TALKING POLITICS

Thoughts on the primary and eying a potential LG opening

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Rhode Island’s primary election on Tuesday will indicate whether Rhode Islanders want a more progressive General Assembly. The Rhode Island Political Cooperative – whose platform includes issues like a $15 minimum wage, higher taxes on the well to do, and single-payer healthcare – ran candidates in nine of 15 state Senate primaries. Some Senate incumbents are countering by emphasizing liberal stances, or in the case of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (who faced a challenge from progressive Lenny Cioe), spending close to $100,000 from his well-stocked campaign account. On the House side, voters settled 19 primaries. Barring an unexpected surge of support, progressives will continue to make incremental gains in the 113-seat legislature, but remain outnumbered by leadership-backed establishment Democrats. Yet even subtle differences have the potential to change legislative dynamics.

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The Cranston mayoral primary on Tuesday offered a test of the popularity of outgoing Mayor Allan Fung. Despite two gubernatorial losses, Fung remains well-liked in Rhode Island’s second-largest city. He put his support behind Ken Hopkins in his GOP primary with Michael Farina. The subtext is that the marquee RI race of the fall – the showdown between Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and GOP rival Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung – is drawing ever closer. If Hopkins wins, it would be an auspicious sign for Fenton-Fung. And that would be even before the wild card posed by former Mattiello campaign operative Jeff Britt’s trial in October.

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If Joe Biden wins in November, and if Gov. Gina Raimondo takes a job in the Biden administration, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee will become governor and get to pick his own successor as LG – a move that doesn’t require Senate confirmation. This hasn’t happened in RI since 1997, when then-Gov. Lincoln Almond picked GOP stalwart Bernard Jackvony to fill the role vacated by Robert Weygand’s run for Congress. McKee declined to specify who has expressed interest to him in being considered for LG if all the cards fall in place; he calls this “an unlikely scenario,” and said he remains focused on aiding small businesses during the pandemic. Were this to actually happen, McKee told TGIF, his criteria for choosing a lieutenant governor would primarily be picking someone able to step in as governor.

Under such a scenario, McKee would want someone who would enhance his own prospects for maintaining the governor’s office amid a potentially big Democratic field in the 2022 election. Here’s a look at the possibilities:

A woman to be named later. The first female LG since Elizabeth Robertscould help to broaden McKee’s appeal. But the prospects for such a post are largely progressives, representing an ideological contrast from McKee.

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa said if asked, he would “absolutely” welcome the opportunity to serve as LG. He said he has not discussed this week with McKee and that for now such talk is speculative. Diossa is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election and his term is winding down.

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena is friendly with McKee, supported him in 2018 and he said supporters have encouraged him to run for an office like lieutenant governor. But Polisena said it’s too soon to decide his next move and he said he hasn’t talked with McKee about it. “It’s still two years away,” said the mayor, who is serving his last term due to term limits.

Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien didn’t rule anything out, but said he hopes to stay in his current role. He even said he'd help oversee Central Falls if there's a temporary gap in coverage.

Aaron Regunberg, who lost a close race to McKee in 2018, said he’s still mulling another run for LG and expects a competitive race for the post in 2022. He said, reasonably enough, that he doesn’t expect that McKee would draft him because of their differences in Democratic politics.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown) said he remains focused on the Senate and that certain hypotheticals would have to happen for there to be an opening in the LG’s office. “Should this situation manifest itself, it would thereby create an opportunity to for me to serve as lieutenant governor,” DiPalma tells me. “It would be my honor to serve in that capacity should Governor McKee, someone who I respect and value, select me to serve in this role of increased public service.”

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U.S. Sen. Jack Reed generally polls as the best-liked politician in Rhode Island, and his typically subdued rhetoric has heated up in the Trump era. So although Reed has in the past been mostly reluctant to make endorsements in legislative races in Rhode Island, it’s not entirely surprising that in campaign mailers and ads he’s now publicly backing a series of Democrats with primary races, including Sen. Steve Archambault of Smithfield and Senate President Ruggerio.

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Back in 2018, I caught up with U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy in Attleboro. He was a rising star at the time, not a candidate for U.S. Senate, but he was a bit sparse with his time and seemed like a guy in a hurry. From his first televised debate with U.S. Sen. Ed Markey back in February, Kennedy struggled with the question of why Markey, 74, should be voted out. And although other factors influenced the outcome – including the diminished resonance of the Kennedy name, and how the pandemic curtailed the younger challenger’s ability to reach voters through retail campaigning – that was the race, writ small. Kennedy, 39, still has his last name, a following and a Harvard Law degree, so time is on his side. But, as Scott MacKay noted on Political Roundtable this week, Kennedy also made a big mistake: “He allowed Ed Markey to basically pull a Jay Gatsby and reinvent himself as Bernie Sanders. When the fact is Ed Markey has been your regular guy in Congress for half a century. He was pro-life when he started, against the Boston busing, and Kennedy just let him reinvent himself and hug AOC.” Meanwhile, don’t miss Stephanie Murray’s post-mortem on the race, and Ted Nesi’s dispatch on how Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss – eventually – won the U.S. House seat being vacated by Kennedy.

