The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RINovember 24th, 2012 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. What makes a great mayor? Looks can be deceiving. If roads, services and job growth are all solid the natural inclination is to think the current mayor is doing a good job. But check under the hood. Nobody would buy a car, or even assume it’s in good condition, just because it has a fresh coat of paint and clean interiors – we’d kick the tires, check the mileage and survey the parts as well. It’s the same way with cities, and in Rhode Island particularly so with unfunded retirement liabilities. I’m betting there were decades past when some Rhode Island cities had great services, a contented citizenry and a happy municipal work force – all to the benefit of their mayors. But if part of that work force’s pay was in the form of deferred compensation – pensions and lifetime health care – the contented citizens were effectively borrowing money from taxpayers of the future to afford the level of services they enjoyed at the time. A truly great mayor is one who provides good services without leaving behind large hidden debts to handcuff his successors.
3. How long is it going to take for the Rhode Island judicial system to render a final decision on the 2011 pension law? Seems like it could take a while, considering the Superior Court is still grappling with procedural questions such as whether Judge Taft-Carter can stay on the case. The long-term fiscal outlook for all levels of Rhode Island government will remain a question-mark until the law’s future is decided. Bob Walsh of teachers union NEARI argues that uncertainty is unnecessary – state leaders could resolve the question once and for all by negotiating a resolution with organized labor. But Treasurer Raimondo‘s allies dismiss that idea, saying the unions had their shot during the back-room bargaining last fall and maintaining that the law’s sweeping changes are legal. And it seems unlikely Governor Chafee, House Speaker Fox or Senate President Paiva Weed would move to open negotiations if the treasurer objects.
4. Ron Brownstein of National Journal has a very good column dividing the 2012 electorate into two groups: the Democrats’ Coalition of Transformation and the Republicans’ Coalition of Restoration. “To the extent [Republicans'] longing means restoring the political dominance of married, churchgoing white families,” he writes, “the most important message of 2012 is that those days are gone.”
5. Speaking of Republicans, Nesi’s Notes editor emeritus M. Charles Bakst writes in:
Seeing the results of the 2012 national elections, in which Republicans did so poorly among women and minorities, doesn’t it seem, um, stupid that 97 House GOPers would come out against President Obama’s prospective nomination of Susan Rice as Secretary of State? Especially in that it is only senators who actually vote on confirmation of cabinet appointees?
I don’t claim this to be any original insight on my part. But it does remind me of something. For most of my career covering Rhode Island politics, the state’s congressional delegation included a Republican senator – John Chafee and then his son, Lincoln – and for many of those years at least one GOP U.S. representative or even two (Claudine Schneider, Ron Machtley).
For a journalist, it was always great to be able to tap Republican as well as Democratic delegation members for comment on what their parties or the other parties were up to.
With partisan Democratic appeals so prominent and powerful in Sheldon Whitehouse’s ouster of Lincoln Chafee in 2006 and in David Cicilline’s reelection in 2012, I’m not holding my breath waiting for Rhode Islanders to send a Republican to Congress again. On the merits, I’m not saying they should, just that as a journalist it’s always useful to be able to talk to someone on either side of the aisle and to ask, say, “What in the world are your people thinking?”
6. At the suggestion of Common Cause Rhode Island’s John Marion and WPRO’s Andrew Gobeil, I’m slowly but surely making my way through Robert Caro’s magisterial biography of Lyndon Johnson. Right now I’m on the third volume, “Master of the Senate,” which chronicles Johnson’s years as Senate majority leader, when he passed the 1957 Civil Rights Act in a tour de force of legislative skill. What I didn’t know until reading Caro was the crucial role played in that fight by U.S. Sen. John Pastore, the diminutive Democrat who represented Rhode Island in the chamber from 1950 to 1976. (Pastore, who never lost an election, died in 2000 at age 93.) Johnson used Pastore, a noted orator, to give a crucial speech supporting an amendment that allowed the act to pass. “The impact of Pastore’s performance was profound,” the historian Robert Mann wrote. “He played the role of an earnest, undecided senator. But he had actually led his colleagues through a crafty, subtle argument for the amendment.” It was the rare Senate floor speech that actually changed votes.
7. Will the indignities never stop for Rhode Island Republicans? A sharp-eyed reader discovered that when you click the picture of House Minority Leader Brian Newberry on the redesigned House website, you’re brought to the page for … Majority Leader Nick Mattiello. “Newberry suffered lost membership in this past election and can’t even get a solid link to his own profile,” remarks my correspondent.
8. How’d you like to come work with my colleagues and me? WPRI 12 is looking for a new Digital Content Producer to join the team that produces WPRI.com’s daily news coverage. It’s a hybrid reporter/editor/multimedia gig. Full information on how to apply is here.
9. One hallmark of Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed’s approach to leadership – and perhaps one key to her success – is that she holds her cards close to the vest, rarely saying more to the press than she needs to. In that respect she’s the Bill Belichick of Rhode Island politics. Governor Chafee’s nomination of George Caruolo to lead the new R.I. Board of Education is no exception; asked for Paiva Weed’s thoughts on the pick, her spokesman Greg Pare replied concisely: “As with any appointment, when it is received by the Senate it will be referred to the appropriate committee, which will do its due diligence.”
10. Rhode Island PBS was kind enough to include me on the panel for this week’s episode of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Ian Donnis, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Bob Walsh. Topics include the pension challenge and next year’s legislative session. Watch tonight at 7 p.m. on WSBE Learn (Ch. 36.2), Sunday at noon on WSBE-TV (Ch. 36.1) or online at the RI PBS blog.
11. I hope all of you had a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for all of you who read Nesi’s Notes and have given me the chance to do a job I love. Thank you for your loyalty, your ideas, your criticisms, your tips, your corrections, and your good humor.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Brown University President Christina Paxson. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – a look at Pawtucket with Providence Yarn Company’s Terry Schuster and Foolproof Brewing Company’s Nick Garrison. 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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