The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIJune 8th, 2013 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. Warwick Rep. Frank Ferri offered a short-term solution to the 38 Studios bond-payment controversy at Thursday’s Finance Committee hearing: “Maybe we should pay this year’s payment,” he suggested, “and then do our due diligence to come up with a clearer answer.” That sounds sensible. It’s important to remember that lawmakers aren’t being asked to pay the whole $90 million this year; Governor Chafee’s request for this year is only for $2.5 million, which is just 0.03% of next year’s budget – and far less than the $12.5 million that will be required annually starting in 2014. Making the initial payment preserves Rhode Island’s options on the remaining $87.5 million; skipping it will put the state in effective default, with all the consequences that could follow. If lawmakers are upset about the situation, they should amend this year’s payment and require Chafee, Treasurer Raimondo, Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva Weed to commission a formal study of the consequences of default, as suggested by MMA’s Matt Fabian. (In fact, why wasn’t that done months ago?) In this age of bailouts and austerity, it’s understandable that lawmakers don’t want to pay bondholders money to which they aren’t even legally entitled – but if the direct and indirect costs of default top $90 million, they shouldn’t cut off Rhode Island’s nose to spite its face.
2. Staff changes are coming to Congressman Cicilline’s office as he settles into his second term. Word from the Beltway is that Scott Fay, who’s been Cicilline’s chief of staff since the former Providence mayor went to Washington, is preparing to leave Capitol Hill. Fay has spent more than a decade working in Congress for Cicilline, California’s John Garamendi and the late Ted Kennedy. The pair are scouting for a new chief of staff to be put in place before Fay’s departure.
3. Senator Whitehouse’s unequivocal defense of President Obama’s surveillance programs during this week’s Newsmakers came as somewhat of a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. Whitehouse is a loyal Democrat who trusts the White House far more with Obama rather than George W. Bush in the Oval Office. As a former U.S. attorney and attorney general, Whitehouse’s deep familiarity with the tactics used by law enforcement may make him more sensitive than some of his colleagues to their side of the argument in these debates. The junior senator has also been displaying a hawkish streak of late, calling for more aid to Syria alongside John McCain. More subtly, though, Whitehouse’s opinions on surveillance may reflect the fact that he believes in a powerful federal government. In Britain, The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee has argued that liberals may undercut their own cause when they overemphasize civil liberties, which “turns the state into public enemy number one.” Toynbee wrote in 2007, “That is the traditional rightwing view, but many on the left who should know better are buying into this creed of individualism against the collective.” Perhaps Whitehouse agrees.
4. When Whitehouse isn’t defending surveillance or battling austerity, he can sometimes be found waving the flag of Rhode Island patriotism on the Senate floor thanks to his annual Gaspee Day speech. Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren happened to be presiding over the chamber Tuesday when Whitehouse delivered this year’s edition, which led to a funny moment as he compared the “rigid theocracy” of her home state with tolerant Rhode Island – watch the YouTube clip here.
5. Sorry, denizens of Smith Hill: it looks like the General Assembly’s 2013 session won’t be ending anytime soon. House Finance Committee Chairman Helio Melo looked at me like I had three heads when I asked whether legislative leaders’ revised budget might be released next week. “I don’t think so,” he replied, and his raised eyebrows said more. That suggests the finance panel won’t take up the budget until the week of June 17-21 at the earliest, and if the House waits the usual seven days before voting on it, they wouldn’t pass it until at least June 24-28. House Finance approved the budget on May 31 last year, so it’s taking considerably longer to finish it this session – perhaps because they have $56 million less to spend than expected.
6. Here’s this week’s dispatch from WPRI.com ace Dan McGowan: “Governor Chafee’s decision to extend Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s contract may have left the teachers’ unions livid, but don’t expect the newly minted Democrat to find himself on U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s speed dial anytime soon. Chafee, who has long expressed concern about federal mandates put in place by the Obama administration, told WPRI.com in May that teacher evaluations and the NECAP graduation requirement were two issues where he saw ‘room for improvement’ in the coming years. Both Gist and Board of Education Chairwoman Eva Marie Mancuso deflected questions Thursday about whether either initiative would be slowed down or scaled back now that Gist’s contract has been renewed. However, Mancuso didn’t offer a ringing endorsement for the policies: ‘Whether they go forward the way they are or not, we’ll see what happens,’ she told reporters after the vote.”
7. A passage in Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s Princeton commencement speech last weekend stuck out to me. “Honest error in the face of complex and possibly intractable problems is a far more important source of bad results than are bad motives,” Bernanke argued. “For these reasons, the greatest forces in Washington are ideas, and people prepared to act on those ideas.” Both statements are true about Providence, as well.
8. One more update from Washington: David Cicilline got some attention from BuzzFeed this week in a front-page story about the growing House LGBT Equality Caucus, which he co-chairs. “What this year marks is not just that we’re here but that we’re here in a big enough number that we have a real caucus, with staff, so that now the work that we’re doing can be supported,” Cicilline told the site. His spokesman Rich Luchette reports the LGBT Caucus has 108 members total (107 Democrats and one Republican, Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) and Cicilline is taking an active role in raising its profile. He also helped find its two staff members, an executive director and a fellow.
9. Did you know local lawyer and GOP activist Steve Frias moonlights as a journalist? His thoroughly researched Cranston Herald columns are consistently terrific – I read him each week, and almost always learn something I didn’t know – and his 2011 book “Cranston and Its Mayors: A History” is an essential primer on Rhode Island’s third-largest city. Steve is giving a talk about the book at the Cranston Public Library’s annual meeting on Tuesday night – the event is free, and he’ll be signing copies of “Cranston and Its Mayors” afterwards. Check it out and buy Steve’s book!
10. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Chairman Colin Kane and Executive Director Jan Brodie of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, with PBN’s Patrick Anderson joining me on the panel. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Rep. Frank Ferri was from Cranston, not Warwick.
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