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Markey’s support for the Green New Deal helped spark his support from young voters, and it provided the frame for a cinematic three-minute campaign ad – The Green New Deal Maker. Sam Eilertsen, who did the color correction for the ad, has written about how Alex O’Keefe and Sam Quigley of the Sunrise Movement came up with the spot. Eilertsen shares these details with TGIF: “Their process on the ad was pretty unique: they came up with the script by sort of freestyle ad-libbing to ‘Gimme Shelter’ (there's a recording of that in the newsletter ) and watched the opening scene of ‘The Departed’ with Markey before filming. I also know that it took a lot of convincing for Markey to agree to run that last line where he says, ‘with all due respect, it's time to start ask what your country can do for you,’ to the point where a few days before the ad was going to run when I was doing my technical work there was an alternate ending prepared in case Markey's team decided not to use it. Alex explained it as: Sunrise likes to lean into a controversy they think they can win, and they felt like pushing Kennedy to run on his family legacy would actually help, not hurt Markey, because it would remind voters that Kennedy hadn't clearly articulated why he, not Markey, should have the seat, besides the fact that he's a Kennedy. I think it was certainly one of the best political ads in recent memory and I hope it inspires a lot more cinematic and boldly progressive ads (and candidates!)."

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One more on Markey: the U.S. Senate primary winner scored a poetic trifecta by using “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves as the walk-on tune at his victory announcement this week: 1) reaching all the way back to 1983 for a celebratory song jibed with how Markey turned the possible lemons of his four decades in Congress into lemonade; 2) the solar-powered message of “Sunshine” aligned with Markey’s emergence as a Green New Deal champion; 3) the 37-year-old lyrics perfectly suited Markey’s moment (“I used to think maybe you loved me now, baby, I’m sure.”)

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The Senate primary in District 30 in Warwick offers an example of how the pandemic is affecting politics at the retail level in Rhode Island. Sen. Mark McKenney, who ousted progressive rival Jeanine Calkin in 2018, is aggressively knocking doors (in a masked, socially distanced kind of way). He attributes his win two years ago to that kind of approach, along with how his issue stances match up with voters. McKenney believes he gets a boost from walking with different volunteers who represent the various neighborhoods in the district. Calkin, meanwhile, isn’t knocking doors because she has asthma and is concerned about the risk of infection. But she believes the RI Political Cooperative, which she co-founded with fellow Warwick candidate Jennifer Rourke and Matt Brown, is helping to level the playing field for progressive candidates. Calkin’s 21-year-old campaign manager made the connection with her through another progressive group, Sunrise RI, and he’s leading the charge on the doors instead, while Calkin does outreach through the phone and social media.

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On the presidential campaign trail, Joe Biden met with the family of Jacob Blake, the man shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. President Trump continued his heightened emphasis on scenes of disorder.

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As we’ve noted before, the prospects for David Cicilline have changed a lot over the last 10 years. Back in his initial runs for Congress, Cicilline was dogged by questions about his description of Providence’s finances – to the point where he made a public apology. Now, Cicilline is again trying to ascend higher in the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives, shooting for the fourth-raking post in the chamber.

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Media short takes: Political Roundtable at The Public’s Radio had been on hiatus due to the pandemic, but it’s back, with a longer format to allow for more discussion … Speaking of The Public’s Radio, check out Season 2 of Mosaic, our immigration podcast, and its spiffy website … Elsewhere in media, congrats to our friends at WPRI for their new set and a new 4 pm newscast … and best wishes to WJAR-TV reporter Jared Pelletier, who’s pursuing a new adventure.

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Police in Rhode Island’s 38 municipal departments and the State Police report using force 8,635 times over the last five years. As WPRI’s Tim White and Eli Sherman report, the police say the force was justified in all but four of those instances. The justified cases include one that produced a five-figure settlement for a Providence man who says he was beaten by police. But as this story indicates, whether the overwhelming percentage of justified cases points to a wider problem depends on who you ask.

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From Thomas Abt’s “Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence – And A Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets”: “While conservatives must stop exploiting the issue of urban violence, those on the left must go further that just pushing back on the right. Progressives must embrace the issue of reducing urban violence as an essential means of serving their poor constituents of color. Addressing racism in criminal justice remains crucial, but vulnerable African Americans and Latinos are demanding freedom from violence as well as freedom from discrimination. The same is true of society at large – some fears of violent crime are reasonable, and unless progressives address such fears directly, they will continue to leave a void that will be filled by opportunists from the other side of the political spectrum.”

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Tom Seaver, my boyhood idol, has gone to the big diamond in the sky. Sweet Caroline mysteries. And who knew? There are many mysteries associated with “Sweet Caroline.”

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio, Rhode Island’s NPR member station. Listen at 89.3 FM or visit www.thepublicsradio.org. You can sign up for weekly email delivery of Ian’s column each Friday by following this link: www.lp.constantcontactpages.com/su/PriKkmN/TGIFsignup.

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gaegogi

The overwhelming use of police force is very minor. Any article talking about 8000 or so use of force cases should note that the overwhelming majority involve hands on or pepper spray. All minor stuff. Bad journalism.

Thursday, September 10