The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RISeptember 21st, 2013 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
1. When Angel Taveras released a polling memo this week suggesting the mayor has an early advantage in the Democratic gubernatorial race, a few people admonished me – not for the first time – about covering an election that’s still nearly 12 months away. “Ted, it’s only September 2013,” they scoff. “It’s still too early.” To that I say: hogwash. What’s happening right now, mostly behind the scenes, is what political scientists call the “invisible primary” – an effort by Taveras, Gina Raimondo, Allan Fung and other candidates to jockey for early advantage by raising money, firming up supporters, raising money, working to win endorsements, raising money, polling to test messages, and, of course, raising money. The context for next year’s campaign is also being set. Will the economy be improving or declining? What other issues will loom large? Who’s getting the grassroots excited? It can be tough for reporters to nail down where things stand in the invisible primary since so much of it takes place far from public view, which is why we spend a lot of time focusing on whatever clues and signs turn up. But make no mistake: the invisible primary matters, and it’s been under way for quite a while.
2. That Taveras poll – the bulk of which was not released by his campaign – put the mayor at 49% among likely primary voters, significantly ahead of Raimondo at 30%, with 21% of voters undecided. While Taveras uses a respected pollster - Peter Hart associate Fred Yang – it’s wise to stay a bit skeptical since we don’t have a full breakdown of the survey. Al things considered it’s obviously good to have a poll that shows you up 19 points against a popular rival, which may explain why Taveras allies were in such good moods before the findings came out. And it’s probably not an accident the numbers came out less than two weeks before the Sept. 30 deadline for Taveras to collect third-quarter donations. But it’s not all bad news for Raimondo. For one thing, Taveras has raised expectations significantly for how well he should be doing once independent polls start coming out. For another, Raimondo’s campaign – and Kate Coyne-McCoy’s super PAC – can point to the Taveras poll as evidence that the treasurer will need all the money she can get to defeat him next year, and why her supporters shouldn’t rest easy because of her current three-to-one advantage. Those next filings are going to be even more closely scrutinized now.
3. Four stories from this week you might not have realized are related: Lifespan is leaving HARI, finance drove GDP growth in metro Providence, Brown released a new strategic plan, and the August unemployment report. What’s the connection? Each one offered additional evidence that Rhode Island’s health and education sectors – a rare source of job growth after 2006 – aren’t the financial juggernauts they used to be. As I’ve written before, that’s a shift with significant implications for Providence’s so-called “Knowledge District” and other efforts to foster economic development on the strength of “meds and eds.” Brown is trying to consolidate its gains over the last decade without taking on large new financial risks; Lifespan is actually looking to shave costs by roughly $150 million. Whether you think those trends are good or bad, they’re real, and Rhode Island policymakers had better begin to reckon with them.
4. Speaking of the Rhode Island economy, your weekend must-read is Providence Phoenix news editor Phil Eil’s feature on the rapid rise of Alex + Ani. By all accounts the Cranston bracelet-maker is making a boatload of money, and deploying no small share of the cash to underwrite a huge number of local organizations, all wrapped up in its patented ethos of positive energy. For more, check out last year’s Executive Suite interview with Alex + Ani CEO Giovanni Feroce.
5. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “House Speaker Gordon Fox’s decision this week to tap former House Judiciary Chairman David Caprio to head up the state Democratic Party sent a clear – albeit unintentional – message to Rhode Island: It’s the Caprios’ world; we’re all just living in it. Aside from David and his brother Frank – who is seeking his old job as state treasurer – a slew of Frank’s former gubernatorial campaign aides are emerging as influential players throughout Rhode Island politics. Peter Baptista is serving as campaign finance director for likely gubernatorial candidate Angel Taveras; Jeff Britt turned a little known East Side candidate into a credible threat to Speaker Fox in 2012 and is now managing Ken Block’s gubernatorial campaign; Nick Hemond, Frank’s former spokesman, joined Baptista in helping Fox fend off Britt’s attacks last year and quickly became an influential lobbyist on Smith Hill. Hemond is also a member of the Providence School Board. The list goes on. Former campaign manager Xaykham ‘Xay’ Khamsyvoravong is expected to be the next chairman of the Providence Water Supply Board, Jonathan Boucher is currently the interim executive director of the state Democratic Party and Alex Miller recently joined David Cicilline’s congressional staff. And don’t forget about Providence Judge Frank Caprio Sr., who lost some clout when Gov. Lincoln Chafee took office but is still a powerful figure in Democratic politics.”
