The dance of two governors continues


There’s little doubt that Gov. Gina Raimondo will be confirmed by the Senate as U.S. Commerce secretary. But when that happens is a big question.

For devotees of Rhode Island politics, the slow-motion transition between Raimondo and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee has become increasingly painful. The perception is one of awkwardness and it doesn’t boost confidence in government. Nor is it the kind of thing for which Raimondo wants to be remembered.

McKee’s transition spokesman, Mike Trainor, downplayed concerns about cooperation between the state’s current and future governor, pointing to how McKee gets a daily briefing from state Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and National Guard Adjutant Gen. Christopher Callahan. “He feels that in doing that he’s speaking to the Raimondo administration,” Trainor said.

As we noted recently, Raimondo has told reporters she remains focused on being governor, even while not wanting to draw the spotlight from McKee. But if “The Twilight Zone” was an apt metaphor two weeks ago, where are we now?

Perhaps everyday Rhode Islanders are busy with other things and chalk up the Raimondo/McKee storyline to why they view politics with distaste. Perhaps McKee will reap the political benefits after taking office and presiding over increased vaccinations and heightened economic activity.

For now, though, the disinclination of the two leaders to repeatedly appear on the same stage together speaks for itself.

CVS and politics

CVS Health has temporarily suspended making political contributions in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“CVS Health fully supports our country’s democratic process and recognizes the rightful election of President Joe Biden,” CVS Health spokesman Michael J. DeAngelis tells me via email. “We strongly condemn false claims made about the election results, any related violence or other unlawful activity. We have temporarily suspended all political contributions while we review our giving strategy going forward.”

DeAngelis responded after I asked about a $100,000 digital campaign launched by the advocacy group End Citizens United. The goal is getting CVS and other corporations to not support Republicans “who voted to overturn the election and spread misinformation, helping to incite the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.” (According to End Citizens United, the CVS Health PAC has contributed $76,000 to U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes.)

“The CEO and high-level executives at CVS need to do some serious soul-searching,” End Citizens United President Tiffany Muller said in a statement earlier this week. “They need to decide if funding anti-democracy politicians is more important than democracy itself. In this defining moment, we urge these corporations to be part of the solution by heeding the calls for change.”

Eyes on the prize

Lost in the shuffle over the Raimondo/McKee relationship: is McKee doing the stuff necessary to give his administration the best chance of success? More specifically, are McKee and members of his transition talking with experienced people outside their bubble who can warn of pratfalls, for example, in negotiating the state bureaucracy and legislative relations?

(Remember, too, that Steve Kavanagh, who worked as legislative director for three governors – Don Carcieri, Lincoln Chafee and Gina Raimondo – recently brought his ample institutional knowledge to a job as deputy chief of staff for House Speaker Joe Shekarchi.)

McKee transition spokesman Mike Trainor declined to name names, but he said McKee talks “almost daily with people outside his transition” to gain insight.

Zambarano concerns

Northern RI lawmakers Rep. David Place (R-Burrillville) and Sen. Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield) recently tweeted out concerns over the future of Zambarano Hospital. Burrillville Town Manager Michael C. Wood also weighed in with a letter to Raimondo, calling it “disconcerting that the Town Council has not been consulted or provided timely information about the short and long-term plans for this facility, which is an important part of our community and its citizenry.”

While cost problems with Eleanor Slater Hospital in Warwick have been well documented, precisely what was happening with Zambarano was less clear. By mid-day Friday, quite a few hours after I inquired, first with BHDHH and then with the governor’s office, Raimondo spokeswoman Audrey Lucas provided this statement: “Governor Raimondo is committed to keeping Zambarano open. Last summer, the administration put forward a proposal to further invest in the campus and provide patients with the highest quality, most appropriate level of care. She hopes the General Assembly will move forward with these important investments in Zambarano. The hospital is currently going through a required process of discharging patients who no longer require hospital-level care.”

The new rep from East Providence

State Rep. Brianna Henries (D-East Providence) calls her winning campaign last year a “happy accident.”

When she was approached by the RI Political Cooperative, “I didn’t realize how much of a need there was for new leadership, new voices, new perspective in the government until we finally had the time to take a pause during COVID,” Henries said on Political Roundtable last week, “and you start to recognize some of these things that are going on with your local government. And you’re recognizing that there are these holes that need to be filled or these spaces that aren’t being addressed.”

Henries beat freshman incumbent Rep. Joe Serodio in the September 2020 primary, with almost 62 percent of the vote. While the House is larger and more ideologically variegated than the Senate – where leadership has moved to the left on a series of issues – Henries says the center of gravity is shifting there, too: “As you’re starting to see more of this progressive flow and this more progressive wave, they’re recognizing that the calls for people do kind of sit more in what’s called the left.”

Housing blues

The high median price for a house in Rhode Island – $334,000 – underscores the difficulty of increasing the supply of affordable housing. But one difference between former House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and current Speaker Joe Shekarchi can be seen in how a bill banning housing discrimination based on income source – repeatedly blocked in the House – is now ticketed to pass the chamber.

Borrow much?

With various elected officials and interest groups advocating for voter approval on March 2 of seven bond questions representing $400 million in borrowing, here’s the view from Michael DiBiase, CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC): “The evidence suggests that the state can afford the bonds being presented to them during this special election. Bbonds for higher education building, public recreation facilities, transportation, and the Davisville Port represent long-term public infrastructure investments. Housing and childcare facilities bonds are needed and worthwhile investments, however, state leaders must ensure that they are part of a larger strategy for investment and improvement.”

Our sacred shoreline

My colleague Alex Nunes’ stories on shoreline access in Rhode Island have garnered considerable attention – a sign of the deep interest in coastal rights in the Ocean State.

He was recently contacted by Rod Raso, a Wakefield resident and Vietnam veteran, who emailed Alex to share his own shoreline access story. Rod wrote that, while fighting in Vietnam, he took solace in thinking of the day he could return home to Port Washington, Long Island, and visit his beloved beachfront. He left Vietnam 10 days shy of the end of his 13-month tour of duty after being injured in combat for the third time.

“When I came home,” Rod wrote, “I couldn’t relate to any of my family or friends and all the trivia in their conversations. To unwind I drove to the end of the peninsula that I lived on to look out onto Long Island sound, meditate, unwind and cry.”

To Rod’s surprise, a police car pulled up. The officer told him he needed to leave because there was no public parking anywhere along the shoreline.

“The lady on the hill 500 feet away called and complained,” Rod wrote. “The killer is, veterans fought and died for our country, but we are denied access [to our shoreline].”

Rod eventually moved to Rhode Island, partly to enjoy the coast more freely. “We lose our privileges a little at a time,” he said, and he applauded a growing group of activists who’ve been pushing to protect and expand shoreline access in Rhode Island.

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public's Radio. He can be reached at www.idonnis@ripr.org. For more of his coverage, visit thepublicsradio.org and follow him on Twitter (@IanDon).

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