RI Recreational Cannabis Sales Begin Dec 1: Five retail venues licensed to open
Recreational cannabis sales begin Thu, Dec 1, under a new state statute signed into law on May 25. “Five licensed medical marijuana compassion centers have been approved for hybrid retail licenses, which allow them to sell both medical and adult use marijuana products in retail settings,” the office of RI Gov. Daniel McKee said in a statement Nov 22. The governor’s office confirmed to Motif that as of Nov 30 the venues expected to commence retail sales of recreational cannabis to the public on Dec 1 are:
RISE (formerly Summit), 380 Jefferson Blvd, Warwick
These venues have been granted “hybrid retail licenses” allowing them to add recreational sales to their existing medical sales. Buyers must be adults at least 21 years old.
“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” McKee said in the statement. “It is also a win for our statewide economy and our strong, locally based cannabis supply chain, which consists of nearly 70 licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers in addition to our licensed compassion centers. Finally, I thank the leadership of the General Assembly for passing this practical implementation framework in the Rhode Island Cannabis Act and I look forward to continuing our work together on this issue.”
“We were pleased with the quality and comprehensiveness of the applications we received from the state’s compassion centers, and we are proud to launch adult use sales in Rhode Island just six months after the Cannabis Act was signed into law, marking the Northeast’s fastest implementation period,” Matt Santacroce, interim deputy director of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation (DBR), said in the statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the state’s cannabis business community to ensure this critical economic sector scales in compliance with the rules and regulations put forward by state regulators.”
Part of DBR, the Office of Cannabis Regulation issues four classes of cannabis licenses to retail sellers such a dispensaries, to cultivators, to handlers of industrial hemp, and to sellers of non-psychogenic cannabidiol (CBD) products.
RI Election 2022 — Magaziner, McKee, cannabis sales win big: Democrats sweep all state general offices
Republican candidates, expected to mount strong challenges in marquee races, went down to defeat against Democratic opponents in RI in the Nov 8 election, although by varying margins.
For the seat being vacated by retiring James Langevin (D) in the US House of Representatives for the 2nd congressional district, Allan Fung (R), who served as mayor of Cranston for 12 years, lost by a narrow margin to Seth Magaziner (D), who is completing eight years as general treasurer. Fung conceded around 10pm, his 92,870 votes (46.9%) significantly behind Magaziner’s 99,438 votes (50.3%) with 99% (412 of 414) of precincts reporting. At one point in the counting an hour earlier, there was a virtual tie between Fung 81,275 (48.6%) and Magaziner 81,192 (48.6%) separated by only 83 votes. What tipped the scales irretrievably were mail ballots reported into the tally over an hour after polls closed at 8pm, as usually happens, Magaziner’s 12,484 beating Fung’s 4,252, a ratio of nearly 3-to-1. Fung was hurt by worse than expected performance in Cranston (Fung 50.1% – Magaziner 48.2%) and Warwick (Magaziner 51.5% – Fung 45.3%), which should have been Fung’s base. Polls consistently showed Fung leading, but we criticized those polls on the basis of biased statistical sampling and consequent over-weighting, and our criticisms proved vindicated. William Gilbert, formerly head of the Moderate Party but running as an independent after that party lost ballot access, received 2.7% of the vote, well below the margin separating Magaziner and Fung and therefore too little to be a “spoiler” as some feared.
In the other major contest expected to be somewhat competitive, incumbent Daniel McKee (D) (57.7%) handily defeated newcomer Ashley Kalus (R) (39.1%), a margin of 18.6 percentage points and much greater than the 45% – 32% polling prediction and its margin of 13 percentage points.
Among the other statewide general officers, Gregg Amore (D) (59.2%) trounced Pat Cortellessa (R) (40.6%) for secretary of state as did incumbent Peter F. Neronha (D) (61.2%) over Charles C. Calenda (R) (38.7%) for attorney general. In a closer race than expected, incumbent Sabina Matos (50.9%) defeated Aaron C. Guckian (R) (43.4%) and Ross K. McCurdy (I) (5.5%) to win her first full term as lieutenant governor after being appointed to replace McKee when he became governor as a result of the resignation of Gina Raimondo to become US commerce secretary. For general treasurer, a stepping stone to higher office in recent years for Magaziner and Raimondo, former Central Falls mayor James A. Diossa (D) (54.0%) defeated James L. Lathrop (R) (45.8%), also somewhat closer than expected.
For US House in the 1st district, incumbent David N. Cicilline (D) (63.6%) faced no meaningful opposition from Allen R. Waters (R) (36.2%).
All three statewide bond referenda (new facilities at the URI Narragansett Bay Campus, Pre-K through grade 12 public school facilities, and “environmental and recreational” projects for the “green economy”) were approved by strong margins.
Issuance of licenses for new cannabis-related businesses was on the local ballot in 31 of the 39 cities and towns in RI, approved in 25 and rejected in six. Voters rejected cannabis businesses in a few relatively wealthy or rural municipalities: Barrington, East Greenwich, Jamestown, Little Compton, Scituate, and Smithfield. Voters authorized new cannabis businesses in most places: Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Johnston, Lincoln, Middletown, Narragansett, New Shoreham (Block Island), Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Richmond, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, West Greenwich, West Warwick, Westerly, and Woonsocket. Because the new act only allows municipalities to opt out if they have not already licensed cannabis-related businesses in the past, eight cities and towns did not vote on bans: Central Falls, Cranston, Exeter, Foster, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, and Warwick.
