Sunday Political Brunch: All Politics is Local, or Is It? August 6, 2017
Sunday, August 06, 2017
Mark Curtis, GoLocalProv Contributor
“Go Where They Love You” – The most recent Gallup Poll had President Trump’s national approval rating at just 38 percent. But among individual states he is most popular in West Virginia with a 60 percent approval rating. That might explain why he visited here twice in the span of just ten days. As I’ve said in this column often, when you are hurting politically from a defeat, go somewhere you are still very popular and change the topic of conversation. On the heels of his loss on the Obamacare repeal, Trump came to Huntington and talked about the growing national and state economies and was greeted with wild cheers.
“Coal is Back, For Now” – So why is the President so popular in West Virginia? A lot of it has to do with his support of the coal industry. On the campaign trail his mantra was, “We’re putting the miners back to work! We’re putting the miners back to work!” The President issued a few Executive Orders rolling back Obama-era regulations that hurt the coal industry. Today coal production in West Virginia is up 31 percent over last year, and nationally coal exports are up 60 percent.
“Two Peas in a Pod” – My local readers know the story well, but my national readers must be scratching their heads saying, “Who is this Jim Justice guy, and why is this former Democrat aligned with President Trump?” Tell me if this sounds familiar: Jim Justice is a billionaire businessman who never held political office, but was elected in 2016. He is well-liked for his maverick and independent streaks and is seemingly beholden to no one. He’s certainly not a clone of Trump, but their similarities and backgrounds are worth noting. There are sharp differences, too. Trump appears very ego-centric, while Justice is a folksy, country “boy next door” type who people just call Jim or Jimmy. At 6 foot 8, and 300-plus pounds (just a guess), and with a shock of white hair, he’s hard to miss in a crowd.
“The Tri-State Triangle” – Huntington, West Virginia sits on the banks of the Ohio River, and is bordered to the west and north by Kentucky and Ohio. It’s known as the Tri-State area, and the Charleston-Huntington media market includes a significant number of counties in all three states. A lot of it is rural coal country, so the voter base in these portions of the three states is heavily pro-Trump. It also has one of the highest per capita populations of veterans in the nation.
Strategically, it was a smart place for Trump to hold a campaign rally (which technically it was, since it was sponsored by his reelection committee).
“All Politics is Local” – It was fascinating to watch how the national press corps and the local media covered this story. I was able to help the CBS and CNN crews from Washington, confirm the Justice party switch a few hours before the rally began (we are affiliates of both networks). Obviously, with our Governor switching parties while on stage with the U.S. President was huge local news. It was our banner headline, and really nothing Trump would say, could top it. When I looked at the national news websites later that night, Trump’s comments on Russia were the main focus, and the Justice party switch was just a small, sidebar story near the bottom of the page.
“Issues Intersect” – The big issues in this region cross state borders. Coal production is still a big industry in all three states, but will never be what it once was. Because of that the regional economy is struggling to transition, and unemployment swells above the national average. The opioid and drug overdose epidemic is at its absolute worst here. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, and Huntington is ground zero. Geographically it is an important cog on drug trafficking routes.
“Let You Upstage Me!” – As mentioned, Donald Trump is a very ego-centric man. He has basked on the spotlight for decades, and loves to be center stage. It was fascinating for him to interrupt the middle of his speech and invite Governor Justice on stage to announce he was formally switching from the Democratic to the Republican party. Justice says he had been mulling the switch for weeks after a bruising internal budget battle with Democrats in the Legislature. He says Trump did not ask him to switch parties. But to watch a man of Trump’s titan ego let someone else upstage him was a sight to behold. He really likes Justice and wants his input on a host of issues.
“Getting Stuff Done” – One of the biggest challenges nationally for President Trump is showing that he’s getting things done. The health care defeat and some of the court losses over his immigration policies have been big setbacks, not to mention the constant focus on the Russian election meddling investigation. His one shining accomplishment was appointing Justice Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. But now the national economy is picking up steam. Unemployment dropped to 4.3 percent (a 16-year low), and the Dow Jones Industrial average is above 22,000 (an all-time high). West Virginia’s growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is three-percent, the second highest of all states. Who knows if these trends will last, but a resurging economy certainly rocketed Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton into second terms.
