Let’s Talk About Last Week

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I just wanted to play Battletech this week. But then everyone decided this would be a good week to make a lot of news. So let’s go through it, one by one.

1. Scott Avedisian: From Mayor to RIPTA

Avedisian has confounded me of late. I’m not the only one to point this out, but Avedisian seems like the best candidate for governor that the Rhode Island Republican Party had. He’s competed nine times for mayor of Warwick (two-year terms) without ever winning with less than 30% over his nearest opponent. He has largely avoided controversial headlines. He could’ve been the Charlie Baker of Rhode Island. But doing so would mean getting through a primary that increasingly looks worse for that kind of candidate. Instead, the Republicans seems likely to limp through with a battered and unpopular Allan Fung.

I wish Avedisian the best of luck at RIPTA; public transportation in RI needs a big boost. But I guess he doesn’t harbor any ambitions for the state’s top office, because RIPTA seems like a nice little quagmire.

2. Matt Brown: Moving from I to D

The most sensible move of the week. If Cynthia Nixon’s primary of Andrew Cuomo has shown us anything, it’s that primaries are a good way to make Democratic incumbents who have ignored progressives suddenly embrace that wing. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Brown is that kind of candidate (I think what I wrote in the last post still holds up). So far, his main pitch (as I see it) is to turn RI into “the Saudi Arabia of wind energy.” That could be fine as part of a larger plan, but is that the kind of thing that ousts an incumbent?

There’s room for a progressive to use UHIP and DCYF to talk about how to make government work for everyone. Brown could use his past experience as Secretary of State to talk about expanding voting rights (maybe even repealing RI’s shameful voter ID law). Even on environmental issues, it might be worth focusing more on the contamination of Narragansett Bay than on potential wind energy.

3. Nick Mattiello: Subordinate Trouble

I would not, as Steve Ahlquist does, compare this to Watergate. Some liberals were giddy with the Republican Party’s call for the Speaker’s resignation, but it seems unlikely that this is the thing that does him in. On the issue of the overspending, Ted Nesi cites the complaint that the Board of Elections routinely fines late campaign report filings but has only ordered Mattiello to repay the overspent amount. However, Nesi leaves out Board member Steve Erickson’s counterargument that overspending and late filings are punished under different laws.

What’s notable is though the Republican Party chair and House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan have called for the Speaker’s resignation, Morgan’s predecessor as Leader, Rep. Brian Newberry, strongly noted that none of her caucus had publicly backed her position.

More troubling to me is the Shawna Lawton mailer situation, with the Speaker’s campaign staff Matt Jerzyk (RI Future’s wayward founder) and Jeff Britt having refused to answer subpoenas from the Board, and could be found in contempt. Stay tuned.

4. Linc Chafee: Eyeing a Return to the Senate

There’s been a small but vocal lefty “Primary Whitehouse” crowd that’s been thirsty for a candidate, any candidate (I saw suggestions for state Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and recently-elected Providence councilwoman Nirva LaFortune to run). Apparently they’ve been talking to Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island’s most unpopular living former governor.

As a said before, there’s value in a primary to drag a candidate to the left, but it’s not clear that would be the result. The last time he was in the Senate, Chafee occupied almost the exact ideological center of the chamber (with no Democrats to his right). Today, Sheldon Whitehouse shores up the chamber’s left flank, tied with the departed Al Franken, slightly more liberal than job guarantee and postal banking supporting Kirsten Gillibrand, but slightly less liberal than Ohio’s Sherrod Brown. That RIPR’s Ian Donnis suggests Chafee is the progressive in the race is just mind-boggling.

What the primary Whitehouse crowd appears to be upset about is Whitehouse’s hawkishness, his early support for Trump’s nominees (something he was joined in by many of the Senate’s liberal stalwarts), and his poor response to the Invenergy proposal for a Burrillville power plant. But it makes no sense to toss aside the Senate’s foremost environmentalist in favor of an unpopular ex-governor who could easily lose the general and hand the seat over to a Republican (both Republican candidates have mocked environmentalism and the concept of global warming already).

I’ve seen the case that once in office, Chafee will be a good Democrat. To which I say: “have you even paid attention to Chafee’s career?” Chafee’s political fortunes might have been buffeted by forces beyond his control (2006’s blue wave, Rhode Island’s slow recovery). But he has routinely ignored the wishes of the constituents who voted him into office. If he’d been a more loyal Republican, he wouldn’t have drawn a primary challenger in 2006. After being elected Governor largely thanks to the muscle of the public employees’ unions, he turned around and slashed their pensions. Anyone thinking Chafee, who has more than enough soundbites of him speaking in favor Trump, is going to be a loyal Democrat is deceiving themselves.

Chafee is a one-term Senator and Governor because he is fundamentally a bad politician. This isn’t going to be Scott MacKay’s “blue bloodbath.” This is going to be the (hopefully) last humiliation of Lincoln Chafee.

Lightning Round:

5. Pay attention to fundraising. Certainly, Bob Healey showed us that $38 can go farHowever, as I understand it, generally, you can use fundraising as a proxy measure of support; people don’t give to campaigns they think are going to lose. Strong candidates tend to have lots of donors and lots of money. Poor candidates tend to have little money, few donors, or both. Self-funding candidates generally have a lot of personal wealth, but lack deep support.