In a three-way contest to represent the RI 2nd congressional district in the US House – among Republican Allan Fung, independent William Gilbert, and Democrat Seth Magaziner – polling has consistently shown a dead heat between Fung and Magaziner with considerable uncertainty as to whether Gilbert could serve as a spoiler either way.
In two candidate forums on Oct 17 and 18, Fung struggled to distance himself from the national policies of the Republican Party, essentially saying that he opposes most of what they support but nevertheless promising to help elect them to House leadership if, as is likely, Republicans become the majority party in the chamber. Whether Republicans in Congress would really try to carry out their most radical proposals if they had the power is hardly certain, especially given their track record for many years under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, threatening to repeal Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) health insurance and repeatedly failing to do it. But some of the proposals are shocking.
The Washington Post reported Oct 18, “House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that if Republicans win control of the House that the GOP will use raising the debt limit as leverage to force spending cuts – which could include cuts to Medicare and Social Security – and limit additional funding to Ukraine.” Catherine Rampell explained this in a separate analysis accompanying the news story in The Washington Post: “Republicans have withheld their support from raising the debt limit before, usually framing their hostage-taking as a commitment to fiscal restraint. But the debt ceiling has nothing to do with new spending; rather, it’s a somewhat arbitrary statutory cap on how much the government can borrow to pay off bills that it has already incurred, through tax and spending decisions that Congress has already made. Refusing to raise the debt limit is like going to a restaurant, ordering the lobster and a $500 bottle of wine, and then declaring yourself financially responsible because you skipped out on the check.” Using the federal deficit as justification for cutting Social Security and Medicare is particularly disgraceful while Republicans in Congress argue to make permanent the Trump tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals and block renewal of the tax credit that cut child poverty in half from 2020 to 2021 before it expired.
A number of Republicans in Congress have advocated even stranger proposals. Ron Johnson, seeking re-election to a third term in the Senate from Wisconsin, wants to convert Social Security and Medicare to discretionary programs, requiring Congress to vote every year whether to fund them, thereby putting them into play as political footballs. Rick Scott, senator from Florida, similarly wants to “sunset” every federal spending program after five years and require votes to renew them, saying “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” An essential component of Social Security and Medicare is that people can rely on the programs to be there in future years when they need them, and eliminating that assurance would effectively destroy them.
On the one hand, Fung characterized claims that he would support cutting entitlement programs as an “outright lie from Seth,” saying “Here’s why I would not do that. You see that woman that’s sitting in the front row right there? That’s my mom. My mom, who after a 35-year career, opening and running Kong Wen restaurant, a small family business, after her and my dad came to this country as immigrants, retired. She’s on Social Security, that fixed income like millions of other mothers and fathers and grandparents across the country, I will stand up and make sure they do not cut Social Security down in Washington, DC.”
Magaziner immediately attacked Fung’s statement as hypocritical: “The Republican leadership in Washington isn’t even trying to hide it. They have said that one of their top priorities is to cut Social Security and Medicare… The head Republican of the Budget Committee, a guy named Jason Smith… said in an interview with Bloomberg two weeks ago that his top priority if the Republicans take control – his top priority, as chair of the Budget Committee – will be to cut Social Security and Medicare, and that he is willing to shut down the government in order to get his way.… So for [Fung] to say that he’s for Social Security, he’s for Medicare, but he wants to put the leadership team in Washington that has made this one of their top priorities to cut those programs, is beyond disingenuous. That’s like saying, ‘I’m gonna put the fox in charge of the hen-house, but don’t worry, I like hens, I’m pro-hen, I like it. But I’m gonna put the fox in charge, just don’t worry about it.’”
Forum panelist Ian Donnis of the Public’s Radio asked Fung, “You say you would not support a national abortion ban, but it was the Republican Party that engineered the rise of the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade. Considering that, why should women concerned about abortion restrictions vote for you?” Fung answered, “I would preserve that ability for a woman to make that important, deeply personal medical decision and reserve the ability for late-term abortions for the life of the mother, rape, or incest.” Magaziner countered, “Three years ago, many of us worked together to protect abortion rights in Rhode Island. And Allan and a lot of Republicans said, ‘Oh, you know, Roe v. Wade is never going to be overturned, you’re fear-mongering.’ Well, look what happened. We passed a law in Rhode Island three years ago to protect women in Rhode Island. Allan was against that bill, vocally. I was for it just like most Rhode Islanders. There’s a fundamental difference between us here.”
Forum panelist Juliana Lepore, news editor of The Good Five-Cent Cigar, the University of Rhode Island student newspaper, asked all of the candidates, “Should the United States continue to offer aid to Ukraine for the length of its war with Russia?” All answered in the affirmative, with Magaziner simply saying “Yes, absolutely” and Gilbert saying “I would increase it.” But Fung gave a subtly nuanced response (emphasis added): “Yes, I do support additional humanitarian aid there because the devastation you’re seeing coming out of Ukraine is unimaginable.” No one pursued this at the time, but Fung is a very intelligent trained lawyer with 20 years of experience in politics, so it is a good assumption that he chooses his words carefully: Specifically supporting humanitarian aid is diplomatic code for opposing military aid. (Motif invited the Fung campaign to clarify, but they have not responded.)
