The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RIJuly 27th, 2013 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. There’s been a lot of eye-rolling about the new study that ranks Rhode Island No. 1 in the nation on government transparency and accountability, with New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana close behind. The findings bring to mind a famous quote from columnist Michael Kinsley: “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal.” Take 38 Studios: Governor Carcieri and the EDC board absolutely had the authority to guarantee a $75-million loan for the company, even though the due diligence was shoddy and the risks were obvious. Incompetent decisions are legal. Take the General Assembly: lawmakers passed a huge amount of consequential legislation during marathon voting sessions just before the Fourth of July, with minimal public input. Slapdash legislating is legal. Take pensions: officials at the state and local level kept underfunding retirement benefits long after actuaries started sounding the alarm. Doing so is legal (though Josh Barro argues it shouldn’t be). It’s easy to focus on high-profile instances of criminal conduct by elected officials. But oftentimes the mistakes that do the most damage are perfectly legal, and only a watchful press and public will be able to prevent them.
2. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is proving to be an able fundraiser as he plots a 2014 bid for governor. The first-term Democrat raised roughly $158,000 during the second quarter to finish with about $690,000 on hand, up from $560,779 on March 31, campaign aide Peter Baptista tells me. It’s a solid number, particularly considering Taveras has devoted relatively little time to harvesting cash; he only held a few major events last spring. The mayor is expected to decide this fall about whether to run, and insiders say he’s already lining up out-of-state support. To be sure, his Democratic rival Gina Raimondo had $1.7 million in March and is likely to reveal another big haul this week. But money isn’t everything in politics, particularly in a small state like Rhode Island – just ask John Robitaille, who spent only $600,000 in 2010 yet nearly defeated Lincoln Chafee ($2.5 million) and lapped Frank Caprio ($2.7 million). Taveras is raising enough to compete.
4. There was high drama in the U.S. House earlier this week – and it divided Rhode Island’s two Democratic congressmen. The fight was over an amendment pushed by GOP rebel Justin Amash of Michigan to restrict how the NSA monitors Americans’ telephone calls. The measure failed on a narrow 205-217 vote, splitting both parties. Among those who wound up on opposite sides of the roll call were Jim Langevin, who voted against Amash’s measure as the White House urged, and David Cicilline, who bucked President Obama and voted with Amash. Their judgments reflect a difference of opinion in the Rhode Island delegation that’s been apparent for months. Langevin, who serves on the Intelligence Committee and has a solid working relationship with its Republican chairman, Mike Rogers, told me: “This tool has been integral in preventing at least 12 terror attacks on U.S. soil in the past few years, including a planned attack on the New York Stock Exchange in 2009, and the Amash amendment would have had both immediate and long-term impacts on the security of US citizens.” Cicilline, who volunteered as an ACLU attorney when he was practicing law, sees it differently. “Congressman Cicilline voted to support this amendment because Rhode Islanders and all Americans deserve a careful discussion and thorough review of how to maintain our national security and still preserve the privacy rights of millions of innocent Americans,” spokesman Rich Luchette said in an email. Still, the pair aren’t in total disagreement: they both joined a letter to Obama signed by Nancy Pelosi and 153 House Democrats seeking more information about the NSA program.
5. Across Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate was roiled by reports that President Obama might make former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers the next Federal Reserve chairman instead of Janet Yellen, who leads the San Francisco Fed and has long been seen as Ben Bernanke’s heir apparent. Opposition to Summers – a famously prickly personality – runs especially strong among liberal Democrats, who don’t trust him because of his ties to high finance and support for deregulation in the 1990s. In response, a large bloc of Senate Democrats, who have the final vote on the next Fed chief, signed a letter in praise of Yellen this week. The signatories included Rhode Island’s Jack Reed – the No. 2 Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, which will vet the Fed nominee – along with Sheldon Whitehouse. But the two of them aren’t going out of their way to oppose Summers. “We think Governor Yellen would be an excellent choice, but this is the president’s decision to make,” Reed and Whitehouse told me in a joint statement.
6. Jump in your time machine and check out this complete WPRI 11 p.m. newscast from 1987, preserved on YouTube. A tip of the cap to loyal Saturday Morning Post reader and Rhode Island expat Chris O’Leary, who discovered it. Political junkies will relish the quarter-century-old footage of radio hosts Buddy Cianci, Arlene Violet and Mary Ann Sorrentino around the 10:00 mark.
7. Speaking of vintage media, Google has done a great public service by digitizing archival editions of hundreds of American newspapers and posting them on the Web for free. While there are a number of extremely old Rhode Island publications in the collection, my favorites are the (somewhat) more recent ones. Check out, for example, the Providence News of Jan. 18, 1929 (“U.S. Agents Find Rum in House at Pawtucket”!) or the Providence County Times of Jan. 28, 1938.
8. A dispatch from WPRI.com ace Dan McGowan: “Don’t expect big tobacco to throw its support behind Mayor Taveras anytime soon. On Monday morning, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals is set to take up the tobacco industry’s attempt to strike down two city ordinances that ban most flavored tobacco products and regulate the sale of discounted tobacco products. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mary Lisi rejected the industry’s argument in December, and the three-judge appellate panel looks like it could favor the city. Judge Juan Torruella, a President Reagan appointee, famously upheld Massachusetts’ ban on tobacco ads and sales within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds – although it was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court. Rhode Island’s Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, an Obama appointee, and Judge Timothy B. Dyk, a Clinton pick, will also hear the appeal. Providence was the second U.S. city after New York City to ban flavored tobacco; New York’s ban was upheld by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year.”
9. Congratulations to my friend and mentor Tim White, who was honored this week at the Providence Business News 40 Under 40 gala. (Even if they did get his age wrong – Tim is not 32!) To get a sense of why I admire him, read this 2011 story on Tim and his legendary dad, Jack White.
10. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and Cranston Sen. Joshua Miller on health care. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Tufts Health Plan President and CEO James Roosevelt Jr. 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.
This post has been updated.
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