“Why All of the This Matters” – If he runs for reelection in 2020, President Trump can pretty much count on winning Kentucky and West Virginia and their Electoral College votes. But Ohio will always be a toss-up, battleground state and the President must do everything he can to secure his base in the Buckeye State. A rousing and combative speech like he delivered Thursday night plays well to his constituency in Ohio and elsewhere. If the economy is truly rebounding, that needs to be his theme nationally.
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Kate Coyne-McCoy - In baseball, they call them all around superstars - five tool athletes.
McCoy, who once ran for Congress, is a strong political organizer for EMILY’s List, a proven fundraiser for Raimondo’s PAC, strong with the media, and is a top lobbyist.
She is manages to balance being a partisan with her all-around effectiveness. McCoy can do it all.
Lenny Lopes - Whether you’re looking for someone to navigate the halls of the State House, manage your public relations image, or execute a contract, Lopes can do it all.
The affable and well-liked former Chief of Staff to then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch (and prior to that, Legal Counsel to Lt. Governor Charlie Fogarty) had joined forces with Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West before striking out on his own with The Victor Group, taking on such heavyweight clients as Lifespan and online gaming behemoths Fanduel and DraftKings, and more niche healthcare accounts — including the medical marijuana Rhode Island Growers Coalition.
Lopes was tapped this past spring following the tourism debacle by Havas PR to help navigate their way through the Rhode Island waters, and ultimately defend their performance and reputation to stave off their contract cancelation for now. If you’re hired to be a PR firm’s de facto PR brain, you must be on your game.
Two Coast Operative
Matt Lopes - With more than 20 different lobbying agreement Lopes has emerged as a premiere influencer in Rhode Island. His clients range from Dunkin’ Donuts to Amgen to the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.
While managing one of the biggest lobbying practices he is often on the West Coast -- he is a nationally recognized Special Master for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, overseeing prison reform and compliance.
He plays with the big boys on both coasts. Easy for a guy who was a star athlete in high school and at Dartmouth.
Don Sweitzer - IGT (formerly GTECH) super lobbyist plays the game at most every level, with big ties to the Clinton organization that go all the way back to Sweitzer playing a key role with Clinton-Gore in 1992.
Sweitzer’s contacts span the political spectrum - despite his Democratic pedigree, don’t count him out if Donald Trump wins the Presidency as Sweitzer worked for Paul Manafort back in the early 1990s.
Reportedly, Raimondo asked him to serve as her chief of staff - he gracefully declined.
Segal, Bell and Regunberg - These three young Brown grads are emerging as the leaders in progressive causes in Rhode Island and across the United States. David Segal, who served on the City Council in Providence and as a State Rep, failed in a 2010 effort for Congress losing to David Cicilline in the Democratic primary.
In 2016, Segal along with Aaron Regunberg emerged as a powerful force in trying to kill of the Super-Delegate structure in the Democratic primary.
Sam Bell is leading a major effort to re-calibrate the Democratic party to the left the election season. We will know just how good Bell is after September 13’s Democratic primary - Bell is overseeing more than a dozen progressive candidates' campaigns.
Goldberg, Walsh, Ryan and Murphy - These four veteran lobbyists know the pass codes to just about every private office in the State House. For decades they have been the go-to guys. Regardless of who is in power Bob Goldberg, Joe Walsh, Mike Ryan and Bill Murphy are always in vogue.
Only Ryan was not an elected official. Murphy ran the House for a decade, Goldberg had pulled off one of the greatest political coups when he lead a small band of GOP senators and split the Dems to take power, and Walsh was the almost Governor of Rhode Island in 1984.
Combined, they have the lion's share of premier clients and have collected the millions in fees to prove it.
Nicole Pollock - The new Chief-of-Staff for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza certainly has big shoes to fill, with the recent departure of both Chief Operating Officer Brett Smiley and outgoing Chief of Staff Tony Simon but Pollack has gotten off to a strong start. Following the recent summit on Kennedy Plaza co-hosted former Mayor Joe Paolino and Elorza, Paolino told GoLocal, “[Elorza’s] new Chief of Staff, I’m very impressed with.”
