STORY OF THE WEEK: If you want people to get politically engaged, hit them in the pocketbook. The rising cost of gas is a case in point, since it registers as a tangible connection to faraway events …
STORY OF THE WEEK: If you want people to get politically engaged, hit them in the pocketbook. The rising cost of gas is a case in point, since it registers as a tangible connection to faraway events -- and no one likes dishing out more of their income for everyday expenses. Inflation was already surging, so this makes for a campaign issue. While some economists expect the gas price to make for a once-in-a-lifetime sticker shock, akin to what happened in the mid-70s, the fallout could be felt at the ballot box. So far, the issue is divided along two main arguments. State Sen. Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield), one of three Republicans running in CD2, was among the Senate Republicans who called in February for eliminating the state gas tax (34 cents a gallon) for the remainder of 2022. “Our state budget is benefiting from inflation as the gas tax brings in new, unexpected revenue,” de la Cruz said in a statement at the time. “Meanwhile, the people of Rhode Island are struggling to balance their budgets with no relief in sight.” (Democratic candidate for governor Nellie Gorbea sounded a similar message, calling for a “pause” of the gas tax.) Some observers say the emphasis should be on reducing the amount of driving and cutting dependence on fossil fuels. Others, including U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, contend that corporate price-gouging is the problem: “We’ve seen this script before, and we cannot allow the fossil fuel industry to once again collect a massive windfall by taking advantage of an international crisis. I propose sending Big Oil’s big windfall back to the hardworking people who paid for it at the gas pump.” With the nation sharply divided, and more people stressed by everyday costs, voters will have their say later this year.
SMITH HILL: RI House GOP Leader Blake Filippi has been a durable campaign winner, with no general election opponents since he ousted former Rep. Donna Walsh (D-Charlestown) back in 2014. Now, Tina Spears, executive director of the Community Provider Network of RI, is making a Democratic challenge to Filippi. Spears is expected to argue that Filippi, who first won election as an independent, has moved to the right. According to the House GOP, Filippi “believes in an honest and strong Rhode Island business climate where hard work and ingenuity is rewarded -- not connections and corporate welfare.”
HOSPITALS: Strong reporting from my colleague Lynn Arditi – the company that owns Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence and Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence maintained its usual volume of surgeries during this winter’s COVID-19 surge, while other hospitals in Rhode Island and Massachusetts stopped most elective surgeries. The ER at Fatima was so short-staffed one night in January that state officials had to negotiate a deal to get other hospitals to accept more ambulances. CharterCARE Health Partners, the owner of Roger Williams and Fatima, is part of for-profit Prospect Medical Holdings, which has faced criticism for steering to investors hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends from its hospital chain.
CD2: With the filing deadline looming in June, it remains unclear if any of the up to eight announced/likely Democratic candidates in the Second Congressional District will shift gears to pursue a different race. The larger the field, the greater the challenge for candidates in getting their message out to voters. That’s why campaign fundraising and television ads could play a significant role in the outcome. And while rivals can be expected to question Sarah Morgenthau’s RI connections, considering her relatively recent move to vote in the state, Morgenthau has signed up a bona fide ace, Democratic strategist Mindy Myers, to do her campaign media. Myers’ resume includes running winning campaigns for Sen. Whitehouse in 2006 and Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2012.
ELECTIONS: A new survey by the Brennan Center for Justice finds that one in five local election officials across the U.S. are likely to quit before the 2024 election. From a story by NPR’s Miles Parks: “Of those election officials who said they were likely to leave their jobs before 2024, the most common reasons why were that too many politicians were attacking ‘a system that they know is fair and honest’ and that the job was too stressful. A majority of voting officials surveyed also said they’re worried about interference by political leaders in how they do their jobs in future elections, a reflection of the unprecedented effort by [Donald] Trump and his campaign to influence election officials at the state and local level.”
THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR I: Gov. Dan McKee picked up the first noteworthy endorsement, from the RI Building and Construction Trades and the Laborers’ District Council, which represent more than 20,000 workers.
THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR II: Helena Foulkes unveiled her education plan. It calls, per news release, for using nearly $500M of the state’s ARPA dollars to get students back on track by investing in proven strategies, including expanding summer learning opportunities, making sure every student in the state has access to before- and after-school learning, offering small group tutoring for those who need the most support, and adding teaching assistants to every K-3 classroom. Over her four years as governor, Helena will invest an additional $300M in public education through the state budget. She will transform early childhood education by fully funding universal PreK and creating a new state program to provide public preschool for three year olds. She will also propose changes to the state funding formula to finally provide enough resources for special education and multilingual learning, offer financial support to completely cover the cost of MLL certification for any public school teacher, and dedicate state funding for dual language and community school models. Finally, her plan supports Treasurer Magaziner’s school construction bond proposal to invest $300M to ensure that our kids can attend schools that are safe, warm, dry and equipped for 21st-century learning.”
THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR III: Expected GOP candidate for governor Ashley Kalus is the headliner for a South Kingstown GOP event on March 22 (h/t Ted Nesi). Kalus spoke recently with the Providence GOP.
CORRUPTION: Trying to establish Rhode Island’s ranking in the firmament of states with corruption problems is a venerable local tradition. Never mind that the Ocean State resembles Switzerland compared with Albany, and now comes news about the racketeering/bribery indictment of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who held that post for 36 years (!!). (The longest-serving speaker in Rhode Island was Harry Curvin of Pawtucket, who held the gavel from 1941 to 1964.)
SENIORS: Former state Rep. Maria Cimini of Providence, whose last name became a verb for how the former House leadership targeted a fellow Democrat, is Gov. McKee’s appointee to lead the state Office of Healthy Aging, a.k.a Elderly Affairs. This is an important role, all the more so considering how Rhode Island consistently ranks high among states with a high percentage of older residents. In a statement, Cimini said, “I have seen in my own family that all older adults have unique aging experiences. Those experiences are informed by their lives, their families, and their cultural communities. The Office of Healthy Aging is an incredible resource for older adults, adults with disabilities, and their caregivers. I am thrilled to get to work with the OHA team to fulfill its mission of access, connection and protection.”
CHEAP TALK: A bracing read from Richard L. Hasen, excerpted from his book, “Cheap Talk: How Disinformation Poisons Our Politics – and How To Cure It.” Excerpt via the NYT: “We now live in an era of high partisanship but weak political parties, which can no longer serve as the moderating influence on extremists within their ranks. Cheap speech accelerates this trend.”
GOING UNDERGROUND: There’s no time like spring to visit local cemeteries. Via the state Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (full listings here): “Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Awareness and Preservation Weeks will feature dozens of free outdoor programs over the course of April and May. The public is invited to participate in tours, clean-ups, gravestone conservation demonstrations, open houses, and other programs at historic cemeteries throughout the state. The event is organized by the Rhode Island Advisory Commission on Historical Cemeteries (RIACHC) and Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) in collaboration with many individual and organizational partners. Rhode Island Cemetery Weeks will include walking tours of historically significant cemeteries like Providence’s North Burial Ground and River Bend Cemetery in Westerly. Another tour will visit God’s Little Acre in Newport, America’s oldest documented and extant burying ground for people of African heritage. There will be many opportunities to visit small burying grounds, like the family plot at Casey Farm in North Kingstown and the Governors’ Burial Ground in Newport.”
Ian Donnis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit www.thepublicsradio.org
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