The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RISeptember 15th, 2012 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
Welcome to another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to email@example.com.
1. Tuesday’s General Assembly primaries were largely good news for House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, giving their Democratic caucuses no reason to rebel. But their allies suffered different fates. Two top Paiva Weed deputies – Michael McCaffrey, her possible successor, and Dan DaPonte – fought off spirited challenges, while two Fox lieutenants – Peter Petrarca, the senior deputy majority leader, and Jon Brien – lost their seats. There’s no reason to think their defeats will harm the speaker: Petrarca was defeated by Greg Costantino, the brother of Fox’s best friend, and Brien lost to union-backed Steve Casey. Their defeats do, however, cloud the outlook for the post-Gordon era – Petrarca in particular was seen as likely to be a key part of the next leadership team. Power abhors a vacuum, so watch to see which backbenchers raise their profiles and fill the void.
2. Complaints about the electoral influence of Rhode Island’s labor unions often center on the money they spend on races. But it struck me over the past two weeks that this critique overlooks another important reason labor wins – they employ some very, very smart political operatives. Love them or hate them, folks like the AFT’s Maureen Martin, NEARI’s Pat Crowley and SEIU’s Chas Walker know how to win elections on the ground. And they have an army of members who’ll do the unglamorous work of knocking on doors, putting up fliers, holding signs and driving people to the polls. Business interests should build up a ground game of their own if they want to win more races.
3. McCaffrey and DaPonte kept their seats, but they still lost something – their summers. The two men were forced to spend the last few weeks campaigning energetically instead of enjoying some time off. Did the forces opposed to them thus instill a healthy fear of a repeat in two years – or just a lot of resentment? NEARI’s Bob Walsh thinks the former: “My analysis is that marriage equality’s chances have improved,” he tweeted, “as no one will want to deal with close races like this again.” Perhaps Paiva Weed and McCaffrey will allow a vote on gay marriage next year just to rob its supporters of their anti-Senate talking point.
4. Another lawmaker who had a good night was North Kingstown Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt, who surprised the chattering class when he defeated opponent Sharon Gamba by just 22 votes – all mail ballots – in a hard-fought, expensive Republican primary. Just a day before, one ill-informed pundit – yours truly – had described the race as an “intraparty battle that has become an uphill one for the aging incumbent.” Ehrhardt emailed me after his victory: “A better description would have been a speed bump for a seasoned veteran.” Got me there, Rep. We’ll see if he can pull off another win against Democrat Robert Craven in November.
5. Providence should organize its own version of The Boston Book Festival. I think the city has the academic institutions and intellectual vibrancy to pull it off. Here’s an idea: Providence is known for politics, so focus on political books. Bring in the smartest political writers and thinkers from around the country, and have events pegged off the big new political books. Thoughts?
6. Ever since Tim White’s long-awaited exclusive interview with Don Carcieri aired on Thursday night, people have been asking me how my colleague convinced the former governor to speak with him – at length – after turning down so many others. Here’s the tale from Tim: “I’ve been in touch with Governor Carcieri for the past couple of months. Initially it was through people close to him, and then it evolved into a series of phone conversations. My pitch was, basically: ‘The pressure is mounting for you to speak publicly, and at some point you’re going to be approached at some event.’ That’s not how most public figures want to do interviews on important subjects – and in fact, that’s exactly what happened when he got ambushed at the Republican National Convention. But by then we’d already scheduled this week’s interview, and the former governor kept his word to wait until our interview to break his silence.” Tim adds: “There were no conditions set on the interview. All he asked was that we air the entire segment so it wouldn’t be chopped down into soundbites. That was easy because it’s exactly why we have Newsmakers, which is a half-hour every week.” The full interview is online and airs tonight at 7:30 p.m. (or after football) on Fox Providence.
7. This week’s election was as much an epic defeat for Anthony Gemma as it was a decisive victory for David Cicilline. First off, turnout wasn’t that much lower than it was two years ago even though this was an incumbent being challenged by an outsider, not a four-way primary for an open seat: 48,595 votes were cast this year, down from 56,812 in 2010. Over the intervening two years, Cicilline has suffered terrible publicity and watched his approval rating plummet. There was definitely an opportunity for another Democrat – an opportunity Gemma squandered: while Cicilline’s vote total jumped from 21,142 to 30,197, Gemma’s only ticked up from 13,112 to 14,698. Chris Young won another 3,700 votes – about three times more than the total increase for Gemma. He barely built on his support from two years ago. His strategy was clearly flawed.
8. There was enormous optimism in the room at last week’s big Make It Happen RI event, as my guests will explain on Executive Suite this weekend. (Sunday at 6!) But there was also a palpable frustration. Rhode Island seems to be less than the sum of its parts these days despite its oft-cited assets and charms. Justin Katz put it this way in a tweet: “We’re all coming up with the same ideas. We know what to do; we aren’t discussing why we’re not doing it.”
9. There was also a lot of talk at the event about how Rhode Island should sell its small size as an advantage that allows people to come together easily (the event itself being an example) and presumably makes the state more efficient. The more I listened, the more I was reminded of the pitch my alma mater Wheaton College makes. Wheaton is a small liberal arts school, but it says that’s part of the appeal – you can make a name for yourself and get opportunities more quickly there than elsewhere. I saw that myself when I arrived on campus after a year at the comparatively ginormous Boston University; arriving on campus I asked what the process was to get a radio show and was told, “You pick a time slot.” (At BU, there was a long wait and no guarantees.) The key thing about Wheaton, though, is students there actually believe the story about the benefits of its small size. Do Rhode Islanders feel the same way about their state? Should they? If not, why not?
10. Back to the primary – two other Democrats who had good nights were potential 2014 rivals Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo. Two of the three candidates Taveras backed won their races (Joe Almeida and Gayle Goldin; Libby Kimzey lost) while Raimondo campaigned for five candidates, four of whom won (McCaffrey, DaPonte, Mia Ackerman and Chris “88%” Blazejewski). The treasurer could wind up batting 1.000, though, if the fifth person she backed pulls it off – Carlos Tobon’s fate will be decided at a recount Monday.
11. Angel and Gina may get all the attention, but the Democrat who’s already declared his candidacy for governor – Ernie Almonte – is impressing people, too. After hearing Almonte speak at an event in New York, one attendee told AccountingWeb: “He was like the Dos Equis guy, ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World.’”
12. This week on Newsmakers – former Gov. Donald Carcieri. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite - a roundtable on Make It Happen RI with Neil Steinberg of The Rhode Island Foundation, Jon Duffy of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Shorr of PC Troubleshooters and Scot Jones of Groov-Pin. Watch Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.
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