Pollock had joined the administration in February 2015 as Chief Innovation Officer and then served as Chief of Policy and Innovation for the administration before being tapped for the top post. Pollock had previously served in a policy and communications role for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. A graduate of Brown University, Pollock currently serves on the Board of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association and the Providence Plan.
The city has no shortage of pressing issues to tackle, from devising a plan to handle the ongoing panhandling, homelessness, and drug use issues in Kennedy Plaza, to the ever-looming issue of the protracted legal battle with the Providence Firefighters that could have monumental financial implications for the city, depending on the outcome.
Matt Bucci - The up-and-comer on Governor Raimondo’s staff was in the mix for Chief of Staff or another promotion this summer, but may chose to take his skills and join the world of lobbying or grab another private sector position.
Made news when he was tied to Governor Raimondo’s ill fated and ultimately canceled trip to Davos Switzerland. Raimondo was going to spend a weekend with the beautiful people and raided the non-profit URI Foundation’s scholarship dollars to fund the trip.
The former staffer to Senator Jack Reed is widely respected. Look for news about Bucci in the near future. Too talented to not make a leap soon.
Chris Hunter - The strategy wunderkind has morphed into a well-established operative in his own right in veteran lobbyist Frank McMahon’s public affairs shop, Advocacy Solutions.
The long-time government and public relations manager for the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance, Hunter is equally adept at the State House, having snagged emerging industry client Lyft and engaged in the hand-to-hand combat that comes with lobbying for the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.
Election seasons in particular are where Hunter’s know-how comes in handy, having managed a number of successful bond referendum in the state. Hunter is a constant presence networking around town, whether it’s hobnobbing with the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations or serving on host committees for key candidates - he’s the combination of both “who you know” and “what you know."
Nick Hemond - None may be more unabashedly and relentlessly ambitious than Hemond, who landed as an associate at powerhouse DarrowEverett in 2014.
The President of the Providence School Board lobbies at City Hall for high-profile real estate clients including Buff Chace and High Rock Management (i.e. the ownership of the Superman Building) and at the State House for labor interests (RI FOP, RI Carpenters Local Union 94), Big Health (the Hospital Association of Rhode Island) and rounding it out with such interests as AAA, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, and infrastructure firm AECOM.
If that doesn’t sound like a full load, toss in a slew of crisis communications clients in the way of bars and clubs in varying degrees of trouble (read: stabbings, shootings) before the Providence Board of Licenses. Having so many fingers in so many pies (and some of which could appear somewhat conflicting) has raised eyebrows, but in the meantime if Hemond is winning, the checks keep coming.
Leo Skenyon - The seasoned political operative is the man behind the man. Serving as Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Skenyon helped navigate a more than treacherous legislative session which saw Finance Chair Representative Ray Gallison resign, Representative John Carnevale found ineligible to run at his purported address in Providence, and a slew of financial and ethics issues for a number of Democrats.
The Speaker however emerged from the session having tackled the thorny issue of community service grants, and what had seemed up until this year a nearly impossible task, putting ethics reform — and oversight of the Assembly by the Ethics Commission — before voters this November.
Skenyon has weathered many a political season before, having been the former Chief of Staff to then-Senate Majority Leader Jack Revens in the 1980s, and then a former top aide to Governor Bruce Sundlun and U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell. Now, his boss faces both a Republican and Independent challenger in the general election in November.
Joe Shekarchi - The Chair of the House Labor Committee is running unopposed this year in District 23 in Warwick, marking just the third election season for the powerful politician-lawyer, who first won in 2012.
Given his fundraising prowess, however, one would think that Shekarchi accrued his war chest over a longer tenure, with over $528,000 cash on hand as of the second quarter of 2016, making him far and away the most flush General Assembly member (by way of comparison, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello reported just over $365,000 cash on hand for the same period; Governor Gina Raimondo had $1.4 million.)
It was managing money that helped establish him on the map as a seasoned statewide political operative — he was the campaign manager for statewide operations for Raimondo when she ran for General Treasurer in 2010. With a number of successes in business and on the Hill, keep an eye on Shekarchi's future plans.