STORY OF THE WEEK
The General Assembly’s steady march in a more progressive direction over recent election cycles brings to mind a metaphor – how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That speaks to the incremental nature of change and how some districts pose a challenge for progressives despite Democrats’ overwhelming dominance in Rhode Island politics. Now, with the House of Representatives closely divided on the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act – which would extend coverage for women on Medicaid and the state employee health plan – Democratic pickups by Reps-elect Tina Spears of Charlestown and Megan Cotter of Exeter (and Brandon Voas’ win over conservative Democrat Jim McLaughlin in Cumberland) could potentially make the difference. In Cotter’s case, an e-bike was the secret sauce in her 32-vote defeat of Rep. Justin Price (R-Richmond). “That was super helpful, it really added to the success,” Cotter said during an interview on Political Roundtable. “We have a lot of long driveways [in the rural towns that make up House District 39, Exeter, Hopkinton and Richmond] and it’s intrusive to see a car you don’t know come down the driveway, like, who the heck is this? Especially in our area, you don’t often get people at the door. So the bike was, you know, wholesome. And, and I think a lot of people, you know, it started a lot of conversations.” Price, the only RI lawmaker to attend former President Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, still came close to winning, and a third candidate attracted 10% of the vote. Cotter said some voters ruled out considering her since she is a Democrat. Still, even with an embrace of such policies as expanding Medicare and boosting state support for daycare, she said she tried to avoid partisanship while campaigning. “I’m Megan. I’m a mother. I am a wife. I am a squid lady,” she said, referring to her work as a saleswoman for a seafood company. “I’m someone who is very active in this community. And I want your vote because I want to give you good representation at the Statehouse.” Cotter shared a compelling personal story – how her community responded with help after her family’s house burned down. And while Price attracted attention by buying into a conspiracy theory about Jan. 6, Cotter said she didn’t bring that up in campaign mailers or while knocking on voters’ doors. “I wanted to give people someone to vote for, not someone to vote against,” she said.
AS THE PROJO TURNS
It would have once been inconceivable that the corporate parent of The Providence Journal would axe the newspaper’s top editor in a cost-cutting move. But Belo’s bygone ownership of the ProJo – heavily criticized at the time – looks like the good old days. As part of a 6% news division cost-cut across Gannett, Executive Editor David Ng, a former top editor at the New York Daily News, has been let go after less than two years on the job. This continues the dismantling of Rhode Island’s statewide daily, which no longer offers its own in-house editorial after previous layoffs.
The inaugural for Providence Mayor-elect Brett Smiley is on for 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 2 at the Providence Public Library, followed by an open house and reception at City Hall. A 7 pm celebration at the WaterFire Arts Center, 475 Valley St., is also planned, and RSVP is required.
RI-POLI/MEDIA PEOPLE ON THE MOVE
Congrats to Danielle North, who is leaving the morning anchor desk after 24 years at WPRI, Channel 12, and to Kait Walsh, who is stepping in as morning co-anchor at the station …. Alana O’Hare has decided not to return to the comms team for Gov. Dan McKee. The former ABC6 reporter/anchor previously served as press secretary for the governor and then worked on his campaign … Amid her promotion to communications director for U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Meaghan McCabe is preparing to relocate from RI to D.C.
TAKE OF THE WEEK
Various views from a variety of Rhode Islanders.
Strategist and consultant CARA CROMWELL: In Rhode Island, the 2022 election quickly moved to the rearview with few surprises at the ballot box and no seismic shifts in leadership or to the political leanings in the State House. In fact, Rhode Island’s most significant electoral result may have happened in Massachusetts where the “millionaire’s tax” ballot question passed (coincidentally) by 4%. The new law adds a 4% tax on income above $1 million to the current flat rate of 5%, starting in 2023. While no one expects a surge of new residents moving across the border on January 1, the new tax gives Rhode Island something it hasn’t had in recent memory: a competitive tax advantage over Massachusetts. Rhode Island leaders have the opportunity to capitalize on this unexpected gift from our neighbors in Taxachusetts and tout our new-found competitiveness.
