TALKING POLITICS

Unrest nationally and changes in store at the Assembly

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When flashy LA litigator Johnnie Cochran came to Providence after the friendly-fire fatal shooting of Officer Cornel Young back in 2000, Buddy Cianci accused Cochran of trying to sow division. Cliff Monteiro, then the president of the Providence NAACP, responded by saying there was already ample division in Rhode Island’s capital city – it just became a lot more evident after Young’s death. (Young, who was African-American, was fatally shot by two white colleagues who mistook him as a criminal during an early-hours altercation.) Twenty years later, the issue of race remains front and center in America. A white woman called police about a black man who was looking at birds in NYC’s Central Park. Riots are rocking Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, a situation condemned by people across the political spectrum. And Jennifer Rourke, a candidate for the Rhode Island Senate, is speaking out after anonymous racists targeted her during a virtual town hall this week. Senate Majority Michael McCaffrey (D-Warwick), who is being challenged by Rourke, condemned what happened. On a broader stage, President Trump threatened Minnesota looters with shooting. Former President Barack Obama said it falls on all Americans “to work together to create ‘a new normal’ in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.”

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Could Gov. Gina Raimondo actually wind up as Joe Biden’s running mate? For now, there are two predominant schools of thought. School 1 holds that this is a non-starter, mostly because Biden will choose someone with different experience who represents more of a strategic asset on the electoral map. (There’s also the matter of how the pension overhaul championed by then-treasurer Raimondo in 2011 rubs some Democratic constituencies the wrong way.) On the other hand, there’s the warm relationship between Raimondo and short-lived presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg. School 2 holds that Bloomberg has some leverage on the process, since he plans “a massive spending blitz” of more than $250 million on behalf of Biden, who lags behind President Trump in campaign cash. There’s also the glow Raimondo has gotten from her management of the COVID-19 crisis, as a Fox Business Network reporter tweeted this week while putting RI’s governor in the mix.

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The number of members planning to leave the Rhode Island Senate doubled this week, from two to four. Sens. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) and James Sheehan (D-North Kingstown) are joining Judiciary Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata of Warwick and Sen. Adam Satchell (D-West Warwick) in planning not to seek re-election. “It would not surprise me if we still see some others,” Nesselbush said. (Sen. Roger Picard, D-Woonsocket, a previous source of some speculation about his future, tells me he will seek re-election.) The Senate is the smaller of the two legislative chambers, with 38 members – so it didn’t coincidental that 10 of the 15 candidates unveiled last year by the progressive RI Political Cooperative are targeting the Senate. The proof will be in the pudding. But the Co-Op, co-founded by Matt Brown, Jennifer Rourke, and Jeanine Calkin, hopes to create the kind of change not seen since a botched redistricting scheme led to broad (and short-lived) GOP gains in 1983.

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Republican Doreen Costa is running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Sheehan, per GOP Chair Sue Cienki. Independent former NK Town Council member Ellen Waxman is considering it, and said she will run as a Democrat if she pursues it. Pawtucket Councilor Meghan Kallman, a D, has announced for the seat being vacated by Nesselbush.

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What a strange political year: 1) General Assembly incumbents generally have an edge due to name-recognition and the difficulty of knocking on doors during the pandemic; 2) But time away from the building is leading some lawmakers to question if they really want to be there; 3) But, with a few weeks until the late-June declaration deadline, some would-be candidates might decide the effort isn’t worth it in this environment; 4) meanwhile, while the Senate is the focal point for departures, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello faces a serious challenger in Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung  and potential fallout from the Convention Center probe. Will Smith Hill be a changed place after the November election, or not so much?

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RI House Republicans called this week for the resumption of Oversight hearings, specifically on the devastating toll of the coronavirus in nursing homes. More than 70 percent of Rhode Island’s deaths associated with COVID-19 have taken place in congregate settings such as nursing homes, and the GOP lawmakers call this an important subject for oversight, particularly with the possibility of a second wave of the virus later this year. But Speaker Mattiello poured cold water on the Oversight request, Democratic lawmakers do not appear about to side with the GOP on this, and Gov. Raimondo defended the state’s response to nursing homes.

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The General Assembly would normally be headed into crunch time around this part of the year. But there’s no easy answer to the competing arguments put forward by supporters and opponents of bringing the full legislature back, either at the Statehouse or with some alternative set-up. GOP lawmakers say the rank and file is being left out of the process as Gov. Raimondo commands the stage, sometimes talking with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. Even with plans for phase 2 to launch Monday, Raimondo repeated her view this week that gatherings of groups of people are a recipe for spreading the virus. Meanwhile, the situation in Pennsylvania, where Democrats accuse Republicans of staying mum about infections in their midst, offers one cautionary tale.

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Mike Stanton contributed a lovely essay to The Public’s Radio, remembering his late father-in-law and touching on what gets lost with the premature deaths of so many older Americans. Excerpt: “Some who push for a faster reopening argue that most of the 100,000 Americans who have died were older people already in failing health, likely to die soon anyway. This argument misses something we have become numb to as we try to absorb the overwhelming numbers of those who have passed. That is the great intangible, what we as a society have lost, are losing – wisdom, shared values and experience, insights into how the promise and peril of America has changed. This knowledge is threaded through generations, binding us

together.” 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.

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Warwick Voter

Calkin just can't take a hint. Her district had enough of her garbage and kicked her to the curb once already.

| Thursday, June 4
Mark

Great to see Ian in the Beacon.

Saturday, June 6