GOP strategy: While sitting in bridge traffic, ponder how we got in this mess

Posted 3/6/24

STORY OF THE WEEK:  The next race for governor of Rhode Island is more than two years away, so assessing the full political fallout from the Washington Bridge saga will take time. In the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

GOP strategy: While sitting in bridge traffic, ponder how we got in this mess


STORY OF THE WEEK: The next race for governor of Rhode Island is more than two years away, so assessing the full political fallout from the Washington Bridge saga will take time. In the near-term, though, it’s fair to wonder if the bridge — combined with headlines about the eye-popping cost of creating a soccer venue in Pawtucket ($27M in construction costs will be paid back as $132M over 30 years) — will filter into a unified message for local Republicans in legislative elections this year. “There’s no question that they will, each of them,” RI House Minority Leader Mike Chippendale (R-Foster) told me during an interview on Political Roundtable this week. “One’s a failure of leadership. The other one, you know, with the governor casting the deciding vote [on the Commerce Corporation], which pushed us over the slippery slope edge on this one, these will absolutely be campaign issues.” Chippendale also said it’s too soon to offer a letter grade for Gov. Dan McKee’s handling of the bridge issue, since forensic details on the westbound bridge have not yet emerged. At minimum, though, the bridge and the soccer arena’s cost give GOP candidates ready fodder when they hit the campaign trail later this year. Asked how Republicans — who now hold just 14 of 113 legislative seats — will increase their General Assembly presence, Chippendale said in part: “We’re going to continue to work on the issues that people care about most, which right now we’re talking about taxes. We have healthcare as a major issue …. [We’re] reminding Rhode Island voters that they have for a very long time been supporting a one-party state, which is 100 percent majority in the general offices and the 87 percent majority in the legislature. And we’re going to tie it to things like the bridge. And we want people to think about that when they’re sitting in traffic.”

THE TRUMP FACTOR: If Rhode Island needs to replace the westbound Washington Bridge, the outlook for federal assistance seems a lot more auspicious at a time when Joe Biden is president and Democrats control the U.S. Senate (with Jack Reed serving on the coveted Appropriations Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse on the Committee on Environment and Public Works). While feds have long fueled an 80/20 split on transit projects, the Navy’s withdrawal of its Atlantic destroyer fleet from Newport in 1973 offers a reminder of how the Ocean State can get caught short in federal priorities during a Republican presidency.

NEW LEADERSHIP: Jackie Anderson, who ran a primary challenge to House Speaker Joe Shekarchi of Warwick in 2022, is poised to take on the leadership of the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus — with the support of Shekarchi. Although the results of a recent election have not yet been announced, Anderson said she was uncontested in seeking to chair the group. The most recent chair was the Rev. Donnie Anderson. “I fully support Jackie,” Shekarchi said, crediting her with being a driving force in the passage of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act last year. Anderson said she and Shekarchi developed a rapport after her campaign in 2022 and have stayed in touch. She said her priorities for the Women’s Caucus include protecting abortion rights, promoting transgender rights and broadening support for the caucus.

RIPTA: Pat Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and a board member of the state public transit agency, joined my colleague James Baumgartner for an interview this week about all things RIPTA

PENSION POLITICS: Retirees angered by the Raimondo-era overhaul of the state pension system in 2011 generated enough attention that lawmakers passed a bill last year requiring General Treasurer James Diossa to study the issue. Diossa’s working group issued its report this week while avoiding any recommendations. The bottom line is that each of the possible options is very costly, at a time when the state budget outlook has grown more austere. Candidates who have tried to make a cause celebre of the pension issue, like Matt Brown in the Democratic primary for governor in 2018 and Spencer Dickinson in CD1 last year, haven’t stirred much momentum. While Speaker Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio pledged a thorough review of the Diossa panel report , there may not be sufficient legislative appetite to deliver the added benefit sought by retirees.

LOOKING AHEAD: Add state Rep. Robert Craven (D-North Kingstown), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to the lawmakers mulling a Democratic run for attorney general in 2026. “I am in the process of raising money and speaking to potential supporters,” Craven tells me. “If all goes well, I will be a candidate for AG in 2026.” Also eyeing the office are state Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Newport), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and state Rep. Jason Knight (D-Barrington). If all three legislators pursue a run, it will be the most crowded Democratic AG primary since 2010, when Peter Kilmartin, the eventual winner, squared off with Steve Archambault and the late Joe Fernandez. (Term limits preclude current AG Peter Neronha from seeking another term.) 

HEALTHCARE: AG Neronha and the state Department of Health have scheduled public hearings, March 19 and 26, on the proposed purchase by the Centurion Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, of CharterCARE Health Partners. CharterCARE operates Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence and Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence, about which Neronha has expressed concern due to the ownership of California-based Prospect Medical Holdings.

