TALKING POLITICS

RI garners national spotlight for handling of pandemic

By IAN DONNIS
Posted 7/15/20

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo's leadership in the fight against COVID-19 got national exposure via a story in Politico Magazine last week: "How the Smallest State Engineered a Big Covid Comeback." The story by veteran reporter Michael Grunwald pointed

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TALKING POLITICS

RI garners national spotlight for handling of pandemic

Posted

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s leadership in the fight against COVID-19 got national exposure via a story in Politico Magazine last week: “How the Smallest State Engineered a Big Covid Comeback.” The story by veteran reporter Michael Grunwald pointed to how the Ocean State is faring better than most other places, based on decreasing infections and a rating of a “low” risk level. But it may have also overstated the percentage of Rhode Islanders who have been tested, as WPRI’s Eli Sherman reported. (During her Friday briefing, Raimondo said the discrepancy is due to a lack of uniform reporting standards among different states.) Meanwhile, the reaction in my Twitter feed to Grunwald’s article told the rest of the story. People who like Raimondo applauded how Little Rhody got heralded as a success story. The governor’s critics, on the other hand, pointed to indicators that show the state in a less favorable light, such as how Johns Hopkins ranks Rhode Island with the fifth most coronavirus deaths per capita. So, yes, we’re doing way better than hot spots like Texas and Arizona. But key indicators need to be closely examined.

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With less than two months until Rhode Island’s Sept. 8 primary, some progressives were upset last week when the Planned Parenthood Votes! RI PAC did not make an endorsement in the race between Jennifer Rourke and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey in Warwick. Liz Gledhill , chair of the RI Democratic Women’s Caucus, took up the issue in a Twitter thread, writing in part, “[T]he work of PP is cheapened when they pander to leadership. There is nothing brave about selling your soul to the devil in hopes that it will one day pay off. The people who depend on PP can't survive on broken promises ….”

Steve Ahlquist posted video of Rourke testifying in support of abortion rights in 2018 – the year before House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio tacitly backed the push to create a state-based guarantee of abortion rights (and McCaffrey is clearly part of Ruggerio’s leadership). In a statement explaining the decision not to endorse in the primary between Rourke and McCaffrey, Planned Parenthood said in part, “These victories [in 2019] only happened because of years of work by dedicated activists and leaders in the community, our partners in the RI Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, and our legislative champions in the State House. We also recognize the role played by the House and Senate leaders who may not have agreed on the issue but respected the will of the people and let the RPA come to a vote. Those actions are taken into account in our endorsement process and PPV!RI PAC decided to not endorse challengers running against the three top leadership incumbents in each chamber nor against an incumbent who voted yes on the Reproductive Privacy Act ….”

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Speaking of elections, the Senate was poised Monday to confirm the appointment of Louis DeSimone, a cousin of former House majority leader John DeSimone, to the state Board of Elections, for the seat held by Stephen Erickson. Raimondo spokeswoman Audrey Lucas offered this explanation for the governor’s pick: “Louis DeSimone has nearly four decades of experience working as an attorney at both state and municipal levels in Rhode Island. He is deeply familiar with local election laws and will make an excellent addition to the Board of Elections. Roughly half a dozen candidates were considered for this position.” Erickson, a former District Court judge nominated by Lincoln Chafee, funnels his thinking directly to Twitter, where he shared his displeasure: “No 1 from the Gov’s office or the Senate has had the curtesy to tell me even that someone else was nominated. Found out from tweet. Very Trump-like behavior from GovRaimondo. My reaction is mostly relief, given family matters, but sad that a political apparatchik was appointed.”

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With public pressure mounting, Gov. Raimondo is stepping up her effort on two big issues: the eviction crisis due to COVID-19, and the devastating effect on the small businesses that make up most of the jobs in Rhode Island’s economy. During her Friday briefing last week, the governor said $7 million in federal CARES Act funding will go for a diversion program administered with help from the United Way of RI. Raimondo is expected to have more to say this week about grants for small businesses. That follows an effort by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee to focus attention on the issue.

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Only one lawmaker, Sen. Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield), voted in committee last week against a bill that would create a presumption that firefighters who get cancer got it on the job. (Exceptions include one for habitual smokers). De la Cruz said she supported the concept, but questioned whether the bill should apply to illnesses like skin cancer that may not be work-related. She also expressed concern about how a firefighter who recovers from cancer would be able to retain a tax-free disability pension. Supporters of the measure say the legislation would restore a longstanding status quo undone by a state Supreme Court decision last year. Others, including the RI League of Cities and Towns, say the RI bill would be unusually broad and could expose cities and towns to growing costs for disability pensions.

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From Nina Totenberg’s overview of the just-finished U.S. Supreme Court term: “[Chief Justice John] Roberts voted in the majority an astounding 97% of the time this term. That means that in 51 out of 53 cases with signed opinions, he chose which of his colleagues wrote the opinion for the court majority, a power reserved for the chief justice when he is in the majority. It is also a power that allows the chief justice, when he is in the majority, to frame whether the opinion is going to be written by a justice using a broad brush, or a narrow one. ‘He’s taking control of the narrative of the court and imposing his own set of frameworks, imposing his own stamp on the court,’ Duke University School of Law professor Guy-Uriel Charles says.”

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From Dan Kennedy’s look at “Ghosting the News,” the new book by Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan on the crisis in local news: “The decline of local news is every bit as troubling as the spread of disinformation on the internet,” Sullivan writes, adding: “Some of the most trusted sources of news – local sources, particularly local newspapers – are slipping away, never to return. The cost to democracy is great. It takes a toll on civic engagement – even on citizens’ ability to have a common sense of reality and facts, the very basis of self-governance.”

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Ron Knox, who helped run Matt Brown’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign in 2018, argues in Slate that the brewing industry is due for trust-busting: “While the pandemic has hurt the beer industry, COVID-19 certainly hasn’t stopped anyone who wants to drink a beer from doing so. The pandemic won’t last forever, but all over the economy small businesses like breweries are on the brink of closure. If, for the past decades, small-scale breweries had better access to the market, lower-cost supplies like hops and malt, and a national regulatory system that supported small brewers’ ability to sell beer themselves, maybe they’d be better able to withstand the storm they currently face. Beer is supposed to be a bastion of economic democracy, and it truly could be. It’s long past time that regulators made the industry one we all want to toast – preferably with a dry-hopped sour, bohemian-style pilsner, or coffee stout made by the American little guy.”

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.

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