‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face’



 It was easy to anticipate the dynamic heading into two gubernatorial debates last week: Gov. Dan McKee would try to use the typical incumbent tack of avoiding miscues; GOP challenger Ashley Kalus, facing a 10-point deficit according to a Boston Globe poll, had more to gain by being aggressive. But as Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Kalus revived the boxing theme in a new ad and she went after McKee at every chance, asserting that the status quo isn’t good enough. The governor largely stuck to his message — things are improving — while reminding voters that Kalus is a recent transplant to the state. With ProJo’s Patrick Anderson and student reporter Raymond Baccari, I hosted a forum at RIC to question the candidates. Our forum unfolded before a live RIC audience, with a vocal cohort of Kalus supporters, while the earlier Channel 12 debate took place in the studio. Regardless, both events offered an unvarnished view of the candidates, helping to illuminate their differences on a broad range of issues, with a bit more than three weeks until the Nov. 8 election.


If Allan Fung winds up winning the CD2 race, it may be because he’s an affable guy from Cranston who doesn’t seem representative of the GOP leadership in Congress. Democrat Seth Magaziner is a solid candidate in his own right with a proven ability to win statewide, although he lacks Fung’s long-term identification with the Second District. That said, the presence of moderate Republicans in Washington was plummeting even before U.S. Sen. John Chafee — a leading exemplar of the breed — died in 1999. Magaziner’s message about the threat to abortion rights and the prevailing GOP trend in D.C. hasn’t changed the dynamic in the race so far. Polls by WPRI, The Boston Globe, and one from Magaziner’s own campaign show Fung with a small lead (or a possible statistical dead heat in some cases). Congressional Republicans are doubling down on Fung, with another $1 million in support. As daylight burns before Nov. 8, two key questions are whether the normally Democratic voters favoring Fung reverse course and whether Magaziner can offer a more compelling message to win over undecided voters.


My top question during Thursday’s candidate forum was about how Rhode Island has mostly spun its wheels when it comes to improving under-performing public schools for more than 20 years. So, what steps will Gov. McKee or Ashley Kalus take to ensure that we’re not in the same situation four years from now? McKee leaned on his record of establishing mayoral academies and cited a need to stay the course. Kalus wants more dramatic changes, including an emphasis on school choice. Earlier Thursday, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council’s report on the crisis in public education included a series of clear recommendations, including steering more aid to disadvantaged communities, clarifying responsibilities and improving accountability in the governance of education, and doing more to attract, retain and invest in teachers.


Here’s the second iteration of this regular feature in my column – a handful of local political observers sharing their insights and views on the news of the week.


Last week, I attended the annual Invest in Peace event of the Nonviolence Institute, where longtime community leader Teny Gross received the Sister Ann award. Teny, who is now the acclaimed leader of Nonviolence Chicago, spoke to the model of violence prevention via direct outreach and relationship-building. As he praised outreach workers in the room, my mind turned to the CD2 race and whether the campaigns will do something similar — invest heavily in field or a voter outreach program. Take Seth Magaziner. In 2020, nearly 25,000 Providence residents voted in CD2, compared with just 18,000 in the last non-presidential election, in 2018. If Magaziner could get canvassers to convince presidential election voters to vote in the midterms, he could potentially leave Providence with a lead of more than 15,000 votes. The same is true for Allan Fung. Cranston saw 30,000 votes in 2018, versus 50,000 in the presidential election. Fung could potentially leave Cranston with an insurmountable lead. In a political world increasingly focused on digital persuasion, the act of human-to-human interaction still moves the needle.


With last week’s WPRI gubernatorial debate wrapped, I remain mystified at how little substance has played a role in the campaign. The debate was mostly about how the other candidate was not the right choice, rather than why the candidate speaking was the right choice. There are still a lot of undecided voters, with neither candidate polling above 50%. Voters who remain undecided after seeing attack ads are looking for reasons to vote for a candidate — both McKee and Kalus failed to provide a lot for those voters to help make up their minds.


Whether you are a candidate or volunteer knocking on doors, you chat with your neighbors regularly, or you reviewed the latest Globe/Suffolk poll indicating which issues are top of mind for Rhode Islanders, you’ve probably noticed that the rising cost of living is almost everyone’s concern. While federal inflation and the international crisis in Ukraine can be cited as major factors, little discussion has been had around the policies our state could implement locally to provide meaningful relief to working people and families (aside from just eliminating the car tax). In between healthcare, housing, and raising wages, there are several solutions our state can implement, such as: capping the monthly cost of prescription drugs, limiting annual increases to private health insurance premiums, adopting a rent stabilization model to limit annual rent increases, establishing a rent assistance program independent of federal funding, and requiring businesses with over 50 employees to start the process of raising the minimum wage towards $19. While resistance will certainly be met by business executives and their lobbyists, the most important stakeholder our state government must consider are the workers being squeezed.