RI congressional districts are lopsided, with the 1st district overwhelmingly Democratic and most of the Republicans in the state concentrated into the 2nd district; in the 2020 presidential election, Biden beat Trump in the 1st district 63.9% – 34.6% (net 29.3 percentage points) and in the 2nd district 56.0% – 42.5% (net 13.5 percentage points).
While Fung has been leading Magaziner in telephone polls (about which we raised substantial systemic accuracy concerns), analysts still consider Magaziner the slight favorite. The non-partisan Cook Political Report as of Oct 25 gives a 4-point advantage to the Democrat, which it considers a “Democratic toss up.” FiveThirtyEight (a subsidiary of ABC News) as of Oct 26 gives Magaziner a 57% chance of winning with an expected vote of 48.8% to 47.5% for Fung (and 3.6% for Gilbert), which it also calls a “toss up.” A telephone poll conducted Oct 1 – 4 by Suffolk University in collaboration with The Boston Globe found Fung leading Magaziner 45% – 37%, but the large 13% undecided bloc means the seat is really up for grabs. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee polling arm DCCC Analytics on Oct 26 released their own poll of 812 likely voters, conducted Oct 23 – 24, showing a tie 48% Fung – 48% Magaziner with 5% undecided; the DCCC is a partisan group and their poll did not include Gilbert.
The real obstacle for Fung is that US House races have become nationalized in a highly-polarized climate where Democrats are struggling to defend their slim 221 – 214 seat majority in a “mid-term” election (that is, without a presidential contest). As of Oct 27, FiveThirtyEight ranks 219 seats either strongly, likely, or leaning Republican; 203 seats either strongly, likely, or leaning Democratic; and 13 seats a toss-up: 218 seats are needed for a majority – resulting in an 82% likelihood of Republicans winning control of the House, but leaving Democrats a respectable 18% chance.
Voters in the RI 2nd congressional district have a rare opportunity to play a major role in national politics by tipping the balance of control in the US House of Representatives. Fung is in the race of his political career, capitalizing on two decades as a known quantity and familiar name to voters, but he is forced to run against his own party to do it. Will voters take that risk? If he wins, is a moderate Republican congressman from New England an anachronism who would find it impossible to function in a hopelessly polarized environment?
Opinion – Cannabis Bans on 31 of 39 Local RI Ballots: Revenue implications could be substantial
Prohibiting licensing of cannabis-related businesses directly defies the underlying principle of the new Cannabis Act that legalized adult recreational use, which is to regulate it like alcohol. Allowing local bans of cannabis-related business was a necessary political compromise to get the legislation passed after well over a decade of stalling and obstruction.
As Sen. Joshua Miller (D-28), the prime sponsor of the Cannabis Act in the RI State Senate, told Motif in 2020*, “The idea with us not putting limits on it is that we do have free enterprise, and the market will at some point limit it. Let the market limit it rather than the state regulating the limits. As an example, I think there are 1,500 liquor stores in the state by the amount of licenses available. At any given moment, there’s probably a few hundred of those dormant and the market expands into those or shrinks based on the retail marketplace, and alcohol is an example of something that was considered at one point something that should be prohibited and is now virtually regulated not by the state but by free enterprise.” As with the failed national experiment of alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, bans are likely to provide incentives and encouragement for a black market, foregoing benefits of quality control and tax revenue.
“Municipalities not already hosting medical compassion centers may by referendum opt out of allowing sales. Municipalities currently hosting licensed cultivators or testing laboratories may opt out for the future, but existing facilities will be grandfathered in. A procedure is provided that allows communities to revisit their decision to opt out in later years, should they choose to do so. Municipalities may by local ordinance ban use of cannabis in public places.”**
Because the new act only allows municipalities to opt out if they have not already licensed cannabis-related businesses in the past, larger and urban communities will not see a referendum question like this: “Shall new cannabis-related licenses for businesses involved in the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and for the retail sale of adult recreational-use cannabis be issued…?” Such a question is on the local ballot in 31 of the 39 municipalities in RI:
Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, New Shoreham, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Westerly, West Greenwich, West Warwick, and Woonsocket.
(The eight cities and towns not voting on bans are Central Falls, Cranston, Exeter, Foster, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, and Warwick.)
While local bans are being considered primarily in less-populated areas, these would cover a large amount of real estate, possibly making it difficult for their residents to lawfully access retail cannabis products without traveling halfway across the state. Of course voters may shoot down a lot of these bans: It is difficult to imagine that such cities as Johnston, Newport, North Providence, and Woonsocket, which are certainly not rural at all, would really expect that a local ban could succeed, and it would be downright strange for South Kingstown, the home of the state flagship University of Rhode Island, to think that banning retail sales would be a step forward.
Aside from surrendering tax revenue for cannabis-related businesses, proponents of bans would be shifting whatever problems might be associated with such businesses to neighboring municipalities or even to neighboring states. It is obvious that forcing alcohol purchasers to drive for a half-hour each way to reach the nearest liquor store would have undesirable consequences. Why such NIMBYism (“not in my back yard”) is acceptable with cannabis but not alcohol is mystifying.
