The week after the election, the Providence Rotary Club continued a much-anticipated biennial tradition for its members. After every statewide election, they invite Scott MacKay, one of the state’s most knowledgeable political ob- servers, to be their luncheon speaker and provide some guidance on what the results – both local and national – really mean. As chief political analyst for The Public’s Radio and, before that, a longtime Providence city beat reporter, he certainly knows where the bodies are buried... as well as who paid for the shovel. And again, MacKay did not disappoint.
While acknowledging this year’s races were remarkably tame by traditional Rhode Island standards, there was still plenty to keep him entertained. Who can make up something like gubernatorial candidate and local Trump campaign chair Joe Trillo running his campaign boat aground, leading MacKay to quip, “I’m guessing he’s no longer in the running to be Trump’s new Secretary of the Navy.”
For MacKay, the most fascinating race was in Cranston. Could the state’s most powerful politician, Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello, hold onto his seat against Republican Steve Frias? Or would Mattiello’s role in the departure of the PawSox ruin his base? “As it turns out, the vic- tory just attests to how conservative Mattiello’s district is, and that people out there probably don’t care too much about the Sox one way or the other,” MacKay concluded.
Some of his other thoughts: Dee Dee Whitman ran a surprisingly weak campaign. “While energetic and personable, she didn’t really step forward with any real alternative programs to help the City deal with its financial problems. And while Mayor Elorza will never win the title as ‘Mr. Charisma,’ people do feel he’s honest. At least he hasn’t raised taxes and can’t be all bad if he rides a bike to work every day.”
He also expected more from the Robert Flanders campaign. “First off, he didn’t get as much money from the Republican Senatorial committee as he expected,” said MacKay.“ Plus, I feel he got his message on backwards. He needed to start his campaign on a positive note, creating a solid foundation based on his impressive life story, first as a scholar and a football star at Brown and later as a successful attorney, federal judge, and community leader who saved Central Falls, before he went negative. By not doing it sequentially, he became just another politician flailing away and actually alienated women voters.”
In terms of what’s up next within the Ocean State, he sees that reporters like himself may have to shift into overdrive. He describes “an impending five-car-pileup ahead” for the Democrats to succeed Governor Raimondo, given that Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and Providence Mayor Elorza will all be term-limited in four years and will have to slug it out among themselves, perhaps joined by Aaron Regunberg. And with the state likely to lose one of its US Representative seats after the 2020 census, an epic Langevin-Cicilline showdown also looms.
As for the Governor, he feels Raimondo will be among the national beneficiaries of an obvious upsurge of successfully elected women candidates. As a result, look for her to become increasingly visible in any local efforts to pass “equal pay for equal work” legislation as well as codifying Roe vs. Wade protection.
He also suggests the Governor will likely double down on her current infrastructure and education projects. MacKay also expects to see expanded truck tolls and the free tuitions for RIC and URI, although perhaps requiring higher GPAs to qualify. To understand Raimondo’s increased interest in these initiatives, look no further than the recent decision of Amazon to select DC/Virginia and NYC as their two new campuses, in large part due to their skilled workforces already in place as well as a solid and expandable transportation infrastructure. Her ultimate future will likely depend on who wins the Presidency in 2020.
MacKay concluded with a quick overview of our national scene. “Identity politics and a degree of tribalism have always been part of our society as groups eyed each other warily. But in the past, our country has generally been able to keep things under control, sort of like guard rails on a highway.”
How is it possible that someone as volatile and crazy as Trump has been able to change so much so quickly? “His success at making the horrible and the outrageous seem respectable is truly amazing.” So, what can be done about it? MacKay laughs: “I just report what I see. Solutions are way above my pay scale.”