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The realignment of RI's tectonic political plates

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Gina Raimondo may one day look back on last week as the time when everything changed.

Raimondo has a shiny new high-profile gig as Commerce secretary in the Biden administration, where she’ll be involved in everything from the Census and salmon management to boosting broadband and navigating nettlesome telecom issues with China.

“My first order of business is doing everything I can to get Americans back to work,” Raimondo told MNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, in her first interview in her new role.

On her way out, with an eye to her legacy, Raimondo unveiled a glossy 34-page overview of her tenure as governor.

Looking ahead, it’s clear that that her political trajectory has entered a new phase, with the ultimate destination still to be determined. While Raimondo’s profile has long been on the rise in national Democratic circles, it’s certainly a different ballgame when the POTUS is tweeting about you.

McKee’s big boost

If the mantra of real estate is location, location, location, there’s little doubt that good timing is a precious political commodity. In this sense, Dan McKee could be in the catbird seat.

McKee arrived at the top job in Rhode Island politics this week at age 69, after a circuitous path that included barely scraping by to win re-election as lieutenant governor in 2018. Now, though, the future is wide open. Will he be dispatched by a fellow Democrat in the gubernatorial primary next year, or go on to serve long into the future?

With his ceremonial swearing on Sunday outside the State House, McKee now has an opportunity to make an impression on Rhode Islanders. This comes as states are gradually reopening their economies. At the same time, Democrats’ plan to include billions for states would have a transformative effect on Rhode Island’s budget outlook.

There are 18 months until the September 2022 primary, and McKee just got a big boost.

Fung joins the Yang Gang

Former GOP Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is crossing partisan lines to serve as a co-host for a March 7 virtual fundraiser for Andrew Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate-turned-mayoral candidate in New York City.

Fung said he met Yang when they sat at the same table during a Boston event for the Brown alum’s presidential bid. Fung said he’s backing Yang in part due to their shared Chinese ancestry, and since Chinese parents have generally not encouraged their children to pursue politics in the U.S.

Fung, who recently started a new job as a partner at Johnston-based Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara, said he likes Yang’s chances in the mayoral race and believes the run will help encourage more Asian Americans to run for political office.

Housing’s heightened profile

While Rhode Island remains an affordable alternative (for some) to the white-hot real estate market in Massachusetts, the Ocean State has long had its own housing crisis.

Voters last week approved Question 3, which directs $65 million to develop affordable housing. And House Speaker Joe Shekarchi unveiled a push on housing with a series of proposals, including bills to study housing, to allow tiny houses to be used as accessory units/considered affordable housing, and to create a deputy secretary of commerce and housing.

For now, though, a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing – like that discussed in recent years by Gov. Raimondo – has remained elusive.

McKee staffs up

With a new governor comes new staff. Gov. McKee unveiled a series of moves this week, retaining such holdovers as Claire Richards (executive counsel), Kim Ahern (policy director and senior counsel), Brenna McCabe (senior advisor), Ron Desiderato (special assistant) and Rico Vota (deputy director of legislative and intergovernmental relations) … For now, most state department heads appear to be staying put … Consensus smart move in hiring state government veteran Thomas Mullaney as a senior advisor … As I reported previously, Kevin Horan is the pick for legislative director … The comms team is led by Andrea Palagi as comms director, with Lexi Kriss as her deputy, and Alana Cerrone as press secretary … Tony Silva is chief of staff … Joseph Polisena Jr. is deputy counsel on policy and Antonio Afonso is senior deputy chief of staff … Chris Farrell, part of the extended Cumberland gang and someone who was encouraged to go to law school by a prominent person in Barack Obama’s life, is senior adviser.

One to watch: McKee and progressives

The relationship between Gov. McKee and legislative progressives is something worth watching. A case in point is the push to raise taxes on people who earn more than $475,000 a year. While progressives and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey describe this as a matter of equity, McKee – like Speaker Shekarchi – appears cooler about the concept and more concerned about a potentially adverse effect on the state’s perceived business climate.

Local media vs. big tech

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, chaired by Rep. David Cicilline, is slated to hold a hearing next Friday, March 12, on proposals to foster local media amid the overwhelming dominance of Google and Facebook.

Cicilline last week told CNN’s Brian Stelter that his “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act” would have much the same effect of a new Australian law requiring publishers to pay for news content.

“The day of self-regulation is over,” for tech giants like FB and Google, Cicilline said. He pointed to the closing of newspapers and the mass layoff of reporters in calling for this new approach.

Cicilline said he expects what he called “real reform” in the current Congress.

Back in Rhode Island, the state still has a fairly robust journalistic landscape, thanks in part to the staffing up of such outfits as the Boston Globe and WPRI (and we continue to add staff at The Public’s Radio), although the days when a statewide daily newspaper offered town-by-town coverage aren’t coming back.

Technology vs. privacy

Lawmakers including House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (R-New Shoreham) have expressed concern about license plate readers and other forms of creeping surveillance. So it’s worth noting how Massachusetts has been credited with writing rules allowing police to use facial recognition technology while guarding against false arrests.

Via the NYT: “If you ask lawmakers in the state how they pulled it off, they will frequently refer you to one person: Kade Crockford, an activist at the ACLU of Massachusetts. ‘One of my concerns was that we would wake up one day in a world resembling that depicted in the Philip K. Dick novel ‘Minority Report,’ where everywhere you go, your body is tracked; your physical movements, habits, activities and locations are secretly compiled and tracked in a searchable database available to god knows who,’ Mx. Crockford said.”

Why disinformation is here to stay

Why online disinformation isn’t going away, via NPR’s Miles Parks: “About 1 in 5 Americans say they primarily got their political news from social media in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center. Those who got their information that way were found to engage with conspiracy theories more often than other Americans, while also voicing less concern about the detrimental effects of unreliable information. The problem is more pronounced for younger Americans, who have grown up with the platforms. Of those Americans who relied most on social media for their information about the election, half were under 30 years old. This week's Election Integrity Partnership report detailed how claims about voting fraud went viral in conservative circles, and subsequent fact checks garnered only a fraction of the same traction.”

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

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