How the election results shake out will determine the consequences, and there are a number of different possibilities that could emerge. If only a few rural areas adopt bans, they will turn themselves into isolated islands among a sea of retail commerce that passes them by, and the practical effects will be minimal. If a large fraction of the proposed bans are adopted, especially in populous urban communities such as Newport and Woonsocket, then much of the benefits of the Cannabis Act will be lost to the existing black market that will not be brought under a regulatory and tax structure, and widespread defiance of the law will simply continue as it has for decades. If the middle ground occurs and there are many bans enacted but not too many, then the state will have a patchwork of permissive and restrictive areas scattered essentially at random, and customers will take their patronage to nearby retailers who pay taxes to neighboring jurisdictions.
Where local bans pass, as the black market and loss of revenue become apparent, there will be pressures to reconsider the bans through referenda at nearly every election in the future, until almost every such ban is repealed. In the meantime, the last vestiges of prohibition will keep struggling, zombie-like, against their inevitable demise.
Every registered voter in RI is allowed to vote early with no need for explanation or pre-approval: just show up at your local city or town hall during their published hours and vote. Early voting began Oct 19 and continues until Nov 7, the day before election day, which is Nov 8. If you do not vote early, you can vote on election day when polls are open statewide 7am – 8pm (except on Block Island where they open at 9am).
Each city or town has its own schedule for early voting, published by the secretary of state – vote.sos.ri.gov/Elections/PollingPlaceHours – on the web. Most are Mon – Fri during the business day, 9am – 4pm, but some are open a little earlier or a little later, a few close early on Fri, and in some cases they are open on the last weekend before election day.
RI requires that you present photo identification in order to vote: to be used for voting purposes, it must not be expired more than six months prior but need not list a current address. Valid forms of photo identification include RI driving license or permit, US passport, ID card issued by any federally recognized tribal government, ID card issued by an educational institution in the US, US military ID card, ID card issued by the US or RI government agency (such as a RIPTA bus pass), government-issued medical card, or RI Voter ID card. If anyone needs photo identification to vote, they can get a RI Voter ID card at no cost from the Elections Division at the RI Department of State; telephone (401)222-2340 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how. The Elections Division can also accommodate those, such as transgender voters, whose current appearance or name may not match their photo identification.
The voting process in RI uses a large-format paper ballot on card stock that is marked with a felt-tip pen and then inserted by the voter for optical scanning. If for reasons of disability a voter is unable to use the regular system, they can be accommodated by an accessible “ExpressVote” using a touch-screen.
After completing the process, you should be issued an “I voted” sticker.
Lending Library of Things: PVD Things opens in Olneyville
PVD Things held its grand opening on Sun, Oct 23, at its new space at 12 Library Ct in Olneyville. The multi-room facility was open for tours, and free hot dogs (with vegetarian options) were being served from a grill.
“We are a non-profit co-operative tool-lending library, and what that means is we’re a non-profit that is democratically governed by the people who use it. We rent out useful things just like a library would with books, but now we’re lending out drills, ladders, or basically anything under the sun,” said Dillon Fagan, one of the organizers. The typical loan period is seven days, renewable for an additional seven days, he said.
There is a growing national movement in many cities to spin up such “libraries of things” and, although there is no umbrella organization or consortium, there are on-line forums for sharing ideas, problems, and solutions, Fagan said. Devon Curtin, who was grilling the hot dogs, said he had previously been part of a similar group in Baltimore before moving to PVD.
“You can go on our website [pvdthings.coop], you just purchase a member share, and it sends you through some forms that you have to fill out for liability and whatnot. And then once you’ve done that, you’re a member,” Fagan said. “We ask that you join as a member, that’s a one-time fee of $20. That is refundable, so if you do not want to be a member anymore, you get that $20 back. However, every year, we’re going to be asking you to pay dues to help cover the operating costs, and that’s on a sliding scale so it’s just $1 per $1,000 of annual income per year.” The annual dues assessment is on the honor system, Fagan said. “We don’t look into it, just trust that you’re being honest.” Sponsorships are available for those in need but unable to pay.
The web site lists inventory, Fagan said, and there is a companion mobile app that queries inventory information, all written in-house.
The organization was incorporated in March 2021, Fagan said, but the process of formation began about a year earlier and there are now approximately 100 members. The physical facility in Olneyville has been occupied for only a couple of months. “That was the most difficult part and we knew that going into it, going through those forums online. Everyone said the same thing: It’s difficult to secure space, especially how the rent situation is.” That the building has a very prominent painted banner reading “Library Ct” was, he said, “just a pure coincidence. Very fitting for us.”
At some point the organization hopes to provide instruction in use of tools rather than merely lending the tools themselves. “We don’t have anything set up yet, but we are planning on having skill-sharing workshops that volunteers will be running, and I have heard from some people who have come in that they’re willing to help out with some different types of workshops,” Fagan said. “I’ll probably do a programming workshop because I’m a software engineer. So that’s my skill set.”
Although the bulk of lendable things is concentrated on traditional hand and power tools, from drills to automotive gear to lawn mowers, as well as construction implements such as ladders, the range encompasses everything from guitars and board games to a small 3D printer. Consumables, he said, are the responsibility of the borrower, whether nails and screws for hammers and drills or thermoplastic for the 3D printer.
Cooking utensils are in demand, Fagan said, because people need such simple things as muffin tins for special occasions but may use them only a few times a year. He said he has an interest in paella pans and paella burners because he loves Spanish food but would not need them often. Cooking might be a topic for skill-sharing workshops, he said.
