STORY OF THE WEEK: The Democratic field in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District is starting to gel, with a series of noteworthy developments last week. Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who came close to beating Dan McKee in a 2018 primary for lieutenant governor, formally entered the race with a campaign video (from some of the same people that helped propel U.S. Sen. Ed Markey with a viral video in 2020) and he touted a fast fundraising start, with more than $150,000. House Finance Chairman Marvin Abney of Newport made a less flashy entry to the race, sending out an email at 8:03 pm Tuesday. Pawtucket native Gabe Amo resigned from his White House job, suggesting that he’s poised to join the fray. Jamestown businessman Don Carlson, who has talked of raising close to $1 million, announced his run Sunday in Middletown. State Sen. Sandra Cano of Pawtucket won the endorsement of Senate Judiciary Chair Dawn Euer of Newport. And Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos unveiled an experienced team to pilot her run, including fundraiser Amy Gabarra, pollster Peter Brodnitz, and campaign manager Brexton Isaacs, who helmed Gov. McKee’s winning campaign last year. With announced and expected candidates, the Democratic field now includes no less than 14 people, half of whom are incumbents savoring the low-risk experience of running in an off-year for elections. Also running: former Raimondo staffer Nick Autiello, newcomer Mickeda Barnes, state Rep. Nathan Biah of Providence, former Secretary of State candidate Stephanie Beaute, state Rep. Stephen Casey of Woonsocket, Ward 1 Providence, City Councilor John Goncalves, state Sen. Ana Quezada of Providence, and former Republican Allen Waters. While the filing deadline is still more than a month away, the candidates are likely to start putting more energy into making their case to voters, staking out issues that may sway support ahead of the Sept. 5 primary.
GOP CANDIDATE: Will Stephen Skoly make a run in CD1? The dentist, whose office was shut by the state in a dispute over the COVID vaccine, tells me he’s considering it.
MCKEE’S MOMENT: Gov. McKee chose the 100th day of his term to make a signature announcement – a new initiative, in partnership with municipal leaders to try to raise the academic performance of Rhode Island students to the level of their peers in Massachusetts by 2030. McKee’s concept is to add more out-of-school learning: “Think about it – if just 20,000 Rhode Island students add about an hour per week of out of school learning, that right there equals one million hours. Successfully meeting this threshold will drive increases in achievement so that by the end of the decade we will deliver best in class statewide academic achievement results. And we know it can happen because in many cases, we have the puzzle pieces already – we just need to be strategic about how we put them together.” To some, McKee’s plan makes eminent sense (see former NEARI Executive Director Robert A. Walsh’s Take of the Week later in this week’s column). Yet Globe RI columnist Dan McGowan, who has closely covered education for years, had a withering take: “McKee stayed true to the brand he’s built over the past two-plus years, overpromising on a goal and then rolling out a not-ready-for-primetime plan that’s so thin that it’s sure to under-deliver in the long run. And then all we’ll need is a lame excuse for why it failed or a person to blame, and The Full McKee will be on display.”
SMITH HILL: With lawmakers returning to the Statehouse next week after spring break, the gun issue will be front and center during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. Both sides are mobilizing. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action offered this warning: “Unsatiated gun grabbers are back at it in Providence next week. In their minds, there is always another gun bill to pass until they have completely banned firearms. This hasn’t been about public policy for a long time.” The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence countered with this message: “Get ready to testify at the House Judiciary Committee hearing to support passage of 2 priority bills: regulating assault weapons and safe firearm storage!”
REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: The move by a federal judge in Texas to attempt to ban the abortion medication Mifepristone, which has been used for decades, is particularly noteworthy since he’s seeking to overrule a regulatory decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000. As my colleague Lynn Arditi notes, Rhode Island is among more than a dozen states where attorneys general have joined a federal lawsuit seeking expanded access to Mifepristone.
GINAWORLD: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo placed on Time’s list of 100 influential people, in a piece written by her long-ago babysitter, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Excerpt: “As Secretary, she is reviving U.S. manufacturing and rebuilding our technological infrastructure. To return the U.S. to being the global leader in microchip production, she deftly shepherded the CHIPS and Science Act through Congress and is building the diverse coalitions needed to supercharge U.S. semiconductor production, fortify supply chains, and strengthen national security. As always, Secretary Raimondo will get the job done, credit others, and embrace the next challenge.”
TAKES OF THE WEEK: various views from a mix of Rhode Islanders.
Former National Education Association Rhode Island Executive Director ROBERT A. WALSH JR.: I am taken aback by those directing sarcasm and even vitriol towards Gov. McKee‘s Learn365RI initiative, announced earlier this week in Newport. Ironically, I had strong disagreements with then-Mayor McKee’s original initiative to involve municipal government directly in public education (Mayoral Academies) but I believe Learn365RI is a sound proposal. Before I spent a 30-year career working with educators throughout Rhode Island, I was a board member of Lippitt Hill Tutorial and a founding board member of Volunteers in Providence Schools (now called Inspiring Minds). In all those experiences, I witnessed firsthand how out-of-school time activities had direct positive impacts on student learning, engagement, and attendance. (Please let the naysayers who squawk “extended school day” as the solution to all education issues without explaining how extending the school day addresses chronic absenteeism take note that in-school attendance can be improved when attendance is the gateway to outside activities.) As a student, I took advantage of outside programs ranging from Model Legislature to a six-week summer environmental science program. Other students are assisted by homework clubs or extra tutoring, or motivated by sports, art, music, computer coding, library time, etc. or even the chance to be with their peers. The governor’s vision -- engaging municipal leadership and involving our higher education institutions and state agencies, such as the RI State Council for the Arts, to enhance and expand out-of-school time activities; letting educators focus on and make decisions about in-school learning; encouraging communication and cooperation between the two; and providing robust support to all -- is a good one, and it deserves a chance to develop and succeed.
Former RI House GOP Leader BLAKE FILIPPI: Over three years ago, as the House Republican leader, I initiated legal action against the former speaker of the House to finally fix the broken Joint Committee on Legislative Services -- the most powerful committee in state government. It hadn’t met in 10 years, but managed to spend $50 million per year. Our Republican caucus resolved to fix this great government shame – no matter the costs. And the costs were high: establishment attack dogs were unleashed against us, our legislative initiatives were effectively killed, and threats were made against my personal livelihood and family (not by current House or Senate leaders, who have been upright gentlemen throughout this entire saga). Nevertheless, House Republicans soldiered on. After our significant court victory in 2022, it was clear that litigation would ultimately force the JCLS to meet. Current GOP Leader Chippendale and Speaker Shekarchi were then able to negotiate quarterly JCLS meetings, and a dismissal of my lawsuit. Current legislative leadership did not break JCLS, but it was their responsibility to fix it -- and they have done so. So, this week, I watched Capitol TV’s coverage of the first JCLS meeting in over a decade, and resolved to enjoy political retirement.
KICKER: Elon Musk tells the BBC that owning Twitter has been “quite painful.” NPR “will no longer post fresh content to its 52 official Twitter feeds, becoming the first major news organization to go silent on the social media platform,” reports NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. ‘In explaining its decision, NPR cited Twitter's decision to first label the network ‘state-affiliated media,’ the same term it uses for propaganda outlets in Russia, China and other autocratic countries.” Yours truly, though, is sticking around – 20,000 followers or bust!
Ian Donnis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org