It is clear there is enthusiasm for Allan Fung and Ashley Kalus in Rhode Island. Allan is ahead in the polls in CD2 and Ashley’s knockout performance in both debates this week showcase that Rhode Islanders are ready for a change. Every week, we see growing support for our candidates and this week alone our field team knocked on more doors than in any other congressional district in the country.


Public political polling has been in the news this week, subject to all the misunderstandings and misinterpretations of those who do not understand how effectively campaigns can use their own internal polls to effectively guide strategy. For instance, given Brett Smiley’s opponents and the demographics of Providence, I did not see one year ago a path for Smiley to win his primary. But guided by good polling data, hard work and an incredibly talented staff, he prevailed. While delving into the cross tabs of the recent polls shows good news for Gov. McKee, with his opponent only polling at the generic Republican baseline vote despite massive expenditures, it also shows a path to victory for Seth Magaziner in CD2. The model for that victory goes back to 1990, when a young, whip smart, low-key state senator named Jack Reed reminded seniors, union members and Democratic-leaning independents who really represented their interests. And if you think our senior senator will let his old congressional seat fall into Republican hands without a fight, well, as the saying goes, you don’t know Jack.


The new documentary No Time To Fail documents the role played by local election workers in the mechanics of democratic elections. Cranston native Sara Archambault, a co-director and co-producer of the film, spoke with me on Political Roundtable about the project. Here’s one of her main takeaways: “I personally was really surprised to learn how much work every single election worker puts in to make sure every single vote counts. I witnessed personally election officials, who if a voter was having an issue with a mail-in ballot or if their registration was not quite right, some people suffering from COVID needed additional help and aid — these election officials put in hours for just one person’s problem. And if you can imagine just how short-staffed many of these places are, canvassing staff, especially in local clerk’s offices or canvassing offices, that can be really small offices with not a lot of staff. But for example, in Cranston, I believe there’s about 60,000 registered voters, and they only had two full time people, two and a half with a part time person, who were serving all of these voters and the problems that they were facing.” No Time To Fail is showing this week on screens in Rhode Island.


Huffington Post’s Dave Jamieson reports on a story involving Woonsocket-based CVS. Excerpt: “Workers at a CVS store in Orange County, California, were trying to form a union last year when they got a surprise from their employer. The pharmacy chain had decided to give them substantial raises, boosting their pay as much as 37%. CVS was doing ‘market’ pay adjustments at many of its stores. But the company earmarked certain locations in California an area where the United Food and Commercial Workers union was running an organizing campaign for juicier pay bumps than the formula called for, according to hearing transcripts and CVS documents obtained through a public records request. Workers at Store 9119 in Orange County were among them. They were in the midst of signing union cards to join UFCW Local 324. Unlike most other nonunion workers, they ended up with the higher pay rates that already-unionized stores in the area were receiving, only they got them without having to join the union and pay dues. ‘I thought it was a very weird coincidence that it was the exact same number,’ one CVS worker recently said of her raise matching the union pay rate. The worker was testifying in a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that referees disputes between unions and employers.


U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse takes up a familiar theme in his latest book – The Scheme: How the Right Wing used Dark Money to Capture the Supreme Court, coming out this week.


It sometimes seems like there’s a Rhode Island angle to everything – even the creation of the Federal Reserve, an institution in the public glare due to persistent inflation. As history has it, Nelson Aldrich was among six men who met in 1910 at – you can’t make this up – Jekyll Island, Georgia — to modernize the nation’s banking system. “The meeting and its purpose were closely guarded secrets, and participants did not admit that the meeting occurred until the 1930s,” according to the Fed’s own history. “…. By the end of their time on Jekyll Island, Aldrich and his colleagues had developed a plan for a Reserve Association of America, a single central bank with fifteen branches across the country. Each branch would be governed by boards of directors elected by the member banks in each district, with larger banks getting more votes. The branches would be responsible for holding the reserves of their member banks; issuing currency; discounting commercial paper; transferring balances between branches; and check clearing and collection. The national body would set discount rates for the system as a whole and buy and sell securities.” A Republican, Aldrich was so powerful he was known as “the general manager” of the United States. For more interesting facts on the history of money, check out this NPR Fresh Air interview with Jacob Goldstein, author of Money, The True Story of A Made Up Thing.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org.

Donis, politics


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