There is a small selection of “how-to” books, but “we don’t plan on being like a library with tons of books. If we are going to have some books, it’s just going to be pretty specific to DIY projects and stuff like that,” Fagan said.
Some kinds of items cannot be part of the inventory for insurance reasons, Fagan said, and kayaks and bicycles, for example, must be re-donated elsewhere. Weirdly, another item prohibited for insurance reasons are bouncy houses.
The Olneyville facility has regular hours every Wednesday, 6 – 8pm, but “as more volunteers come on, we’ll have the capacity to be open more days of the week and more hours,” Fagan said.
“We have put out a survey to see what people would want. I think it would be nice if we have some kind of regular cadence of asking our members, ‘Hey, what are we lacking?’” Fagan said. “Part of the name is ‘things.’ I guess the idea really is whatever the membership wants, that is what PVD Things will have.”
Fung leads Magaziner, McKee leads Kalus: Political poll results
A telephone poll was conducted by Fleming and Associates of Cumberland (sponsored by WPRI-12 News and Roger Williams University) of 402 RI likely voters, 254 of whom were in the Congressional second district, from Thu, Sep 29, to Sun, Oct 2.
The most notable result shows Congressional second district Republican nominee Allan Fung leading Democratic nominee Seth Magaziner, 46% – 40%, with independent candidate William Gilbert at 4%, not sure at 9%, and refused to answer at 1%. Due to the small number polled, the sampling margin of error is a relatively large ±6.2 percentage points, meaning that the actual numbers in the population under study could, in fact, be exactly reversed.
There are other elements of statistical bias in the poll, particularly the high percentage of cellular (90%) as opposed to landline (10%) respondents, which tends to oversample younger voters and undersample older voters. Age-bias is important because the same poll shows Magaziner leading Fung 49% – 37% among voters 18 – 39 but Fung leading Magaziner 49% – 39% among voters 40 and older. Counter-intuitively, this means the sampling margin of error for undersampled subpopulations, once the raw results are normalized and weighted to compensate, could be easily an order of magnitude greater than that of the overall sample, such that only a handful of outlier responses would greatly distort the reported result. In other words, Magaziner is doing much better among the subpopulations that the poll captures more accurately. The poll does not publish sufficient raw data needed to estimate the boundaries of this problem.
As Motif noted a few days ago just before these poll results were released (“News Analysis — Elections 2022: Few contested races remain after primaries,” by Michael Bilow, Oct 5), although “Fung is an unusually strong Republican candidate by RI standards and has a credible chance of winning the House seat,” based on historical data “political forecasting news service Five Thirty Eight considers the race ‘likely Democratic’ with an 83% probability of Magaziner winning…”
The same poll reports the race for governor with Democratic nominee Daniel McKee leading Republican nominee Ashley Kalus by a double-digit margin, 45% – 32%, with not sure at 15%, refused to answer at 1%, and the remainder scattered among independent Paul Rianna (3%), independent Zachary Hurwitz (2%), and libertarian Elijah Gizzarelli (2%). For the statewide race, the sampling margin of error is a tighter ±4.9 percentage points. This is consistent with the prior observation in Motif that “the conventional wisdom is that Kalus has the chance of a snowball in hell of upsetting McKee.”
The poll attempted “favorability” ratings for McKee and Kalus: reporting McKee at 13% very favorable, 32% somewhat favorable, 14% somewhat unfavorable, 22% very unfavorable, and 19% not sure; reporting Kalus at 16% very favorable, 17% somewhat favorable, 13% somewhat unfavorable, 19% very unfavorable, and 35% not sure. The usual way of summarizing this is to view McKee as net +9 (45% favorable – 36% unfavorable) and Kalus as net +1 (33% favorable – 32% unfavorable). The large “not sure” blocs are more of an opportunity for Kalus to define herself to the one-third of the electorate who pretty much has no idea who she is, while a concern for McKee who as the sitting governor should be worried that one-fifth of the electorate does not know enough about him to form an opinion.
Asking about the direction the state has been moving, 34% said right, 45% said wrong, 9% said neither right nor wrong, and 12% said not sure. A question like this is minimally useful, essentially measuring satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the current political leadership.
Asked to choose the single most important issue from a list, 42% said cost of living, 14% said abortion, 11% said education, 10% said health care, 9% said taxes, 7% said public safety, 6% said other, and 2% answered not sure.
Public money for construction of a soccer stadium in Pawtucket was overwhelmingly unpopular, 56% – 31% opposed with 12% not sure.
News Analysis — Elections 2022: Few contested races remain after primaries
For information about the upcoming RI general election on Nov 8, see the web site – vote.sos.ri.gov – that explains how and where to vote, options for early voting, and lists of candidates for all offices. RI has early in-person voting Oct 19 through Nov 7 at city and town halls; no special application is required to vote early in-person.
The deadline to register to vote for this general election is Sun, Oct 9. The deadline for registered voters to apply for a mail ballot is Tue, Oct 18. Registering to vote can be done in-person, by postal mail, and on-line.
Most of the RI races in the 2022 general election are not considered seriously competitive, and more than a few major offices do not even have an opposition candidate. For mayor of Providence, Democrat Brett Smiley won an aggressively contested primary with 41.9% against Gonzalo Cuervo with 36.2% and Nirva LaFortune with 21.9%, but no Republican declared candidacy at all and a lone independent, former city council member (then as a Democrat) Wilbur Jennings Jr, failed to submit nomination papers to qualify for the ballot.