Former NEARI Executive Director ROBERT A., WALSH Jr.: On to 2024! Many political pundits assume President Biden would not run for a second term and ponder whether the president would support VP Kamala Harris to succeed him, subtly anoint someone else, or stay out of it. However, an impressive set of legislative accomplishments, coupled with the strong Democratic mid-term performance and this week’s Warnock victory in Georgia, make the implications of a Biden second-term candidacy worth pondering. The question is not as simple as “does age matter?” While comparisons may be made to the Speaker Pelosi House leadership team passing the torch to a “new” generation (sorry, Rep. Cicilline), the president will make his decision using different criteria. I fall into the “it is his decision and if he runs, I’m with him” wing of the Democratic Party. Challenges to incumbents seeking re-election rarely work well for either party. Assuming health considerations are not a factor, I expect President Biden would be strongly motivated to run against Donald Trump — if Republicans seem inclined to allow him a rematch. Should the GOP appear likely to choose a younger champion such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Biden could recycle Ronald Reagan’s debate line against Walter Mondale, when Reagan noted, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” While shadow Democratic presidential campaign operations may already be forming, great deference should be given to President Biden until he makes his decision, as the “Blue team” under his leadership continues to beat expectations. (Insert Brown basketball in-state reference here!)
Dr. PABLO RODRIGUEZ, OG of Latino political activism: “The Times They are A-Changin’,” the 1964 Bob Dylan song, seems like a remembrance of a quaint time compared to what we now experience. The signing of the Civil Rights Act that year ushered in a new and promising era, not just in American politics, but the world — and the promise of the US Constitution that all men are created equal under the law became a reality. What followed was a series of laws and public policies that made discrimination and hate a crime, enhanced voting, reproductive, gender and sexual rights, all with the purpose of creating a more perfect union. It seemed that the country and the world were coming together around the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Star Trek, a new TV series in 1966, featured a multiracial cast — the vision of what the future and our present world would be. In the last few years, however, we have seen the dismantling of reproductive rights and the Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme court is going to be ruling on challenges to antidiscrimination laws against LGBTQI people and further destruction of affirmative action in school admissions. The rapidly increasing level of anti-Semitism, evidenced by comments and actions by leading cultural and political figures, led the White House to convene a special roundtable to help combat this increased level of hate. Even with all these dark clouds, I remain hopeful that most of us embrace the righteous path of Star Trek, and that many of these challenges will eventually be overcome. The extremes of our political discourse are slowly being shunned, and if it wasn’t for social media, they would actually become irrelevant sooner. That is my hope. If not, all I have to say is “beam me up, Scotty.”
Economic Progress Institute Executive Director WEAYONNOH NELSON-DAVIES: “As we gear up for the 2023 legislative session, I urge us to get serious about evaluating the impact of proposed policies and expenditures before they are enacted and implemented. Economic security and opportunity for all Rhode Islanders must start with equitable policies. We hope that Rhode Island can join other states that have taken the lead in requiring legislation, and state budgets, to include “equity impact statements” which will consider the impact of the legislation in terms of racial, ethnic, gender, disability, and other equities. If legislators vote for a policy that will likely reduce disparities and increase equity or decide to vote to further increase disparities, they should do so on the record and with public awareness.
Former GOP candidate for governor KEN BLOCK: Republicans snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Georgia. In a vote that was surprisingly close, Democrat Raphael Warnock beat Republican Herschel Walker by 95,000 votes or so. The final outcome was not surprising to me, given Walker’s litany of gaffes, scandals and challenges in speaking coherent thoughts. I was certain that the margin of victory would have been larger. Republican Governor Brian Kemp kept his seat in a hard-fought contest against Democrat Stacey Abrams just a month ago, winning by nearly 300,000 votes. Walker did not lose because he was a Republican — he lost because he simply was not a good candidate. This race was his to lose. Candidate quality matters a lot — especially in races where there is not a strong advantage for one party over another. Will the GOP learn any lessons from this avoidable debacle? I am certain that Georgia Democrats hope not.
Audubon Society senior director of governmental affairs PRISCILLA DE LA CRUZ: Marking the 50th year of the Clean Water Act and reflecting on the historic victories to protect the environment, I’m conscious that the climate change crisis and deep inequities we face cannot be solved without a diverse and inclusive movement. A moment of activists, laborers and unions, policymakers, environmental and social justice advocates, private and public sectors, and all communities committing to doing things differently with integrated solutions that center climate justice, racial and economic equity and guarantee family-sustaining jobs. Our health, livelihoods, wildlife and the ecosystems they sustain for us, and the right to clean air and water for future generations depend on it — not just for some but for all. Rhode Island has risen to these challenges time and time again, Now is our time to innovate with Act on Climate, including offshore wind and a transformative and clean energy economy that creates opportunities and access for communities of color. Let’s show the nation how we can leverage federal dollars to meet our mandates while paving the way for the globe.