6. Lincoln Chafee only has about 15 months as governor to go, but he plans to use the time left partly to push voters to call a constitutional convention when they’re asked the question next November. “Nothing could be more important,” Chafee said on this week’s Newsmakers. “With our chronic inability to succeed economically, you have to look at the structure of government.” Chafee wants “to talk about how we can reorganize those executive powers versus legislative powers, and put them more in sync with other states. When you elect a CEO, a governor, give them the power to do the job.” A perfect example, he said, is giving the governor a line-item veto. “Everything goes in the budget last-minute, and if the governor vetoes the budget it’s going to be overriden in a millisecond. But if you can line-item veto, like  other states have, then that becomes a public discussion about the narrow issue – and oftentimes they don’t want that narrow discussion.” Perhaps as a compromise, Chafee added, the convention could also allow state lawmakers to serve four-year terms instead of two. The coming debate will be fascinating.
7. A special treat – a Saturday Morning Post dispatch from my colleague Tim White: “One of Lincoln Chafee’s go-to bragging points is the improvements his administration has made to the Department of Motor Vehicles. (The governor even gave his not-running-again news conference outside the DMV’s Cranston headquarters.) But there’s a problem: the DMV’s computer system is way over budget and four years past due. During this week’s taping of Newsmakers, Chafee told me the computer setbacks are ‘a nightmare.’ Tech giant Hewlett-Packard now owns the company that originally won the contract to create the computer system for the DMV, and Chafee said he’s spoken directly to HP CEO Meg Whitman about the problems. When I reached out to HP on Friday, spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said HP is sending a senior vice president to Rhode Island to deal with the technical hot mess. ‘HP will continue working with the governor and Rhode Island officials to solve the challenges from a situation we both inherited,’ Pompei said in an email. ‘We look forward to delivering a solution the people of Rhode Island deserve.’”
8. WGBH Boston invited me back for this week’s episode of “Under the Radar,” Callie Crossley’s program about overlooked news stories across New England, along with MassLive.com’s Garrett Quinn and WNHN’s Arnie Arnesen. I shared two Rhode Island stories: Bishop Tobin’s thoughts on the GOP and Pope Francis, and the explosive growth of Alex + Ani. The show airs Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on 89.7 FM and online – tune in!
9. And here’s a bonus Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “Angel Taveras may be lining up support from the state’s teachers’ unions as he prepares to run for governor, but one of the nation’s most outspoken opponents of the school reform movement isn’t sold. Diane Ravitch, a former assistant U.S. education secretary who supported No Child Left Behind before changing her tune, blasted Taveras in an email to WPRI.com. ‘His ideas on education are awful, and the union is picking the lesser of two evils,’ Ravitch said, referring to the mayor’s expected Democratic primary race against Gina Raimondo. My brief back-and-forth with Ravitch came on the same day she released ‘Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,’ which has already reached #87 on the Amazon bestseller list. Ravitch followed her comments up with a blog post that criticized Taveras’s support of the Achievement First charter school and Teach For America. With graduation requirements, teacher evaluations and the future of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist likely to become major campaign issues next year, Taveras will find himself in a delicate spot: needing to maintain his status as an urban reformer while also staying friendly with the vote-rich unions.”
10. 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: The Providence Journal will undergo another round of newsroom-heavy job cuts … Taveras’s pollster says the mayor has a 19-point lead over Raimondo … Taveras also has support from teachers’ unions and K-12 reformers … Joe Paolino is throwing Taveras a fundraiser Monday … Lifespan is dropping out of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island … finance drove economic growth in the Providence area last year … Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is back above 9% … and Rhode Island’s elite sounds a lot like Ireland’s (not in a good way).
11. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – an encore interview with Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey; Hatch Entrepreneurial Center co-founder and Ocean Capital vice president Daniel Murphy. 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.
Tags: saturday quick hits