US House, 2nd district: Fung v. Magaziner
The marquee race is unquestionably for the second district seat in the US House of Representatives being vacated by James Langevin who has held it since 2002. In the Democratic primary, outgoing General Treasurer Seth Magaziner trounced a crowded field of five other candidates, with 54.0%. On the Republican side, Allan Fung, who served as Cranston mayor from 2009 to 2021, earned the nomination unopposed.
In the only public poll of the race, conducted by Suffolk University in collaboration with The Boston Globe, Fung led by 6 percentage points head-to-head against Magaziner (45% – 39%), but the result is of dubious value because it was conducted Jun 19 – 22, long before the Sep 13 primary; and it included all of the other Democratic candidates at that time.
Nevertheless, Fung is an unusually strong Republican candidate by RI standards and has a credible chance of winning the House seat. He is well-regarded and his twelve years as mayor of Cranston are generally seen as a successful example of good governance of a municipality that recently eclipsed Warwick to become the second most populous city in the state. (Cranston was in third place while Fung was mayor.)
No one thinks Fung is the favorite in heavily Democratic RI, and political forecasting news service Five Thirty Eight considers the race “likely Democratic” with an 83% probability of Magaziner winning with 52.0% of the vote to Fung’s 44.1%. That would still be a considerably stronger showing by Fung than his two gubernatorial losses against Gina Raimondo in 2014 (40.7% – 36.2%) and 2018 (52.6% – 37.2%), although 2014 was quirky because “Cool Moose” and Moderate Party candidate Robert Healey drew 21.6%, apparently almost entirely from Raimondo and nearly enough to make Fung governor.
The real obstacle for Fung is that US House races have become nationalized in a highly-polarized climate where Democrats are struggling to defend their slim 221–214 seat majority in a “mid-term” election (that is, without a presidential contest). As of Oct 2, the Five Thirty Eight ranks 214 seats either strongly, likely, or leaning Republican; 208 seats either strongly, likely, or leaning Democratic; and 13 seats a toss-up: 218 seats are needed for a majority. In other words, control of the House is absolutely up for grabs.
Fung has been doing an awkward dance with national Republicans. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted a photo of himself visiting Fung in RI on Aug 6, and a few weeks later Ted Nesi of WPRI reported that Fung had flown to McCarthy’s annual donor retreat in Wyoming. According to Punchbowl News, the event “was loaded with millionaires and billionaires (including Elon Musk, the world’s richest person) who want [McCarthy] to become the next speaker of the House.” This is dangerous company for Fung to keep as he risks scaring off RI voters. Punchbowl wrote, “Just hours after the Jan. 6 insurrection, even as the tear gas still wafted through a blood-stained Capitol, McCarthy and 146 other House Republicans refused to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Just weeks after Trump left Washington in disgrace, McCarthy visited him at Mar-a-Lago, kicking off the process of resurrecting Trump’s national standing. And McCarthy worked to derail a separate House investigation into the insurrection, even repudiating a deal that one of his own Republicans made with Democrats to create a bipartisan commission to look into the Capitol attack. And now, should McCarthy become the speaker in January 2023, he’ll preside over a conference filled with those either disinterested, unwilling, unable or afraid to speak out against Trump. And the result of that dynamic is that the House GOP will be made up of loud voices who want to impeach Biden, investigate the Jan. 6 select committee’s investigation, defund the FBI and take Trump’s revenge tour to the House floor.” It’s understandable why Fung is not anxious to have his fundraising and other ties to McCarthy displayed too openly.
Motif has in the past given generous coverage to Magaziner, for example with his BankLocal program using state investments to back loans to RI small businesses. In the end, though, most voters are not going to make their choice based on any personal qualities of the candidates, neither competence nor track record, but rather on whether they want to see Kevin McCarthy as speaker at the head of the Republican majority in the US House. Despite his efforts to remain aloof from national politics, that is likely to sink Fung.
RI Governor: Kalus v. McKee
In theory, Republicans can win the governor’s office in RI. They have held it repeatedly: most recently, Edward D. DiPrete (1985–1991), Lincoln Almond (1995–2003), and Donald Carcieri (2003–2011) served as Republican governors. But RI is heavily Democratic: In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden trounced Donald Trump in the state by more than 20 percentage points, 59.4% – 38.6%. Other state offices are overwhelmingly won by Democrats.
Daniel McKee was weakened severely by a difficult five-way primary that he won with only 36.8% against a surprisingly strong performance by newcomer Helena Foulkes with 30.1% and outgoing Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea with 26.1%. Exactly what happened, and whether Foulkes and Gorbea split the anti-McKee vote, will be debated for years.
The result set up a general election contest against Ashley Kalus who is running as a Republican conservative. Kalus has been taking real shots at McKee, and some of them have been landing. She attacked his giving government money to renovate the Industrial National Trust Tower (the “Superman building”) as a boondoggle: “Here’s an idea – instead of giving $69 million in corporate welfare to the developer of the Superman Building, why don’t we invest in RIPTA? Considering the average driver makes $16.75/hour – imagine how impactful even an additional $1 million would be for RIPTA’s abilities to provide services,” she has said. She likewise praised the federal court ruling that tractor-trailer tolls were unconstitutional as applied, a mess McKee inherited from former Gov. Raimondo.