CHIPS: Gina Raimondo was all over the news this week thanks to a Biden administration goal of making the U.S. a manufacturer of 20% of state-of-the-art semiconductor chips by 2030. “That’s a big deal,” she said, per CNBC. “Why is that a big deal? Because folks, today we’re at zero.”

HOUSING I: Housing prices have been rising much faster in New Bedford than in other Massachusetts cities. However, even though the cure — building more housing — is the same one needed in Rhode Island, gentrification is not to blame, as my colleague Ben Berke reports.

HOUSING II: Elsewhere in the Bay State, Milton, an affluent suburb of Boston, is losing state grants after overriding a state-mandated housing plan, but it’s not the only community pushing back. Nearby Wrentham is asking for a waiver from a law meant to promote multi-family housing near public transit.

HOUSING III: Almost $17 million in federal funds has come to Rhode Island since 2019 to ameliorate hazards with lead paint. However, as my colleague Nina Sparling reports, most of the money remains unspent and a race is on to spend the funds before they have to be returned.

TAKES OF THE WEEK: various views from a mix of Rhode Islanders:

Blogfather, lawyer and lobbyist MATT JERZYK: “After traveling from the south to the north of Portugal last week, I could go on and on and on about food and culture and, of course, football! But I was continuously struck by the critical importance of public transportation. Whether it was metro or train or bus, or Uber, we spent eight days without our own car and didn’t skip a beat. At the same time here in Rhode Island, we are seeing a crisis of epic proportions at a bottleneck bridge to and from the East Bay as well as with our state’s bus system. Channeling some of the arguments made by Providence resident Marc Dunkelman, who famously wrote The Vanishing Neighbor and several articles, including this one in Politico raises a question: Can we utilize this moment of crisis as an opportunity to reflect on potential big changes to make Rhode Island more accessible to all Rhode Islanders? What does that look like? Perhaps a light rail from Warwick to Bristol? Or how about taking the MBTA’s South Coast Rail expansion from Boston to Fall River and having it circle back from Fall River to Providence? Dunkelman asks: Why can’t America build big stuff anymore? Perhaps we can show the way in getting the big stuff done, like we did recently with the new Pawtucket-Central Falls transit station. Yes, let’s fix the bridge! Let’s make RIPTA sustainable! And let’s find other ways, *big* ways, to traverse our great Ocean State! And, perhaps enjoy a pastel de nata along the way!”

DANTE BELLINI, chief hooligan at Hooligan Film Productions: “This is one of those times that I just can’t keep my big mouth shut. (I was actually a fan of the infamous stuffie national tour, as a fun tactic, but not a whole strategy!) This is also a moment when I must agree with one of my former worthy competitors, the “All That” rollout left me emotionally neutral. Alec Beckett at NAIL nailed it (sorry) when he wrote, “The new tourism campaign from Rhode Island is not bad. But make no mistake it is definitely not good. In fact, it’s something worse than bad: it’s generic.” The intent here is not to dump on Commerce or Tourism. But how do we keep making the same mistake? I don’t know anything about the Zimmerman Agency other than what I see on their website. But I am dumbfounded that Tourism did not keep this important, personal creative work in Rhode Island with one of our outstanding, award-winning, and homegrown communications shops. We have big firms and boutiques. I know 10 creatives, without breathing hard, that could’ve done extraordinary work. Is Zimmerman that much better because they specialize in the travel and hospitality sector? Was that the clincher? None of us here have the chops to get great things done? I think we keep losing sight of this irrefutable truth: Rhode Island is unique. We aren’t a cruise ship or an airline. Or a resort hotel. Or a charming southern city. We are so much more than breweries and slow-motion shots of cool kids in the setting sun. We are, inarguably, the most unique of the 50 states. And as such there is so much interesting, clever and edgy stuff to explore and mine. We are crazy-talented and resilient and smart. Big thinkers at top universities are everywhere we turn. We even tout PVD as “the creative capital.” We are the Biggest Little State in the union, after all, and those in decision-making positions keep forgetting it — and for some bizarre and unfathomable reason, keep giving us passionless creative executions that feel cut and paste and uninspired.”

TECH: discussion with Kara Swisher.

CITY HAUL: My colleague Olivia Ebertz reports on plans for growth in Providence.

KICKER: Did you hear about how Exxon, the energy corporation that sowed doubt even after making accurate predictions decades ago about climate change, is now suing investors who want faster climate action? In a statement, ExxonMobil said the case is not about climate change.

politics, op-ed, Donnis


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here