Surveying the political scene


Rhode Island surpassed a grim milestone last week, climbing past 1,000 deaths related to COVID-19. Even though the Ocean State is faring better than a lot of other places, the death toll underscores how the pandemic is causing a lot of misery and the virus isn’t about to go away any time soon. “Too often our nature is to discount the challenge and pretend we’ve got a victory. And it just will bite us,” notes Barnaby Evans of WaterFire Providence, which is commemorating the lives lost due to COVID. Meanwhile, “until there is an effective vaccine in widespread use, levels of immunity will never be high enough to achieve what's called herd immunity … researchers say,” NPR’s Geoff Brumfield reports. “That’s the tipping point at which the disease begins to burn itself out because so many people are immune that it can't continue to spread.” We’re edging ever closer to the November election, so caveat emptor when considering numbers cited by politicians. Useful recommendations include examining seven-day averages and focusing on positivity rates rather than case counts.


SCOOP: Stephen Neuman, a former Raimondo chief of staff, is managing a six-state Midwest region (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa and Nebraska) for Joe Biden’s Democratic presidential campaign. Neuman left Raimondo’s staff and managed Michigan for Hillary Clinton in 2016, before landing as a D.C.-based lobbyist for American Airlines. He’s the third former Raimondo associate to become part of Biden’s campaign, along with Eric Hyers, who is managing Michigan this time around, and Pawtucket native Gabe Amo, a HQ-based states strategy advisor. Meanwhile, Raimondo’s formidable fundraising apparatus is coordinating what’s billed as the bigger R.I. fundraiser for Biden, with an appearance by his yet-to-be-named running mate, coming up in late August or early September. (And for what it’s worth, the governor keeps popping up on lists of potential VP candidates, although few are putting much stock in that.)


Eighteen months to serve on a five-year sentence, for a charge of money laundering about a $1,000, seems like an especially harsh plea deal. Robert Clark Corrente, the lawyer for longtime Rhode Island political operative Jeff Britt, called the offer “silly” while speaking with reporters outside of court. (As a former U.S. attorney, Corrente is well acquainted with the law.) So why is Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office taking this approach? It could be part of the tough message traditionally sounded by Neronha in political cases. Others wonder if the offer was designed to be rejected, so that Britt will get on the stand and describe his experiences working for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s 2016 campaign. Adding to the drama, the trial could play out ahead of the November election, with Republican rival Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung pressing her case against the Democratic speaker with the voters of District 15. ***

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the U.S. House’s Judiciary Committee, will have a key role when the CEOs of four tech giants – including Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook – are slated to testify in Congress, most likely in a virtual format. As Politico reported last week, “The committee has yet to disclose crucial details about the hearing format, including whether the CEOs will testify simultaneously or how much time lawmakers will get to grill the moguls. In the interim, some lawmakers and advocacy groups are demanding big changes they hope will make it harder for the tech executives to skate by unscathed. And that task could be even harder given the additional logistical intricacies of what’s expected to be a largely virtual hearing.”

Here’s a brief email interview with Cicilline ahead of the big tech hearing.

TGIF: What are your hopes for what Monday’s hearing will accomplish?

Cicilline: This will be an evidentiary hearing to examine the allegations that have been raised against the largest tech companies over the past year. The Subcommittee will have the opportunity to dig in and look under the hood by questioning the decision-makers at these powerful corporations. Their testimony is key for completing our report on the state of competition in the digital marketplace.

TGIF: What steps do you support to impose more accountability on tech giants?

Cicilline: Our recommendations on policy will come at the conclusion of this investigation. Over the past year, serious allegations have been raised regarding acquisitions of other companies, abuse of data, and the weaponization of data against competitors. We opened this bipartisan investigation more than 13 months ago. It has included 93 requests for information from dominant platforms, affected third parties, and antitrust enforcers; more than 1.3 million documents produced; five hearings and 17 roundtables and briefings with more than 35 experts and stakeholders; and more than 385 hours of calls, meetings, and briefings. This is the most significant antitrust investigation that Congress has undertaken in more than 50 years.


Warwick is shaping up as a big Senate battleground between progressives and establishment Democrats in Rhode Island’s Sept. 8 primary. Former Senator Jeanine Calkin, a co-founder of the progressive RI Political Cooperative, landed the district committee endorsement over the candidate who beat her in 2018, Sen. Mark McKenney. Some progressives remain upset by how the Planned Parenthood Votes RI PAC declined to endorse in the race between Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey and challenger Jennifer Rourke, another co-founder of the co-op, (although Sunrise RI is backing Rourke.) Finally, there’s the four-way field of candidates vying to fill the seat being vacated by Senate Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch Prata. While longtime City Councilor Steve Merolla can boast name recognition from many years in office, progressive Kendra Anderson got into the race early and may benefit as the only woman among the four Democrats. On the House side, key primaries to watch include Leonela Felix’s run against Rep. Ray Johnston of Pawtucket and Nicholas Delmenico’s challenge to Rep. Pat Serpa of West Warwick. ***

Who knew? Otto Kerner, the former Illinois governor whose name is associated with the commission that examined the American riots of the mid-to-late 1960s, was a Brown University alum. That was one of the noteworthy things in a recent New Yorker article by Jill Lepore about the history of post-riot reports. Far more noteworthy: “In a 1977 study, ‘Commission Politics: The Processing of Racial Crisis in America,’ Michael Lipsky and David J. Olson reported that, between 1917 and 1943, at least twenty-one commissions were appointed to investigate race riots, and, however sincerely their members might have been interested in structural change, none of the commissions led to any. The point of a race-riot commission, Lipsky and Olson argue, is for the government that appoints it to appear to be doing something, while actually doing nothing.” ***

Two examples of how two different state reps communicate with their constituents. Rep. Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield) makes effective use of Twitter and occasionally offers a longer newsletter with a series of updates on the Statehouse. Here’s an excerpt from his first of 2020, back in May:

“Essentially the General Assembly leadership has abdicated any responsibility for oversight of the Governor’s actions throughout the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. This is irresponsible. The Governor has been acting under extraordinary emergency powers for over two months now with no public oversight and no end in sight. I am aware the Speaker and Senate President have had private communications with the Governor on an ongoing basis but that is not sufficient for either the public or the rank and file of either chamber – or it shouldn’t be anyway. The Speaker may lead the House of Representatives but contra some of his communications to the body while he does ‘represent’ the body he does not and cannot act unilaterally on behalf of the body.”

Our other example comes from Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Portsmouth), who is doing a series of “Talks with Terri,” via Zoom, with such guests as Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. She also sends emails with details on a host of legislative issues ranging from the uniformed parentage act to the November vote on whether to change the state name.

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio, Rhode Island’s NPR member station. Listen at 89.3 FM or visit


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