TALKING POLITICS

President's posture highlights our divided nation

By IAN DONNIS
Posted 11/26/20

While the Trump presidency is running out of time, support for President Trump isn't about to evaporate. The precise fallout of that remains unclear as he refuses to concede the election. At minimum, the president's posture highlights our divided nation.

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TALKING POLITICS

President's posture highlights our divided nation

Posted

While the Trump presidency is running out of time, support for President Trump isn’t about to evaporate. The precise fallout of that remains unclear as he refuses to concede the election. At minimum, the president’s posture highlights our divided nation.

Asked if Trump should concede, RI GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki said his litigation of the election will put to rest doubts among his supporters about its validity. Speaking last week on Political Roundtable, Cienki said Trump’s stance will root out election irregularities even if it doesn’t change the election’s outcome.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” she said. “I think when we get to January 20th and we inaugurate a president, we can all feel confident. We may not be happy with the result – half the country isn’t going to be happy – but at least they can say it was a fair and accurate process moving forward.”

But a Monmouth University poll out this week showed that 77 percent of Trump supporters think Joe Biden’s victory was propelled by fraud. Trump, meanwhile, fired an official from his administration who called the election “the most secure in American history.”

While division will continue in our politics, the shorter-term question is whether Trump makes a low-key exit from the White House by resigning, or, as some fear, by whipping his supporters into a frenzy

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The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine may begin arriving in Rhode Island as soon as next month. Meanwhile, as the number of new infections hit an all-time high last week, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced new restrictions and urged Rhode Islanders to limit their social contact and travel for the Thanksgiving Day holiday. And hospitalizations for the coronavirus have more than doubled in the last month, with hospital ERs straining to find room for patients waiting for bed.

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Early reports of a $900 million budget deficit bearing down on Smith Hill with the force of a meteor turned out to be greatly exaggerated. The state Office of Management and Budget last week put the current hole at $114 million, while the House of Representatives is going with a higher number.

Regardless of which figure is more accurate, this volume of red ink is pretty typical for a state where deficits are as common as the quahogs in Narragansett Bay. Wiping out the deficit in a brief, unusual lame-duck budget session next month will be a lot less difficult than the logistics of gathering in the time of pandemic. (The Senate is considering meeting at Rhode Island College, while the House is considering Vets’ Auditorium; House Democrats plan a virtual caucus at 4:30 pm Monday to offer a preview of where things are headed.)

The tougher sledding – and a sharper debate on issues like taxes – will come while debating the budget for the fiscal year starting next July 1.

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Even under the best of circumstances, the legislative process can seem opaque to those who do not follow it closely. So what happens when members of the public do not have an opportunity to show up and testify? With luck, some degree of normalcy will return by the crunch time of the 2021 General Assembly session.

For now, Jocelyn Foye of the Womxn Project is calling on the legislature to develop specific policies and procedures to offer more openness, accessibility and transparency in the legislative process. Here’s an excerpt from a longer letter sent by the Womxn Project and backed by more than 20 different organizations: “We have the opportunity and the obligation to reimagine how participatory democracy works in our state. Now is the time to ensure the legislative process is inclusive of all voices, and that the people who are the most marginalized – Black, Indigenous, and people of color, disabled people, low-income families, immigrants – are centered in these discussions about how the General Assembly should conduct business.”

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House spokesman Larry Berman said Rep. Joe Shekarchi, expected to be the next speaker, and House Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski plan to address early in the 2021 session such issues as increasing transparency and the process around remote meetings. Senate spokesman Greg Pare said that chamber has welcomed written testimony, posted hearing notices earlier, and plans to enable remote participation in committee hearings in 2021.

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If a police officer is suspected of doing something wrong, should videotape of the incident be public? Supporters of Jose Batista, who was fired last week as executive director of the Providence External Review Authority (PERA), contend that transparency is paramount.

But, as my colleague Sofia Rudin reported, PERA obtained the pertinent videos through a subpoena, and board member Michael Fontaine argued that the organization’s bylaws forbid releasing confidential information.

In a tweet that has attracted more than 500 likes, Batista, a state rep-elect from Providence, said the testimony in support of him at a public meeting “brought tears to my eyes.” But PERA, which was dormant for much of its history since being created near the end of Buddy Cianci’s time as mayor, faces more uncertainty. And the sergeant accused of assault in this episode is seeking dismissal of the criminal case against him, due to a claim of prejudicial publicity.

