The Rhode Island House budget vote is monkeying with our column-writing schedule, so this week’s TGIF is a bit abbreviated. But we’re still checking the pulse of Ocean State politics and appreciate your stopping by. Your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.
1. Two cross-currents are getting a lot of attention — how 2018 is shaping up as the year of women in politics, and how President Trump, despite his less than stellar overall approval rating, commands very strong support among Republicans. A Morning Consult report out this week reinforced the view that Trump is very unpopular in the Ocean State (he has a 60 percent disapproval rate, up from 46 percent in January 2017.) So what does this mean for Rhode Island? Will a surge of female legislative candidates hasten the day when the House has a woman as speaker? Will Trump’s fealty in the GOP give a primary boost to someone like US Senate candidate Robert Nardolillo, who is arguably more of an embodiment of the president’s Republican Party than rival Robert Flanders? Answering these questions is impossible for now, but that didn’t stop me from asking two Rhode Islanders for their views. Justine Caldwell, a Democrat challenging state Rep. Anthony Giarrusso (R-East Greenwich), is one of the first-time female candidates trying to storm the Statehouse. She points to East Greenwich as a place where Trump’s brand of politics isn’t playing well. “Democrats in my district are fired up to vote in November and let it be known exactly how they’re feeling about the direction our country has taken,” Caldwell said. “And Republicans I’m talking with are more open to Democrats like me who stand for a more collaborative, adult kind of politics. “We’ve seen the effects of that Democratic enthusiasm in the special elections around the country, and I expect the campaigns of all Democrats — from Sen. Whitehouse and Gov. Raimondo, even to Matt Brown — are feeling the surge of enthusiasm I’m seeing in my district.” Not surprisingly, RI Republican Chairman Brandon Bell has a very different view on the outlook (and the RGA keeps dropping money into RI): “Trump’s approval numbers are about at the same level as Raimondo’s approval numbers. Trump’s low approval numbers in RI do not trump Raimondo’s incompetence in voter’s minds. Voting for Raimondo will have no impact on President Trump. But voting Raimondo out will put an end to the incompetent Raimondo administration.”
2. The RI House approved a $9.55 billion budget shortly before 10 pm Friday on a 66-to-7 vote. Read all about it, and how the state will split revenue from the introduction of sports betting.
3. Gov. Raimondo‘s office appeared taken by surprise this week when House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello cited what he called systemic managemetn problems in the four agencies that make up the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “I think we need to get some managers into these positions that have significant managerial skills to work on straightening out these departments,” Mattiello told reporters this week. (Raimondo’s communications director, Mike Raia, pushed back, saying that the governor has made progress after inheriting agencies that have struggled for decades.) Sen. Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown), who keeps a close eye on human-service issues, tells RIPR that Mattiello is partially correct about the level of problems within EOHHS. DiPalma said HHS has thousands of committed workers, but that staffing is too thin in some key parts of management. “Here’s where I agree with the speaker: additional senior leadership is sorely needed across human services, categorically,” DiPalma said on RIPR’s Political Roundtable. “In the area of the operational, some of the area of data analysis, we have leaders that are one-deep. They’re building their teams. They need to build more around their teams to address the operational aspects of every day of running the organizations.” On UHIP, DiPalma said he’s continuing to meet with contractor Deloitte and believes “we are moving in the right direction. I believe Deloitte has finally brought the right leadership team in.”
4. Last week, Democratic Gov. Raimondo was the focus for criticism from rival candidates. This week, Republican Allan Fung became the target after WPRI-TV reported on a series of questions involving Fung’s campaign headquarters at Chapel View. Worth noting is how Raimondo, rather than a surrogate, led the attack from the governor’s office: “Mayor Fung’s failure to pay rent for his campaign office and his improper reporting of several other campaign transactions points to a pattern of corruption. The Board of Elections needs to get to the bottom of this, because there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. At the very least, it’s clear that Mayor Fung is incompetent when it comes to his campaign’s finances. If he can’t even manage his campaign’s finances, it’s no wonder Cranston is in distress.” Fung’s campaign sought to downplay the matter, once again trying to use ridicule against Raimondo and other competitors: “Anything from Governor Raimondo talking about competency should run in the Onion or be featured by the Ocean State Follies,” said Fung campaign spokesman Andrew Augustus.
4A. Meanwhile, while the flubbed HHS-nursing home deadline raised the specter of the state owing up to $24 million, the settling of the case is entirely unsurprising, consider how the General Assembly holds the power of the purse.
5. Rival Democrat Matt Brown continues attempting to use particular issues — abortion rights, driver’s licenses for immigrants, regardless of their status — to peel off support from Raimondo. In a letter this week on the abortion issue, Brown talked a big game about the impact, although it’s unclear if women’s access to reproductive rights has actually been affected in RI. That may be beside the point; Brown’s campaign got heavyweights like feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Kate Michelman, president emeritus of NARAL Pro-Choice America, to sign on to his letter. That in turn could boost Brown’s fundraising and elevate his profile among left-flank out-of-town Dems. Meanwhile, Raimondo can tout good news on the jobs front. Yet the optics were not so great for the governor when civil rights icon John Lewis — who had been unaware of Brown’s run — expressed regret over endorsing the incumbent. Meanwhile, Bob Plain writes that the issue mostly illustrates Brown’s naivete.
6. The outlook on the PawSox and their quest for a new stadium in Pawtucket remains convoluted. In the view of Statehouse insiders, the…