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

September 7th, 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. Don’t tell Christian Vareika that Lincoln Chafee’s governorship has been a failure. “I think he’s going to be remembered very positively,” Vareika, who stepped down as Chafee’s speechwriter last month to start law school at BC, told me Friday. “I think some of the trivial things necessarily fall away.” Like everyone else, he cites the holiday tree as an example of “things that don’t really matter and certainly won’t matter 10 or 20 years down the road.” Vareika argues Chafee will be remembered for prioritizing education and transportation funding; signing gay marriage; stabilizing Central Falls and other distressed cities; giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants (“the DREAM Act for Rhode Island”); fixing the DMV; and running a competent, honest state bureaucracy. “I think the governor has always been more concerned with positioning Rhode Island for the long-term than pleasing everybody in the short-term,” Vareika said. “Lincoln Chafee – this guy is one of a kind. I’ve never met someone who has such a firm sense of right and wrong, such a well-defined inner compass, and who follows it with such conviction. It really is a rare thing, and as I’ve gotten a little distance I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I may never see that again.”

2. On the night Chafee won the governor’s office, I argued the economy would make or break him. It looks like it broke him. In a time of stronger economic growth, voters might have excused – or even appreciated – Chafee’s quirky personality; in a time of anemic job growth, they apparently took it as a sign he wasn’t up to the job. Obviously Rhode Island’s weak economic recovery can’t be solely – or even mostly – blamed on Chafee himself. But the governor’s failure to use state government to boost short-term demand in Rhode Island has been a self-inflicted wound. There are multiple ways to do that. A liberal might suggest taking advantage of Rhode Island’s strong reputation in the bond markets to borrow low-interest money and kick-start the state’s backlog of infrastructure repairs. A conservative might suggest eliminating the state’s 7% sales tax, which would leave millions of dollars in local consumers’ wallets. Chafee eschewed any and all of these approaches. Perhaps there’s something admirable about that – Chafee’s economic policy hasn’t helped his political prospects at all – but to many it looks more like a failure of imagination and leadership.

3. Here’s a number to keep in mind: 140,000. That’s the level of voter turnout WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming thinks Gina Raimondo needs to reach in next year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary to win – otherwise an electorate of more traditional Democrats are likely to give the edge to Angel Taveras. “I personally think anything under 140,000 is going to benefit Angel, because that’s where the unions are a lot stronger,” Fleming said on this week’s Newsmakers. “She has to run a Bruce Sundlun-type Democratic primary [campaign] in order to increase that turnout.” Longtime local election-watcher Scott MacKay of Rhode Island Public Radio agreed on the turnout target. MacKay thinks Raimondo will need to “juice the turnout in the suburbs” by getting independent voters to cast ballots, to offset Taveras’s presumed strength in and around Providence. Raimondo’s chief of staff, Andrew Roos, likely understands this dynamic – and he may need more than $2 million to pull it off.

4. A Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com ace Dan McGowan: “It looks like a foregone conclusion that Angel Taveras will run for governor in 2014, but the leading candidates to replace him in City Hall all seem to agree on one thing: the new boss is going to look an awful lot like the old boss. Go down the list: City Council President Michael Solomon has voted with Taveras nearly 100% of the time since 2011; East Side candidate Brett Smiley has been a fundraiser and lobbyist for the mayor and was also appointed chairman of the Water Supply Board by Taveras; Central Falls educator Victor Capellan served as the mayor’s deputy campaign manager in 2010; and former Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza is a long time Taveras pal. More important, all of the candidates have said they’ll only run if Taveras seeks higher office. Those personal relationships will likely force Taveras to stop short of endorsing a candidate in the race, but it could also backfire on the mayoral hopefuls; if they’re unwilling to criticize any of the current mayor’s policies, they may also struggle to define themselves in a crowded field. That could leave the race open for a dark-horse candidate like state Rep. John Lombardi – a vocal critic of Taveras and the City Council – or, down the line, Buddy Cianci, who would enter the race with far more name recognition (not to mention baggage) than any of the current combatants. It’s worth noting that Republican candidate Dan Harrop also has been a critic of the mayor, but Providence voters haven’t elected a GOP candidate to a city office since Malcolm Farmer won a council seat in 1986.”