The Kalus campaign called a McKee ad claim that she would roll back abortion rights “blatantly false,” saying “Ashley would not support any effort to overturn the 2019 law” that enshrined the Roe v. Wade viability standard into state law despite its overruling at the federal level. But she would oppose the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act supported by McKee and which his office said on Sep 30 would be included in the budget for next year, to “provide insurance coverage for abortion-related services for state employees and individuals enrolled in Medicaid.” By contrast, the Kalus campaign said “she stands with the overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders, 77%, that do not support taxpayer-funded abortions.”
McKee succeeded from his role as lieutenant governor when Raimondo resigned to become secretary of commerce in the Biden cabinet. Other than succeeding a gubernatorial vacancy, there are no remaining duties of the lieutenant governor since the state constitution was amended a few years ago to remove the ex-officio job of presiding over the State Senate. I remember being shocked at a press conference when a reporter asked then-Gov. Raimondo to respond to comments then-Lt. Gov. McKee had made, and she dismissively said he was welcome to call her office like any other citizen. McKee never fit into the Raimondo administration: With her Ivy League pedigree (Harvard undergrad, Yale Law) and Rhodes Scholarship (Oxford D.Phil.), Raimondo was used to being the smartest person in the room and surrounded herself with other people who had the same outlook. McKee, despite his Harvard Kennedy School M.P.A., is very much not that sort of person.
McKee is also as good a politician as Raimondo is not: he can relate to ordinary people while Raimondo has no tolerance for fools, and his experience as mayor of Cumberland helped him learn to govern. I’ve had the opportunity to observe him closely, including his management of the state through a blizzard and a hurricane, and his approach was to surround himself with competent experts and listen to their advice. He has clearly made mistakes, such as approving a no-bid contract for government services, and he may pay a price for that, politically or worse. The most charitable interpretation is that McKee trusted his friends and they exploited him.
The political weakness of McKee should have served as an invitation for the Republicans to nominate a candidate with a solid management background and broadly moderate ideological views, but Kalus seems to have blown that opportunity. Kalus gave an extended interview to the experienced and incisive political reporter Ian Donnis for his “Political Roundtable” show on RI Public Radio, the overall effect of which could only be described as disastrous for the candidate. Donnis pressed her repeatedly on refusal to answer “whether you believe teaching about race and racism should be restricted or whether certain books should be banned” and she ducked the question, saying “My focus is on the things that we can agree on… which is math, and reading, and writing.”
Donnis said “You started a business with your husband that operated COVID-related services in Rhode Island, and then got into a dispute with the State Department of Health. That’s now the subject of closed-door mediation.” Kalus responded, “And what we see with Dan McKee is we see a governor that is under FBI investigation for giving out federal money, contracts to insiders and his friends.” Donnis had to correct her in real-time, saying “We should know there’s no information at this point indicating that Dan McKee himself is the subject of this probe.”
Donnis asked Kalus several times whether she voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election, and she avoided answering, saying, “The question of Donald Trump is not the question of the governor’s race in Rhode Island.”
Kalus has also faced embarrassing questions about how she filed for a homestead tax exemption for a $1.2 million property in Illinois while claiming to live in RI. As WPRI reporters Eli Sherman and Ted Nesiexplained, “Under state law, the homestead exemption is supposed to be only for homeowners who live in their residence full-time. Kalus said that was always true for her husband, who she said stayed in Illinois while she was living in RI to manage a state COVID-19 contract they won.” Sherman and Nesi note that Kalus, whose RI declaration of candidacy lists her domicile at a second house in Newport, voted in Florida in the 2020 election, residing at a third house the couple bought in 2015.
All Republicans running for office in RI face the same dilemma: how to separate themselves from a national party that has embraced a culture war that is deeply unpopular in RI, let alone Trump’s “big lie” about which the Polling Institute at Monmouth University has been asking a representative sample of the electorate this question monthly: “Do you believe Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square, or do you believe that he only won it due to voter fraud?” and consistently about one-third of the public says voter fraud.
Kalus, without any local track record like Allan Fung, is an unknown and possibly unknowable quantity about whom all assessments are necessarily based on her own statements and campaign, and by that measure she has been doing herself no favors. There has been no public polling of the race because the conventional wisdom is that Kalus has the chance of a snowball in hell of upsetting McKee.
There are three bond referendum questions on the ballot with the 2022 general election, the first two pretty ordinary.
Question 1 asks for $100 million to design and construct new facilities at the URI Narragansett Bay Campus. “This project would support educational and research needs in ocean engineering, oceanography, and other marine-related disciplines,” according to the secretary of state. Over the 20-year life of the bonds, interest would add an estimated $60 million to the total cost.
Question 2 asks for $250 million “to improve Pre-K through grade 12 public school facilities and equip them for 21st-century learning,” mostly construction projects. “Funding may be used to address immediate health and safety concerns, early childhood education, career and technical education, and other educational needs including but not limited to science labs, libraries and modern learning technology,” according to the secretary of state. Over the 20-year life of the bonds, interest would add an estimated $151 million to the total cost.
Question 3 combines nine separate items under a $50 million umbrella of “environmental and recreational” projects for the “green economy.” We will consider these from largest to smallest, preserving the item letters as they will appear on the ballot.
