OP-ED

Hiccups and all, Magaziner is a contender

Posted 9/22/21

STORY OF THE WEEK: Democrat Seth Magaziner's campaign announcement last week was hardly a textbook example of how to launch a campaign for governor. The two-term general treasurer, 38, frosted reporters by not taking questions at the event, and there was

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OP-ED

Hiccups and all, Magaziner is a contender

Posted

STORY OF THE WEEK:

Democrat Seth Magaziner’s campaign announcement last week was hardly a textbook example of how to launch a campaign for governor.

The two-term general treasurer, 38, frosted reporters by not taking questions at the event, and there was the less-than-stellar optic of leaving in a car with Florida plates (owned by a recently relocated staffer from the Sunshine State).

Despite these hiccups, Magaziner can be expected to figure prominently in the September 2022 primary clash for governor, perhaps even as the top challenger to fellow Democrat Gov. Dan McKee.

Magaziner is setting the fundraising pace, with $1.5 million in his account. His campaign consultants include such savvy strategists as Tad Devine and Andrew Roos. And recent controversies (Tony Silva, ILO Group) offer early fodder for use against the incumbent governor.

Other Democrats in the hunt include Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, physician Luis Daniel Munoz, and possibly former secretary of state Matt Brown and former CVS exec Helen Foulkes. McKee plans to announce his re-election campaign in January.

MAGAZINER’S MESSAGE:

During his campaign launch outside a school construction site in Pawtucket, Magaziner vowed to extend the American Dream to more Rhode Islanders, through education, innovation and infrastructure. That’s a tall order, given how sweeping trends like globalization, technological change and robotics are closely linked with income inequality.

During an interview on Political Roundtable, Magaziner insisted that targeted investments can move the state forward: “We’ve been slower than many other states in transitioning from a manufacturing economy to more of a knowledge-based economy that is tethered to 21st-century industries,” he said. “But there is a playbook. This transition … has worked in other places. It’s worked in Pittsburgh, it’s worked in Boston. There is a playbook here. We just need to follow it.”

BUT WHAT ABOUT ….

Former Gov. Gina Raimondo offered similar rhetoric when she first ran for governor in 2014. So, I asked Magaziner, did she fall short, and if so, where?

“Overall, I give Gov. Raimondo a lot of credit for prioritizing the economy,” he said. “I think we made some progress in strengthening Rhode Island’s economy, modernizing Rhode Island’s economy in the years leading up to the pandemic … While I credit the state for making some progress in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were starting from such a low place economically that the job could not have gotten done in just four or five years.”

EXPERIENCE:

Magaziner’s longest job experience is in his current role as state treasurer, which he will have held for eight years by the time he leaves office. He’s attempting to leverage his tenure by citing his management of the state pension fund and a “real track record” of support for initiatives like the school-building construction fund. Rival candidates may argue they are more qualified to lead Rhode Island, due to broader and longer work experience beyond state government.

FOULKES FACTOR:

Former CVS exec Helena Foulkes, who is eyeing a run for governor, poses a particular concern for Magaziner, given how they would seemingly draw from overlapping pools of voters. Asked if he’s concerned about this, Magaziner said, “Whoever decides to run, I think the thing that will set us apart is that we have a record of job creation from the treasurer’s office and we have a very coherent and ambitious vision for how to build a stronger economy for Rhode Island.”

CLICHÉ COUNT:

Magaziner used the phrase “at the end of the day” at least three times during our interview.

ELORZA OUT:

Discretion is the better part of valor, or so the saying the goes. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza seemingly recognized the writing on the wall – a campaign for governor looked, at best, quixotic – although he cited work and familial responsibilities in announcing his decision this week to not be a candidate in 2022.

But Elorza will always have 2014, when he prevented Buddy Cianci (who still got 45 percent of the vote) from winning a comeback that in the wake of Cianci’s 2016 death would have elevated former City Council President Luis Aponte as mayor.

AMAZON IN RI:

Love Amazon or hate it, the giant retailer’s footprint in Rhode Island is poised to get a lot bigger, now that the Johnston Town Council has approved a tax deal for the company.

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, a persistent economic cheerleader for the town, touts this as a big win, telling the Johnston Sun Rise, “It will ensure and guarantee payments for the next 20 years to support the following programs … education, town infrastructure, public safety, our elderly population, our youth, our youth sports programs, financial stability in the form of higher bond ratings, stabilization of taxes and of course jobs for Johnston residents.”

Critics, however, question Amazon’s role in wiping out other forms of economic activity and cite concerns about the treatment of workers.

Asked if he considers Amazon a good form of economic development for Rhode Island, Seth Magaziner told me, “I have not been briefed on the Amazon plan yet. I’m looking forward to being briefed on it by the Commerce Department. But what I’ll say is this: generally, I’m in favor of economic development that supports good jobs in Rhode Island. So if this is a project that will bring good jobs to the state – jobs that will pay well – I’m all for it.”

REST IN PEACE, GEORGE WEIN:

Wein, who died last week at age 95, created the modern music festival through the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival, making for such memorable moments as Bob Dylan shocking his fans by going electric in 1965.

MORAL HAZARD?

A worth-watching recent “Frontline” documentary raised the question of whether the Federal Reserve is courting a fiscal crisis by continually bailing out Wall Street. That’s a particularly relevant question given a persistent Main Street/Wall Street divide in America, not to mention the 10th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.

On the other hand, the extended bull run in the market has been good for investors and Rhode Island’s state pension fund, where the balance has soared past $10 billion for the first time. As general treasurer, Seth Magaziner’s top responsibility is overseeing the pension fund, so I asked him about this. He gives the Fed high marks for its response to both the Great Recession and the onset of the pandemic.

“They got money into the system, they prevented deflation, and they helped keep the economic alive,” Magaziner said on Political Roundtable. “When times are good, you need to have the discipline to then pull back on that loose money so that you have some dry powder for the next time that you need it. I think we’re getting to the point where they need to rein things back in to some extent. But at the end of the day, I have a lot of respect for Jerome Powell. I think he’s a good chair. I think that Janet Yellen before him, who has a Rhode Island connection as a Brown grad, was also a very good chair. You’re right to say we should keep an eye on it, because we don’t want the Fed to be inflating asset bubbles forever, but I think they’ve been remarkably effective.”

CAMPAIGN CASH:

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously called sunlight the best disinfectant. That’s why reporters favor disclosure of campaign spending. How else would we know, for example, about Rhode Island legislative leaders spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on food and drink, much of it for fancy meals?

On a related note, in a case involving the Gaspee Project, Attorney General Peter Neronha has defended a state law requiring disclosure involving people or entities that spend $1,000 or more on certain election communications.

“The First Circuit’s recent decision upholding Rhode Island’s campaign expenditure disclosure law is a win for transparency, and accordingly for all Rhode Islanders,” Neronha said in a statement. “As I have said previously, state campaign and election finance laws exist for a reason: to inform Rhode Islanders of the sources of financial support, directly or indirectly, for candidates for public office. Such information is critical to voters evaluating the motivations and positions of those who would hold high office.”

KICKER:

I don’t have particularly high hopes for the Red Sox in the postseason. Then again, the team has a way of defying expectations (and I also felt very uncertain as they pursued October baseball in 2013 and 2018). The belief is that pitching and defense wins short series. The Sox have some strong (if inconsistent) hurlers, but the defense has been about as water-tight as the Titanic. Plus, the reluctance of some players to get vaccinated has sapped the team – and perhaps enthusiasm for it. Still, the Fall Classic is approaching, and as Alex Cora says, the Sox are still playing meaningful baseball.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. 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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