The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

July 20th, 2013 at 5:00 am by 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 tnesi@wpri.com. For quick hits all week long, follow me on Twitter: @tednesi.

1. Rhode Islanders have been hearing bad news about the economy for so long that a lot of people are probably numb to it – especially news like this week’s employment report, with the jobless rate unchanged at 8.9%. But a lingering disaster is still a disaster. Compare June 2013 with the boom times of January 1989: there are 79,000 more people 16-and-older living in Rhode Island now than there were then, but only a scant 5,000 more people with a job. Before the downturn, in December 2006, there were 69,000 more Rhode Islanders than in 1989 – and 45,000 more Rhode Islanders with a job. Put another way, over seven years the share of Rhode Island’s new population with a job has plummeted from 65% to 6%. Nearly a quarter-century of employment growth is gone. Why? A complete answer requires more research. For now, though, it’s worth noting that Rhode Island’s population of 16-to-54-year-olds dropped by 44,000 between 2006 and 2012 – yet that was more than offset by an increase of 48,000 among those 55 and older. You’d expect that exchanging a younger population for an older one would bring down the unemployment rate, since Rhode Islanders near or past retirement age are less likely to be in the work force. But it’s probably not a great sign for the long-term health of the economy.

2. Someone alert Joe McNamara – Rhode Island is one of only 10 states that doesn’t have an official state fossil. (Massachusetts went with “dinosaur tracks.”)

3. Economic development isn’t always sexy. Case in point: the Port of Davisville received a nice write-up in the latest Supply Chain Digital, a magazine that obviously won’t give Rolling Stone a run for its money in the excitement department but one which reaches senior executives who make big decisions impacting lots of jobs. The 8-page spread (flip to page 90) focuses on the $22.3-million stimulus-funded TIGER grant secured for the port in 2010 by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and the congressional delegation. The federal money was used to pay for, among other things, a state-of-the-art mobile harbor crane made in Germany, significantly expanding the varieties of cargo that Davisville can handle. The port now hosts 175 companies and more than 9,100 workers.

4. Speaking of stimulus, though, the new state budget offers some fodder to those who criticized how President Obama and congressional Democrats designed the $831-billion one-shot spending law. Buried in the 2014 budget is a provision to spend nearly $5 million in stimulus money approved for the Rhode Island State Energy Plan - even though the grant expires on Sept. 30. The federal government has given Rhode Island permission to spend the unused money on other projects, such as installing electric stations and giving revolving loans for small commercial energy-efficiency projects, after the state was apparently unable to use it all for the original purpose. Those projects may be fantastic uses of public funds – but spending the grant five years after Congress approved it doesn’t really seem like stimulus, money which is supposed to be spent quickly to give a sudden jolt to a weak economy. Lawmakers did, however, avoid another concern expressed by stimulus critics: they rejected Governor Chafee’s request to make a number of stimulus-funded government jobs permanent. Chafee’s suggestion even drew a mild rebuke from House Fiscal Office staffers, who wrote pointedly: “It should be noted that programs and positions funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were not intended to be permanent additions to agencies.”

5. A small milestone in freshman Congressman Joe Kennedy III‘s career this week – on Thursday a House committee unanimously approved his proposal to expand NASA’s Space Grant program to community colleges, two-year degree programs and vocational schools. It marks the first time a Kennedy amendment has won passage, and the subject seems fitting considering how closely associated the congressman’s great-uncle John F. Kennedy was with NASA. (While the committee approved one other Kennedy measure, it also rejected his amendment to support NASA’s Office of Education.) Kennedy has spent his first six months in Washington following the examples of other famous freshmen like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – keeping his head down, learning his district, staying out of the media spotlight, and focusing on uncontroversial issues. Of course, few expect Kennedy to spend his career in the U.S. House. Many in Massachusetts assume the 32-year-old teetotaler will run for president someday; he’s eligible in 2016, but will probably wait a few more cycles. To get a better sense of the newest Kennedy on the scene, watch his March appearance on Newsmakers.

6. This week’s dispatch from WPRI.com ace scribe Dan McGowan: “Lobbyist and political consultant Brett Smiley isn’t just ‘exploring’ a run for mayor of Providence in 2014 – he’s in. The 34-year-old Chicago native told WPRI.com he’s put all the pieces in place (which includes the backing of prominent East Side Democrat Myrth York and veteran organizer Lauren Nocera) to spend the next 14 months campaigning to win the Democratic primary. ‘I’ve got all my ducks in a row with that last piece being whether [Mayor] Angel [Taveras] moves on,’ Smiley said. Smiley quickly joins City Council President Michael Solomon and Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza (who is expected to step down from the bench in the coming months) as the three frontrunners in a crowded field that already includes educator Victor Capellan and Councilwoman Sabina Matos as well as a host of others who are attempting to convince themselves, their friends and the media why they should be the ones to replace Taveras. So why does Smiley, who has worked for both former mayor and now Congressman David Cicilline and Taveras, believe he’s the right man for the job? ‘I think I have the knowledge to hit the ground running that probably Michael Solomon has but other candidates don’t,’ Smiley said.”

7. Matt Bors defends Millennials: “Those of us born between 1980 and 2000 are not nearly as God-awful as the writers who constantly profile our tech-addled, be-hipstered people would have you believe.”

8. With Detroit in the headlines, it seems appropriate to recall one of Rhode Island’s more illustrious exports to the Great Lakes State: Blair Moody, a Rhode Island native who represented Michigan in the U.S. Senate – briefly. Moody has a unique biography. He was born in 1902, attended Providence schools and Brown University, then left Rhode Island after a year as a teacher-coach at Moses Brown to take a job reporting for the Detroit News. In 1933 Moody was dispatched to Washington, where he specialized in the economy. He filed reports for The Boston Globe and Barron’s, wrote a book and even hosted a show on NBC called “Meet Your Congress.” Then, in April 1951, Michigan’s governor appointed Moody to fill the unfinished U.S. Senate term of the deceased Arthur Vandenberg; Moody landed on the cover of Life magazine, which said his appointment was the first time a Washington correspondent had ever been made a U.S. senator. Alas, Moody lost his bid for a Senate term of his own in 1952, and he died of a heart attack two years later while campaigning to return.

9. Rhode Island PBS was kind enough to include me on the panel for this week’s episode of “A Lively Experiment,” along with Ed Fitzpatrick, Wendy Schiller and Maureen Moakley. Topics include what Governor Chafee did and didn’t sign, Rolling Stone, and Campaign 2014. 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.

10. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan and Congressman David Cicilline. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – GreenBytes CEO Stephen O’Donnell and Hope & Main executive director Lisa Raiola. 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.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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3 Responses to “The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI”

  1. Rani says:

    One could easily argue that the democrat’s economic development plan is the most prominent fossil we have.

  2. Maggie says:

    When the voters meet Brett Smiley, he will lose support. He is a lobbyist who is out of touch with most Providence residents.

  3. Ethan says:

    Quality post, Ted. Keep these gems coming!