6. The line-item veto has kinda dropped off the map this year. Patrick Conley’s testimony to commission is a great historical overview (I recommend listening with the speed up) though Conley does take some time to rehash his old gripes with the government reform movement. More recently Brenda Erickson from the National Conference of State Legislatures testified. There was some discussion about this nationally when Trump called for it. Key point: it doesn’t reliably rein in spending (the main selling point). Ken Block contested this, and the study he passed along mainly mentioned that the item reduction veto slowed growth in spending, but that the line-item veto was mostly used to protect partisan and gubernatorial priorities (almost certainly how it will be used in Rhode Island).

7. This year should give us some really interesting data on how people vote, who votes where and for whom. Joe Trillo is may give us a measure of how racist Rhode Island voters are. Regunberg might give us a measure of how progressive Democratic primary voters are. We’ll also get to see whether Fung has more than his base in Cranston in a Republican primary.

8. Ian Donnis has the count at nine members of the General Assembly leaving, either due to retirement or vacating in pursuit of higher office. Some of these are in vulnerable seats for the Democrats, but we need to consider the national political environment. This could be a bad year for Republican recruitment efforts and really good one for Democrats when Democrats already have a strong recruitment advantage (last cycle the ratio was around 14:4:3, D:R:I, D:R it was about 3:1).

9. Is it just me, or is liberal thought, writing, and journalism really fragmented in RI? You have Bob Plain’s RI Future, which has lost a lot of its contributors. Steve Ahlquist has his own ecosystem at UpriseRI. I write over here when the spirit moves me or occasionally I try to contribute out (If you’re reading, I swear I’ll do that housing piece next, Steve!). I don’t have solutions, but I think it is kind of a problem.


But since you’re here, I’m going to do something else I enjoy. Writing about video games.

I spent much of last week agonizing over whether to buy Frostpunk, a steampunk game set in world beset by global freezing. Your goal is to keep your band of refugees fleeing London warm despite subzero temperatures, mainly by keeping a massive generator and furnace lit, while also keeping them fed, healthy, and happy. The creators, 11 Bit Studios, made This War of Mine, an excellent game about attempting to survive as civilians in active war zone inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo.

I will eventually purchase that. But instead, I sank my money into Battletech, a game set in a 31st century where humanity has spread among the stars, and entered a sort of dark age neo-feudal moment, but where wars are mostly fought with giant robots called BattleMechs, and whose pilots are known as MechWarriors (there is a lot of compound word capitalization in this property). The game is made by Harebrained Schemes (best known for rebooting the Shadowrun series) and published by Paradox Interactive (best known developing grand strategy games). BattleTech was a tabletop game initially created in the 1980s, and has persisted in computer game form through a number of properties, most notably the MechWarrior franchise.

I am not that far in, but the gist of it is that you play a MechWarrior, who by various circumstances (you get to pick), has ended up in the service of a sort hereditary oligarchy with some level of democratic features when the princess you serve is betrayed, everyone but you apparently dies, and you’re rescued by a mercenary outfit. Three years later, you meet up with an old friend, and begin a campaign to restore freedom to your small part of the galaxy.

“Controversially,” during character creation, the game gives you an option to select the pronoun people will use for you in-game, whether it’s “she” or “he” or “they”; each selection change the set of faces you get to customize, whether it’s female, male, or both female and male sets (respectively). I didn’t notice until I was going through facial hair choices for what I thought was a fairly androgynous character and thought there was no way this guy could rock that beard. Then I noticed the toggle for pronoun. “Oh,” I thought when I landed on “they”, “that’s nice, it is the 31st century after all.”

Apparently, this has led to negative reviews from very triggered snowflakes, who are very upset that this game means they might experience the use ambiguous pronouns (I think the cohort of English majors who are angry about the use of a singular they is likely small). The developers are accused of taking a stance on a political issue. Of course, that one of the future stellar empires is a socialist, semi-authoritarian state led by a Chinese noble house is not at all political. Few of the gripes about the “they” pronoun have mentioned that you can puts makeup on your manly male character, or give your female character a sweet Hulk Hogan-style horseshoe mustache.

The gameplay is very fun. As the leader of a mercenary outfit, your job is to stay solvent while keeping your crew alive and your mechs in one piece while taking jobs either for pay or to advance the plot. Each contract has a difficulty rating assigned to it by the client, who might be underselling the danger. Missions can vary from “escort this convoy from point A to B” to “blow everything up.” Each MechWarrior has a set of skills you can advance (there are four skills, each with two bonuses; you can upgrade all the skills, but you can only get bonuses from two of the skills, and you can only get both bonuses from one of those two). You then have to slot your MechWarrior into a ‘Mech, which come in four weight classes (Light>Medium>Heavy>Assault).

You can customize your ‘Mechs at the MechBay (yes, the capitalization is tiresome). That customization is fairly important, because it effects how your mech will perform in battle. Too many weapons and not enough heatsinks will cause your mech to overheat in battle, causing severe damage. Too many short-range weapons and you may never be able to close the distance with your enemy before they’ve stripped off all your armor, exposing your pilot to danger. It’s a bit of a balancing act.

The game suffers from some performance issues that the developers are working to patch out, but all-in-all, I’ve enjoyed it so far.

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