhode Island College, he has been an agent of galactic change. In this weird and concerning time for higher education across the country, President Warner has been a stabilizing and motivating force for the RIC community. Full disclosure: I am a proud 1980 alum of RIC and keenly aware of its challenges as the not-as-exciting sibling of the great state university to the south. So perhaps I am a bit biased. But under President Warner’s leadership, and at the speed of light, RIC is poised to again make an enormous impact on Rhode Island’s future, as it has in its past.
He has re-instilled a sense of purpose and pride inside and outside the campus. There is gravity and substance to the strategy. With the HOPE Scholarship, the Cybersecurity Institute, exciting new bachelor, and online adult degree programs, RIC is poised to meet the needs of a brave new world. All while putting the school back on firm financial footing. This is happening because President Warner’s style is genuine. He believes in the importance of deep listening. Novel, eh?
“He recently wrote, ‘No matter our job title, we all have ample reason for humility. Recognizing our individual limitations – or, to put it more simply, knowing what we don’t know – is, I believe, not only a source of personal strength and a reflection of one’s character but also the impetus for richer, more lasting forms of collaboration. Our ability to move forward ultimately hinges upon the willingness of focused, mission-driven individuals to come together and appreciate the unique and invaluable role they each play.’
“How refreshing. Colleges need to dramatically change how they prepare students for the world as it is now - and as it will be. RIC is full of vibrancy these days. That energy is what a college campus should feel, and fills me with hope that Rhode Island College will once again be, as President Warner imagines, Rhode Island’s opportunity college of choice.”
State Sen. TIARA MACK (D-PROVIDENCE): “On Monday, the state cleared out the Charles Street encampment in my district. There are still many questions about how Rhode Island is going to address the growing issue of homelessness. An estimated 440 people are living outside and we simply do not have the shelter space to accommodate single people and families experiencing homelessness amid a growing housing crisis. Some short-term solutions have not been seen as ’viable’ for our governor or our municipal leaders, like the proposed state-sanctioned shelters.
“Homelessness is a complex issue requiring a multi-prong, intentional approach. The Cranston Street Armory remains empty with no plans for redevelopment. Are we going to use that as a homeless shelter in the coming months? Winter is quickly approaching with a cool fall coming. We know that in just a few short months, probably around November and December, we will see cold temperatures leaving people in our communities vulnerable to sickness and even death.
“Will we invest in more infrastructure and temporary shelter spaces? Do we have the tools and resources in our state to rapidly build the housing needed to increasing our supply and drive down demand? I am grateful to those helping people displaced from the encampment. I believe our state and our leaders are doing all that they can to ensure that everyone in our state has access to housing. The creation of the Housing secretary position is a valuable one, and we must support Secretary Pryor and push his team to address these issues rapidly and compassionately.”
THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS: The Young Democrats RI PAC has elected new leadership. Mary-Murphy Walsh will be president, Anthony Cherry got the nod for VP, and Robert Craven Jr. will continue as secretary-treasurer. Outgoing President Sam Ackerman is moving into a new role as a judicial law clerk for the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.
BOOK CORNER: Congrats to Phil Eil, whose book, “Prescription for Pain: How a Once-Promising Doctor Became the ‘Pill-Mill Killer,” is fast approaching publication by Penguin Random House after years of effort.
KICKER: It will be old home week for a bunch of former Raimondoites when Gina Raimondo’s official Statehouse portrait is unveiled during a Statehouse ceremony at 6 on Thursday, Aug. 17. Those on hand will include the former governor, her husband, Andy Moffit, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, former state Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and probably a number of former Raimondo staffers.
Ian Donnis can be reached at email@example.com. If you’d like to get his column in your inbox every Friday, sign up here: https://lp.constantcontactpages.com/su/PriKkmN/TGIFsignup