5. More from McGowan: “Don’t look now, but Central Falls Mayor James Diossa just won control over Rhode Island’s tiniest city. Friday was the filing deadline for the city’s Nov. 5 election, and Diossa will be running for re-election unopposed. He’s not alone: six of the seven candidates he endorsed for City Council won’t have opponents, either. (The five-member council is adding two at-large seats this year.) Perhaps the biggest victory for Diossa was City Council President William Benson Jr.’s decision to retire rather than face a challenge from first-time candidate Tammi Johnson, who was endorsed by the mayor. With the council set to be firmly on his side, Diossa told WPRI.com he’s looking forward to governing: ‘It’s good to know that no one is going to have a selfish agenda, but they’ll have an agenda to work for what’s best in Central Falls.’”

6. Here’s a story that will make you count your blessings – if you’d been born at almost any other point in human history, you’d probably be dead by now. (Not only that – you’d never have had the chance to read The Saturday Morning Post!)

7. The situation in Congress around Syria is still seriously in flux, but right now my best guess is that three of Rhode Island’s four federal lawmakers will back President Obama and vote to approve a strike: Jack Reed, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jim Langevin. Obama is in very, very serious trouble if he can’t win over Reed, a loyal ally and the likely next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Whitehouse has been pressuring Obama on Syria at least since he visited in January, and the junior senator has also forged a friendship with Republican über-hawk John McCain, a strong advocate of strikes. Langevin has already suggested he could back a Syria strike as long as it’s “targeted, limited in scope and duration, and the result of international cooperation” – and Langevin is more loyal to Obama on foreign and domestic security issues than David Cicilline. That’s a key reason why I think Cicilline is the most likely among the four to vote no, as he’s already indicated. (Though Nancy Pelosi is sure to try and twist Cicilline’s arm with the vote looking close.) It’s easy to forget now, after last year’s Providence-centric campaign, but one of the ways Cicilline differentiated himself in the 2010 primary to replace Patrick Kennedy was by advocating a faster-than-Obama withdrawal from Afghanistan.

8. Marc Crisafulli, who heads up the leading Providence law firm Hinckley Allen, thinks 38 Studios has made Rhode Islanders too skeptical about one-off deals – not a surprise since Crisafulli played a key role in negotiating the 2003 deal that kept GTECH in Rhode Island, which he still sees as a win-win. “There is an appropriate place for tax breaks,” Crisafulli said on this week’s Executive Suite. “If you think about how the state should be managing the economy, I think unfortunately we don’t really manage our economy in Rhode Island like a portfolio.” In his view the Carcieri administration focused primarily on big deals, while the Chafee administration has focused mostly on small business – when they should have been doing both. “The government has to figure out how it is that it structures public-private partnerships in a way that can drive real economic value for the state but still create real economic opportunities for larger companies,” Crisafulli said. “It’s a competitive marketplace out there. … As long as you’re principled and disciplined and you’re getting real value, I think it makes a lot of sense.”

9. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to check out some of the items Dan McGowan and I published this week: why Chafee’s exit is great news for Angel Taveras … wonder of wonders, The Wall Street Journal praised Chafeewatch Chafee’s full press conferenceJudge Taft-Carter got yet another update on the pension mediation … Providence’s streetcar proposal failed to win $39 million from the feds … Rhode Island’s government work force keeps shrinkingJoe Biden briefed Joe Kennedy III on SyriaRupert Murdoch sold the New Bedford Standard-Times, and job cuts loom … and how LBJ eased out T.F. Green.

10. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable on the fallout from Chafee’s announcement with WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming, strategist Cara Cromwell and Rhode Island Public Radio’s Scott MacKay. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Hinckley Allen managing partner Marc Crisafulli. 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

Tags:

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

  1. [...] I agree, esp. when it comes to the DMV. The one in Cranston is like clockwork now. A whole other universe from just a couple of years ago: ESP. WHEN IT COMES TO THE DMV: Don’t tell Christian Vareika that Lincoln Chafee’s governorship has been a failure. “I think he’s going to be remembered very positively,” Vareika, who stepped down as Chafee’s speechwriter last month to start law school at BC, told me Friday. “I think some of the trivial things necessarily fall away.” Like everyone else, he cites the holiday tree as an example of “things that don’t really matter and certainly won’t matter 10 or 20 years down the road.” Vareika argues Chafee will be remembered for prioritizing education and transportation funding; signing gay marriage; stabilizing Central Falls and other distressed cities; giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants (“the DREAM Act for Rhode Island”); fixing the DMV; and running a competent, honest state bureaucracy. “I think the governor has always been more concerned with positioning Rhode Island for the long-term than pleasing everybody in the short-term,” Vareika said. “Lincoln Chafee – this guy is one of a kind. I’ve never met someone who has such a firm sense of right and wrong, such a well-defined inner compass, and who follows it with such conviction. It really is a rare thing, and as I’ve gotten a little distance I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I may never see that again.” The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI | WPRI.com Blogs [...]

  2. Failures says:

    Wait, I thought the Congressional delegation is supposed to represent the will of Rhode Islanders in DC. So when the majority do not want the US to get involved in Syria, why are they voting otherwise? This is a dereliction of their duty.

  3. Ace In The Car says:

    With regard to #2, the claim that Governor Chafee is somehow at fault for the relatively weak performance of the Rhode Island economy due to his fiscal policy choices is indicative of a lack of understanding of basic economic principles. State government can’t boost short-term demand while simultaneously balancing the budget on an annual basis. Any increased spending by state government in the form of increased debt service payments, which is what would happen if the state were to borrow low interest money and use it for stimulus, has to be offset by reduced spending by state government elsewhere in the budget. Depending on where the spending cuts are made such a plan could end up contracting the economy not stimulating it. A reduction in state revenue from the elimination of the 7.0 percent sales tax would necessitate increasing other state taxes or reducing state government spending. Again, depending on what taxes are raised or what spending is cut could yield a contraction in the state’s economy not a stimulus (and no, the elimination of the sales tax will not pay for itself).

    The federal government is able to provide such stimulus through these methods because it does not have to balance the federal budget on an annual basis. Thus, the countervailing offset to short-term stimulus does not occur, at least in the near-term, when the federal government engages in short-term expansionary fiscal policy. The Rhode Island Constitution requires the Governor to submit and the General Assembly to enact a balanced budget. No such constraint exists in the U.S. Constitution. It is this constitutional restraint that exists for Rhode Island (and 48 other states) that mitigates the effectiveness of short-term state fiscal policy not anything that Governor Chafee chose not to do.

    1. Ted Nesi says:

      That seems to assume every single dollar of Rhode Island state government’s spending (or tax-cutting) has exactly the same multiplier effect on the larger state economy. There’s no reason to think that’s the case.

      Putting $1 into the pension fund – in effect sending it out of state, to be invested somewhere else – is going to have less stimulative effect on the Rhode Island economy than putting $1 into a local worker’s pocket by reducing taxes or spending $1 on a construction project in Pawtucket.

      Increased borrowing now would indeed increase debt-service payments down the road. But the point here is that priming the pump when the economy is depressed will lead to higher aggregate output in the future, reducing the burden of those debt payments when they come due as a share of the economy. More money could also be taken out of the Rhode Island Capital Plan Fund to do projects now rather than in the future. And there’s also the cost-benefit question: with construction unemployment running at well over 20% in Rhode Island and demand still slack nationwide (at least for most of Chafee’s term), projects would have been cheaper to do.