Editor’s Note: Traditionally, Ian Donnis opens his column with a STORY OF THE WEEK. He did so this week, however, the story was devoted to the possible outcomes of the Democratic primary for …
Editor’s Note: Traditionally, Ian Donnis opens his column with a STORY OF THE WEEK. He did so this week, however, the story was devoted to the possible outcomes of the Democratic primary for CD1. As the outcome of the primary would be known by Tuesday night, that portion of his column has been deleted. We’re sure he’ll have something to say about the outcome next week.
EYE ON WARWICK: It’s not every day that you see Gov. McKee and Speaker Shekarchi hosting a Crowne Plaza fundraiser for a local elected official, but two-thirds of the powerful State House troika is doing precisely that for a Sept. 27 time (suggested contribution levels: $100/$250/$500/$1,000) for Warwick City Council President Stephen McAllister. Asked if this points to a possible run for higher office, McAllister tells me via email, “Fundraising is unfortunately an important and necessary part of being able to get your message out to residents. So I am having this fundraiser to help ensure I have the resources necessary to run for reelection or another office in 2024 and future years.”
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: With state Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (R-Cranston) showing signs of gearing up for a run for mayor, it’s fair to wonder if Republicans will be able to keep the House seat that Fenton-Fung stripped from then-House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat, in 2020. One name that comes to mind is that of RI GOP National Committeeman Steve Frias, who ran against Mattiello in 2016 and 2018. Frias tells me he’s not interested in running for elective office at this time, in part because he doesn’t believe his run would have much impact. Back in ’16, Mattiello introduced his plan to phase out the car tax in the face of Frias’ challenge, and the Cranston Republican’s second run, in ’18, may have softened the path for Fenton-Fung’s win two years later. But “it takes a lot of work and you get attacked, right?” Frias said, pointing to evidence that emerged that an opposition researcher indirectly working for the then-speaker’s campaign spied on Frias and his family in 2016. Frias said he believes a strong GOP contender will run for the Cranston rep seat next year, although he said he was not aware of serious prospects at the moment.
GINAWORLD: Regardless of whether Gina Raimondo’s trip to China was a significant step in renewing communication in the U.S.-Sino relationship or a journey without much accomplished, there’s little doubt that Raimondo’s profile continues to rise by leaps and bounds. She was the first Commerce secretary to go to China in a number of years, and her embrace of a young Chinese girl at a Disney Park (“an important form of soft power for the U.S., she said in one report”) seemed to reflect Raimondo’s ease in adopting to the global stage. It’s a long way from Gina from Smithfield, right? For now, the world appears to Raimondo’s oyster, and it’s impossible to know moving forward if she’ll lean toward a lucrative private sector job, a university presidency, or something thing else. The Gina for president speculation seemed far-fetched when it started years ago when she was still governor. But hey, if a state as irrelevant in electoral politics as Delaware can produce Joe Biden, there’s little reason to doubt that Raimondo can be a player in 2028.
SENATE RACE: State Rep. Nathan Biah’s run for the Senate opening created by the passing of Maryellen Goodwin strikes some observers as quixotic, considering that the Senate’s preferred candidate is one of the chamber’s own staffers, Jake Bissaillon, chief of staff to Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (meaning that Biah, who represents part of Goodwin’s former district, could find a frosty reception if he wins). But Biah tells the ProJo’s Antonia Farzan that he sees the potential to make a bigger impact in the Senate by fostering more diversity in state government. Farzan has a good look at the Democratic primary scrum that also includes Mario Mancebo and Michelle Rivera.
TAKES OF THE WEEK: A mix of views from various Rhode Islanders.
ROBERT A. WALSH JR, former executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island: “My political crystal ball sees multiple futures, so here are four ledes to save the press some time next Tuesday night:
**Buoyed by endorsements ranging from A(jello) to Z(urier), a base in Blackstone Valley, support from loyal colleagues and a diverse array of local elected officials throughout the district, and significant union support, State Sen. Sandra Cano marshaled an effective ground game to win a narrow victory in the low 29,000-person turnout Democratic primary.
**With 34,000 people participating in the Democratic primary, former state rep. and lieutenant governor candidate Aaron Regunberg, backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and running a campaign that balanced an impressive ground game and a substantial air war, prevailed in the 11-candidate race to win the Democratic nomination, successfully running down the left lane in a diverse field of candidates while dodging attacks from the left and right.
**Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos regained her original front runner status on the only day that mattered — Election Day — backed by a massive television advertising program including air support from powerful Washington-based groups and ground support from the building trades giving her a narrow plurality of the 38,500 primary voters.
**A double primary surprise, as an unexpectedly large turnout of 45,000 voters gave a narrow victory to Gabe Amo, who will be heading back to Washington behind his disciplined ‘spend it at the end’ media campaign, financed by robust fundraising from the Raimondo universe and highlighting his White House experience with Presidents Obama and Biden.
While I was a little dismayed by some of the negativity in this race, I am proud that the Democratic primary showcased so many current and future leaders of our party, including some not mentioned in the hypothetical ledes above. Congratulations to all who participated.”
RI Senate GOP Leader JESSICA DE LA CRUZ of North Smithfield: “Labor Day, the last hurrah of summer, is upon us once more. Aside from the opportunity to indulge with family and friends in some clam cakes and Del's (since Mr. Lemon is closed for the season), we will celebrate the contributions and achievements of the over 167 million men and women in the U.S. workforce. While Republicans are often labeled as pro-business, it's unfortunate that we are stereotyped as anti-union, because most of us are not anti-union — we are pro-worker. Within my family, several individuals were proudly part of unions and trades. Republicans acknowledge that unions have fought for and won safer working conditions and fair wages that have benefited all workers, not just union members. What we are against is bloated government bureaucracy draining tax dollars to support itself while it stifles growth through excessive taxes. Republicans believe the individuals who work hard to earn their living, often returning home with physical signs of their labor, are far better stewards of those funds, not the government. That is why my colleagues in the Senate Minority Caucus and I have proposed and will continue to submit legislation to help Rhode Islanders keep more of the money they earn. Any individual or organization that is pro-worker should agree.”
PABLO RODRIGUEZ, physician, community activist and OG of RI Latino politics: “It's an oversimplification to label nearly half of the voters who would presently support Donald Trump as irrational, ignorant, or biased. Yet such is the stereotype propagated by liberal media outlets. We must question what's truly happening here. Despite his glaring imperfections, Trump elicits a visceral response from his followers. Equally, Joe Biden evokes strong feelings, though they seem to be centered around concerns about his age more than anything. The real test of our democracy lies in reconciling these intense emotions with the facts at hand. Admittedly, our emotional responses currently cloud our interpretation of the facts, but one would hope that reality will eventually cut through the fog. As we navigate towards this crucial intersection of fact and feeling, it's crucial to resist the urge to villainize each other, and instead affirm the validity of each other's emotions. Yes, there will be unwavering supporters who would back their candidate even from a jail cell. Time may lessen their resolve, but most voters are open to a message that resonates emotionally and helps them reject divisive politics. The political scene is less about logical Mr. Spock and more about emotive Captain Kirk. Descartes' ‘I think therefore I am’ doesn't hold sway in current politics. The reality is more along the lines of ‘I feel — therefore I vote.’ Democrats would do well to heed this message if they wish to avoid another four years of disconcerting governance.”
KICKER: A warning, via Larry Sabato’s excellent Crystal Ball newsletter, about the coming intersection of political persuasion and artificial intelligence: “We are rapidly moving from ‘alternative facts’ to artificial ones in politics, campaigns, and elections. In July, a campaign ad from Never Back Down, a group that supports Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in the 2024 presidential race, attacked former President Trump. The ad featured a soundbite of what sounds like former President Trump’s voice. But it wasn’t. Generative Artificial Intelligence (Gen AI) is a tool that is used by humans, but it poses several dangers to elections and to democracy. Leading into the 2024 election, we are already seeing the use of ‘deepfakes,’ computer-created manipulation of a person’s voice or likeness using machine learning to create content that appears real. We spoke with UVA Today about the challenges deepfakes pose to free elections and democracy, and we are sharing some key points that we made in the piece: Candidate comments out of context, and doctored photos and video footage, have already been used for decades in campaigns. What Gen AI tools do is dramatically increase the ability and scale to spread false information and propaganda, leaving us numb and questioning everything we see and hear at a time when elections are already facing a crisis of public confidence. Such tools also open up the ability to spread mis-, dis-, and malinformation to any person in the world with a digital device. On top of that, depending on how Gen AI tools have been trained, they can amplify, reinforce, and perpetuate existing biases, with impacts on decision-making and outcomes.”
Ian Donnis can be reached at email@example.com