Welcome to another edition of the ol’ column. Keep sending your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I may include them. Onward!
1. With Congressman David Cicilline facing an uphill battle to win reelection this fall, maybe he should follow the playbook of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 2005, Blair won a third term by following a plan his advisers dubbed “the masochism strategy.” Basically, Blair went all over the United Kingdom and allowed voters upset about Iraq to vent their anger at him directly, publicly, and constantly. “The calculation,” Time explained, “is that people might start listening to Blair again if he sits there and responds to whatever they dish out.” Perhaps something similar could work for Cicilline. He could go all over the 1st Congressional District and let people, well, holler at him a bit – then use those opportunities to make the case, “Yes, you don’t like me much and, yes, maybe you feel I misspoke about the city’s finances in 2010, but you really don’t like the other party, and I promise I’m going to vote the way you want in Washington.” It might work.
2. Here’s a bit of irony. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio’s companion when he was arrested for drunk driving on Wednesday, state Sen. Frank Ciccone, is a former member of the legislature’s Permanent Joint Committee on Highway Safety. The 11-member committee is supposed to put together “a coordinated state highway safety program to reduce traffic accidents,” but apparently it isn’t as permanent as its name suggests – a legislative spokesman tells me the committee has been inactive for a few years now. I guess highway safety just isn’t a big priority for lawmakers these days.
3. There’s also some six-degrees-of-separation trivia in the Ruggerio case. The majority leader’s arrest report was released Wednesday morning by Barrington Police Chief John LaCross, who has another official role in public life: LaCross was appointed to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission a year ago by Governor Chafee. And who’s fought hardest to make sure LaCross and his fellow commissioners don’t get back the power to police lawmakers’ ethics? Senate President Paiva Weed, Ruggerio and the rest of the chamber’s leadership. In fact, Ciccone himself drafted a proposal to let senators police themselves. (The other senator quoted in that article, Christopher Maselli, is now serving time in prison.)
4. If you love music and you have a smartphone, a Spotify subscription is worth every penny.
5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The key moment in last year’s pension battle was when Treasurer Raimondo got the Retirement Board to approve a big increase in the estimate of the state’s liabilities. That’s what created a short-term crisis that needed to be addressed before another year passed. The question is, could Governor Chafee be having a Raimondo moment now vis-a-vis the cities and towns? For a time, it was possible to think Central Falls was an isolated case; now East Providence is under state oversight, Woonsocket is weighing a huge tax increase and the capital city is making national headlines for threatening bankruptcy. Those events, far more than any use of the overvalued bully pulpit, could be what pushes lawmakers to give Chafee some of what he wants.
6. And speaking of Chafee’s municipal relief bills, all seven have bipartisan co-sponsors: In the House, Woonsocket Democrat Jon Brien (a loyal Saturday Morning Post reader) and North Smithfield Republican Brian Newberry, the minority leader; in the Senate, East Providence Democrat Dan DaPonte, the finance committee’s chairman, and Barrington Republican David Bates, the minority whip.
7. National Geographic put up this neat online map showing which surnames proliferate in different parts of the country. If I’m reading it right, it looks like “Miller,” “Jones,” “Anderson” and “Smith” are pretty common around here.
8. Education Commissioner Deborah Gistmade The Wall Street Journal this week for pushing teaching colleges to adopt a new system that would rate their programs. “There is no perfect tool, but this project will give us important information we can use to finally start improving the quality of teacher preparation,” Gist says of the joint effort by the National Council on Teacher Quality and U.S. News & World Report.
9. The New Yorker’s Lauren Collins has a fantastic article this week about how the Daily Mail became the most powerful newspaper in the U.K. and a bigger force online than The New York Times. The whole thing is worth a read, and I thought this quote from Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre about what went wrong for American newspapers was interesting: “They forgot that there’s a huge market out there of people who are serious-minded but also want some fun in their reading.”
10. I’m not sure what to make of the emerging conventional wisdom about this week’s Supreme Court arguments over the health care law. It sounds as though a majority of the justices are leaning toward striking down the mandate, and perhaps the whole law, though I wouldn’t bet money on the outcome one way or the other myself. I continue to wonder whether Republicans are reading the long-term politics of this wrong, though. If Obamacare gets struck down, grass-roots Democrats will still want universal health care; and they’ll now believe a Rube Goldberg-esque public-private hybrid doesn’t work, so they’re likely to push for something simpler such as Medicare for All – which means more government. And even if you can fight that, the skyrocketing cost of health care is a real phenomenon, not a figment of the president’s imagination. (Indeed, it’s part of why Rhode Island’s government finances are so strained.) We really are going to have to deal with medical costs as a country, somehow or other, and throwing out one strategy doesn’t promise it gets replaced with a better one.