Welcome to another edition of my weekend column – as always, send along your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. With the presidential race dominating the headlines and Mitt Romney stumbling, the challenge facing Brendan Doherty to win in a presidential year is becoming starker. As Ian Donniswrote recently, Doherty’s strategy relies on separating himself from national Republicans, which isn’t easy when they’re front and center on the evening news. Doherty supporters can point to 1988, when the 1st District simultaneously backed a Democratic presidential nominee (Mike Dukakis) and a moderate Republican (Ron Machtley) to replace a tarnished Democratic congressman (Freddie St Germain). But Rhode Island has gotten much bluer over the intervening 24 years: Barack Obama won the state by nearly 27 points in 2008, more than doubling Dukakis’s 11-point margin. Moreover, Machtley wasn’t as isolated as Doherty – voters in 1988 reelected Republican U.S. Sen. John Chafee by nine points; current Republican candidate Barry Hinckley is only a long shot. (Indeed, hard as it is to believe, three-fourths of Rhode Island’s delegation were Republicans during the 101st Congress of 1989-90: Chafee, Machtley and Claudine Schneider.) For Doherty to win, he needs a sizable chunk of voters to mark their ballots for Obama and Whitehouse, then switch parties and choose him – how many will?
2. As part of a riff on higher ed, Matt Yglesias made this point regarding Bay State governors: “Indeed, neither [Deval] Patrick nor Romney was born in Massachusetts. Rather, like many of the state’s most successful individuals they moved to the Bay State from elsewhere to go to Harvard and then stuck around.” As it happens, the last two governors of Rhode Island also went to the local Ivy; Lincoln Chafee and Don Carcieri both graduated from Brown University. The difference? Unlike Patrick and Romney, Chafee and Carcieri didn’t migrate from out of state; they were born here and stuck around for college. Rhode Island actually hasn’t elected a governor born elsewhere since William Henry Vanderbilt III won in 1938 (also the last year Republicans won control of the General Assembly). Brown is undoubtedly a magnet that attracts smart people to Rhode Island. But do they stay to make their mark as reliably as Harvard graduates do in Massachusetts?
3. Did you know Jim Langevin spoke in prime time on Tuesday night during the 2004 Democratic National Convention – just before Barack Obama delivered the speech that put him on the path to the presidency? CSPAN has the evidence.
4. Cook Political Report editor and Rhode Island native Jennifer Duffy is somewhat skeptical about the Benenson Strategy Group’s new DCCC-commissioned 1st District poll, which gave David Cicilline a double-digit lead, despite her respect for the polling firm. First off, she’s surprised unknown independent David Vogel is polling 8%. Second, she thinks Democrats are overlooking that Cicilline is in “pretty dangerous territory” at 46% support – especially since undecideds usually break for the challenger (in this case, Doherty). “Finally, it is sometimes more telling what a pollster does not release,” Duffy told me – in this case, job ratings and favorable/unfavorable numbers. “If they had been strong, they would have released them.” That suggests Doherty’s favorability ratings are pretty good, which makes sense considering the general election just kicked off.
5. Keep your eye on Johnston Rep. Stephen Ucci, the deputy majority leader, who’s likely to raise his profile after last week’s primaries left House Democrats’ future leadership in flux. The 40-year-old was first elected in 2004 and works as a lawyer for Raytheon. Ucci has proposed, among other things, jailing state department chiefs who go over budget and cutting the state’s minimum corporate tax from $500 to $50. He’s running unopposed this year after raising more than $21,000 during the first quarter alone.
6. After Tim White finished his big interview with Don Carcieri last week, he had one more question for the former gov – what were his thoughts on last year’s pension changes, considering his own emphasis on the issue during his two terms? “I think it was very good,” Carcieri began. “As you know, I was working on that. We made changes over my eight years. They are all going to be challenged because the unions don’t like it and don’t want it.” He went on to recall his own major win on benefits. “We changed retiree health care. That was huge. We changed all the active health insurance with co-shares. When I came into office, state workers were paying nothing – nothing! – toward their co-share.” As for pensions, “I tried to get rid of the COLA and they wouldn’t go that far at that point. I think we were moving in that direction, and I credit Gina really with running with that ball. Now, she got the Retirement Board to lower the assumption. That created – the old saying is, you need a crisis to make changes – that’s what created it.” Channeling Paul Valletta, Tim quipped: “You sound like a union member.” Carcieri replied: “Well, she didn’t create it – and by the way, 7.5% is still too high. Clearly an 8.25% assumption was, it would seem in today’s world, unrealistic. Even 7.5% may still be too high.” He added: “I credit the legislature for making those changes.”
8. Revenue Director Rose Galloglywants to move fast in scheduling the special elections (primary and general) to replace Chuck Moreau as mayor of Central Falls – preferably to have it coincide with the presidential election. So far the names of three potential candidates are floating around: City Councilman James Diossa, former Police Chief Joe Moran and local political fixture Thomas Lazieh, who already served as mayor from 1990 to 1995 and also did turns as city councilman and city clerk. Anybody else out there?
9. If you like Nesi’s Notes, you’ll definitely like “After the Revolution,” which just opened at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket. The Amy Herzog play is a political tale set in 1999 as a lefty family grapples with new revelations about their beloved patriarch and his actions during the McCarthy era. The standout performances are those of Sam Babbitt and Wendy Overly, but the whole cast does a fine job – as did those behind the scenes, notably set designer Patrick Lynch and director Tony Estrella. The show runs through Oct. 14 – get tickets here.
11. Some musical trivia: Did you know “Family Guy” creator and RISD alumSeth MacFarlane recorded an entire Sinatra-style big band album last year? It’s surprisingly good! And did you know Bob Dylan recorded a Christmas album in 2009? His take on “Must Be Santa” leaves me speechless.
12. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – the future of Central Falls with Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly and Ted Orson, the city’s bankruptcy attorney. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – the case for casinos with Twin River’s John Taylor and Newport Grand’s Diane Hurley. Watch Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.