The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI

Welcome to another edition of my weekly column. Keep sending your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I may include them.

1. Anybody who tells you they know what a bankruptcy court judge would do to Providence’s pensioners is either lying or deluded. This is an extremely unsettled area of the law with limited precedents. For instance, I’m skeptical of those who invoke the Chapter 9 filings of Orange County or Vallejo: pensions are constitutionally protected in California, unlike in Rhode Island, and there’s no powerful entity here to threaten legal action the way CalPERS did in Vallejo. Nor are those the only reasons Providence retirees might be rolling the dice. UPenn’s David Skeel thinks their property rights could cover only the pension fund’s assets, not its promises; that suggests a 73% haircut. Another pension fund is now trying to file for bankruptcy on its own. Finally, look back to Vallejo. True, the city didn’t cut pension benefits by a penny – it got rid of 106 active policemen and firefighters instead. Would that really be preferable?

2. A funny moment at Tuesday’s Brown-Providence press conference: At one point, Brown President Ruth Simmons singled out for praise Al Dahlberg, the school’s director of state and community relations, telling the assembled pols, “He has been truly helpful to me in the past few years in understanding what you guys actually do up here.” House Speaker Gordon Fox shot back, “Let us know when you find out.”

3. Speaker Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed are each making $28,372 this year. Shouldn’t we be paying them more? The legislature may be part-time, but they certainly aren’t. On Tuesday both of them were at the State House – they’re always at the State House, even on weekends. They’re also directly in charge of a $40 million budget. Their jobs are stressful and crucial, yet their wage comes to less than $14 an hour. You wonder whether paying so little could make less reputable leaders boost their incomes by trading on their influence – though Common Cause Rhode Island’s John Marion offers the counterargument of former New York Senate chief Joe Bruno, who was just indicted for corruption (again) even though his old salary tops $100,000.

4. A new CEO survey says Massachusetts is the fourth-worst state for business, coming in below perennially bottom-dwelling Rhode Island. Yet Massachusetts also has a 6.5% jobless rate, significantly better than the nation’s 8.2% rate or Rhode Island’s 11.1% – or, for that matter, Texas’s 7% rate, even though that state came out on top in the CEO survey. What gives?

5. It’s always funny to hear about our leaders conducting important business … via text message. Mayor Taveras and Governor Chafee are known to exchange texts, including during emergencies, and now we learn that Taveras and Ruth Simmons did the same during their difficult negotiations. “Mr. Mayor, I have a number of questions for you,” Simmons quipped Tuesday: “The first is whether you’re obligated to share those text messages with the public.” Taveras, laughing, said: “No – it was my private phone number.” “Thank goodness for that,” Simmons replied. (She added: “I really look forward, Mr. Mayor, to spending much less time with you.”)

6. Did you know that for the first time since 1872, rum is being distilled in Rhode Island? That’s the report from a tippler of my acquaintance who recently sampled Newport Distilling Company’s Thomas Tew Rum. (It’s named for the pirate.) More from the Projo here.

7. After Tim White’s #CitySlacker investigation aired Thursday, people asked how David Pontarelli got onto Target 12′s radar screen. In the vast majority of these cases, it starts out because someone is upset by what they’ve seen firsthand: “We don’t randomly pick a name out of a hat when we begin an investigation,” Tim says. As was the case last year with weightlifting disabled firefighter John Sauro, Pontarelli came to our attention because people around him thought something was amiss – and didn’t see anywhere else to turn. “Often,” Tim says, “I find that we’re the last stop for someone who’s tried to raise these issues with their bosses or through other official channels.” For more, read his “Tips for Tipsters.”

8. Happy 25th anniversary at WPRI 12 to Tony Petrarca! Tony was one of the folks who made this refugee from newsprint feel right at home at Channel 12. He’s a great guy on and off the screen (and therefore, I won’t disclose how old I was the year he started here).

9. Last Saturday, a host of panelists took part in Operation Clean Government’s annual candidate school, offering some tips to aspiring officeholders. My panel was about dealing with the media, alongside Dave Layman, Dave Preston and John Howell. Preston offered some particularly good advice, so I asked him to write it up for wider distribution. Repeat after Dave:

The two most important things in a local campaign (Assembly/Municipal) are to raise money and ring doorbells. The money must be spent effectively and the doorbells must be rung in a strategic, targeted way designed to turn the people you meet into people who vote for you.

These two things are top-tier priorities because only the candidate can do them effectively. They cannot be done right by anyone else. Also, they will – by far – have the greatest impact on the success of the campaign. Likewise, deploying campaign volunteers and resources to support the candidate in accomplishing these two tasks effectively is also a top priority.

The bulk of the work for other things – creating and placing media content (the topic of our panel), campaign logo design, drafting mail pieces, posting on social media, completing the campaign finance reports, etc. can all be accomplished by volunteers, with final sign-off by the candidate at the very end.

The vast majority of campaign tasks need not involve the candidate at all. These tasks would include placing lawn signs, sticking mailing labels, managing, updating and using the voter file, making get-out-the-vote phone calls, assigning work to volunteers, etc. These should be led by the campaign manager and completed by volunteers.

A candidate who is not raising money or ringing targeted doorbells should be asking him/herself if it is really necessary for them to be doing the task they are doing or whether it could be delegated so they could raise more money or ring more doorbells.

Bottom line: “You walk, you win.”

10. Congressman Jim Langevin was the only member of the delegation who kept campaign donations from figures connected to the Navy kickbacks scandal, and the new indictments haven’t changed his mind. The $22,190 in question was contributed “years ago and were used for their intended purpose in good faith with no evidence of possible wrongdoing,” spokesman Jonathan Dworkin says. “Jim’s long-standing policy is to move on and cut any ties between his campaign and those who might be involved in misconduct.”

11. At the Rhode Island Business Expo on Thursday, I asked the three panelists on the CEO roundtable what they think is the biggest solvable challenge in Rhode Island; that is, something we could tackle on our own that could make a big difference in the economic climate. Alex and Ani’s Giovanni Feroce said bury the power lines. (Alas, Jack Reed once told me that would be prohibitively expensive.) Newport Grand’s Diane Hurley said City by the Sea businesses should work together more closely to promote the city. And Betaspring’s Allan Tear said improve K-12 education, because it matters so much to new residents. The biggest tax, he noted, is $26,000 for a private school.

12. This week on “Newsmakers” – director Julian Marshall (“Obey the Giant”) and former congresswoman Claudine Schneider. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Copyright 2014 WPRI.COM. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Rhode Island (change)

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, the first independent in his position, has his work cut out for him: fix the state's finances and help 66,000 unemployed Rhode Islanders get back to work.
Offices & Officials

Governor: Lincoln Chafee
Lieutenant Governor: Elizabeth Roberts
Attorney General: Peter Kilmartin
State Treasurer: Gina Raimondo
Secretary of State: Ralph Mollis

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