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Providence native Mike Donilon, the architect of Joe Biden’s successful run for the White House, was named last week as a senior adviser to Biden. Older brother Tom is also close to Biden. As strategist Tad Devine recently told Scott MacKay, “The only family closer to the Bidens than the Donilons have the last name Biden.” (Some of us remember another brother, Terry Donilon, now head of communications for the Archdiocese of Boston, for his work on Bob Weygand’s U.S. Senate run in 2000.)

Michael Shear of The New York Times offers this window on Mike Donilon’s new role: “Mr. Donilon will be the defender of the Biden brand. It will be his job to ensure that the new president weathers the crosscurrents in Washington as he battles Republicans in Congress and seeks to calm tensions between liberals and moderates in his own party. ‘My message is, ‘I will work with you,’ Mr. Biden said this week of his intention to find ways to compromise with Republicans, even if they have so far refused to accept his victory. That will be a challenge, especially after an election that has left the Senate almost evenly divided and reduced the Democratic majority in the House. But people close to Mr. Donilon say his long and close relationship with Mr. Biden makes him the perfect person to serve in that role.”

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The short list of potential prospects for GOP gubernatorial candidates in 2022 includes House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (who has downplayed his interest) and outgoing Cranston Mayor Allan Fung (who got a boost when his wife, Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, recently defeated House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for his state rep seat in Cranston). “But be prepared for maybe somebody else coming up, a dark horse,” RI GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki said this week on Political Roundtable.

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Speaking of Fenton-Fung, she was a rare bright spot for the RI GOP this election season, considering how the party gained one seat in the House (where Republicans will have 10 of 75 seats) and held steady with five seats in the 38-member Senate.

Asked on Roundtable why the RI GOP didn’t gain more seats, Cienki said: “What we did was, we recruited candidates who we felt were going to be very good legislators. When we recruited these candidates we also had a very frank conversation with them, that this was not going to be a two-year process and that they may not win the first time. But they would have to commit to running in the next cycle, so it was going to be a two-cycle approach.”

Cienki said a number of GOP candidates outperformed President Trump in their districts, and she said this was the first recent presidential cycle in which the RI GOP did not lose legislative seats.

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Last week’s announcement that Linda Henry will serve as CEO of Boston Globe Media included more than passing reference to Rhode Island. A statement pointed to the creation last year of the Globe’s RI bureau as one example of the Henrys’ commitment to independent, sustainable local journalism. (Notably, the Globe said it is approaching 220,000 digital subscriptions.)

Via statement: “BGMP currently employs over 300 journalists across its newsrooms and plans to grow that number over the next several years as the organization continues to add new beats and more inclusive coverage areas to better represent the diverse communities within Greater Boston and the region. The Globe’s Rhode Island bureau is on track to more than double in size in 2021.”

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Steve McAllister has the votes to become the next president of the Warwick City Council, succeeding Steve Merolla, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate seat won by Kendra Anderson. McAllister, the son of former state budget director Stephen McAllister, worked in the Chafee administration. He’s a relation of Kevin McAllister, a former Cranston City Council president, who was part of a four-way Democratic primary for the seat first won by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin back in 2000.

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U.S. Rep. David Cicilline fell short last week in his attempt to move higher in the House leadership. U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, representing Massachusetts’ Fifth Congressional District (north and west of Boston), outpaced Cicilline, 135-92, in the competition for assistant speaker, the fourth-ranking post in the chamber. Cicilline congratulated Clark, who could be positioned to succeed Nancy Pelosi as speaker one day. Democrats have a thinner majority in the House, so Pelosi has her work cut out. Back in Rhode Island, the loss of one of the state’s two congressional seats is still expected, so the fallout from that – with observers generally not expecting a campaign between Cicilline and U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin – hangs in the balance.

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Bally’s (aka Twin River) and Sinclair Broadcast Group (owner of lots of TV stations, including WJAR-TV, NBC 10) last week announced a partnership on sports betting. “This arrangement represents an opportunity to revolutionize the U.S. sports betting, gaming and media industries,” Soo Kim, chairman of Bally’s Corporation's Board of Directors, said in a statement.

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A lot of well wishes flowed to Sandor Bodo after I tweeted the news last week that he plans to take the latest Gannett buyout at the ProJo. That speaks volumes about who Bodo is as a person and a photojournalist. We wish him well in his next adventure and will miss seeing his photos in the paper. Although the ProJo once had a team of excellent photographers, those ranks have been sharply cut since 2012.

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio, Rhode Island’s NPR member station. Listen at 89.3 FM or visit www.thepublicsradio.org. You can sign up for weekly email delivery of Ian’s column each Friday by following this link: www.lp.constantcontactpages.com/su/PriKkmN/TGIFsignup.

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