Item a: $16 million for up to 75 percent matching grants to help cities and towns identify hazards resulting from climate change, such as more frequent and intense storms that cause increased flooding of coastline, rivers, and streams flood plains.
Item i: $12 million for Roger Williams Park and Zoo to construct a state-of-the-art, carbon-neutral education center and event pavilion.
Item b: $5 million to establish a Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, essentially a revolving fund lending to small businesses with zero interest and below-market-rate loans and grants to help implement clean energy projects.
Item e: $4 million to clean up former industrial or commercial “brownfield” sites that may be contaminated by hazardous waste or other environmental pollution, providing up to 80% matching grants for remediation projects that bring sites back into productive use.
Item c: $3 million for matching grants to complete projects that restore and protect the water quality, aquatic habitats and the environmental sustainability of Narragansett Bay and RI’s watersheds, furthering efforts to clean water for drinking, shell-fishing, recreation, commerce and other uses.
Item d: $3 million for maintenance of forests, wildlife habitat, and related infrastructure on state properties, such as state management areas, including removal of dead and/or dying trees and tree planting.
Invasives removal and other forest health and wildlife habitat activities; and the repair and maintenance of fire roads, trails, and bridges to improve and maintain recreational public access and mitigate the risk of wildfire.
Item f: $3 million for the State Land Acquisition Program allowing the state to acquire open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands, investing these funds in the preservation of working farmland and recreational resources. Funds will be matched by federal, local and non-profit sources in a 1-to-3 ratio with every state dollar being matched by three other dollars.
Item g: $2 million for up to 50% in matching grants to cities and towns, local land trusts and non-profit organizations to acquire open space lands in Rhode Island.
Item h: $2 million for up to 80% in matching grants to cities and towns to develop or rehabilitate local public recreational facilities such as parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields, and up to 50% in matching grants to acquire land for public recreational facilities.
Over the 20-year life of the bonds, interest would add an estimated $30 million to the total cost.
Truck crashes backwards into Warwick storefront: No apparent serious injuries
A Toyota pickup truck crashed in reverse gear through the storefront of Wild Birds Unlimited, located in the plaza at 1000 Bald Hill Road, Warwick, shortly after 6pm on Saturday, Sep 24.
The driver of the truck, a man looking to be about 60 years old, after being extricated from his vehicle was seen to be transported by rescue on a stretcher, conscious and alert. He did not appear to have serious injuries.
Update 2022-10-03: According to the Warwick Police report provided to Motif, the driver of the truck was identified as Kenneth M. Savard of Coventry, 68 years old. The report states that he was not tested at the scene but was “Under the Influence of Medications/Drugs/Alcohol,” and that “Warwick Fire was able to get [Savard] out of the vehicle with what appeared to be minor injuries. He was later transported to RI Hospital…” According to the RI court database, Savard was charged before 3rd Division District Court with “DUI of Liquor – Blood Alcohol Concentration Unknown – 1st Offense” (case 31-2022-07557) and before the Traffic Tribunal with “Refusal to Submit to Chemical Test (1st Offense)” (case 22203506425) and “No Insurance 1st Offense” (case 22203506546). The database also reports a previous charge of driving with a suspended motor vehicle license in 1997 with a plea of nolo contendere (no contest) resulting in a $500.00 fine, $139.50 in costs, one year probation, but no loss of license (case 31-1997-05012).
Two women whose Honda SUV had significant visible front-end damage told Motif, declining to give their names, that their vehicle was parked normally in a space when the pickup truck, which they said was traveling at too high a speed for a parking lot, crashed into them head-on. They said the pickup truck immediately after striking them shifted into reverse, then traveled in a straight line through the wall and windows of the storefront.
The women had been shopping at Trader Joe’s, which is in the same plaza, and they had bags of groceries on the ground next to their damaged vehicle. They said they did not appear to be injured.
The Wild Birds Unlimited storefront was severely damaged with shards of brick, glass, and metal thrown beyond the sidewalk and into the parking lot, a distance of as much as 30 feet. Firefighters were sweeping up the larger pieces of debris, including the metal window frames that had been part of the storefront.
Other stores, including Duluth Trading, Panera Bread, and Popeye’s Fried Chicken are in the same plaza.
There was a substantial public safety response involving several police cars, a fire engine and a fire ladder, and a fire department rescue.
RI Gov. McKee Tests Positive for COVID-19: Reports mild symptoms, isolating and working from home
RI Gov. Daniel McKee has tested positive for COVID-19, his office announced in a statement Sunday afternoon, saying the positive test was conducted Saturday night.
Matt Sheaff, spokesman for Governor Dan McKee, said in the statement: “Late yesterday evening, Governor McKee tested positive for COVID-19. He only has minor symptoms because he is vaccinated and twice boosted. After speaking with his doctor, the Governor has begun taking the antiviral medication Paxlovid and is isolating for 5 days. During this time he will be working remotely. The Governor is in good spirits and is grateful for the support of his family and staff. He looks forward to getting back to work in person, meeting with constituents and keeping Rhode Island’s economic momentum going.”
The governor’s official Twitter account tweeted at 1:38pm Sunday, “Late last night, I tested positive for COVID-19. I’m vaccinated and boosted twice and therefore experiencing very minor symptoms.” McKee, born June 16, 1951, is 71 years old.