Guest MINDSETTER™ Stewart: Is The Next Governor Lincoln Chafee?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

 

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Lincoln Chafee

Unless you have been comatose for the past few months, you might have noticed that the 2018 gubernatorial race is beginning to rev up and one unexpected (and somewhat ironic) figure who is making an appearance is none other than Lincoln Chafee, the predecessor of current sitting Governor Gina Raimondo. While his seeming effort to resurrect his career strikes me as intriguing, I would argue that he needs to take a few proactive steps here to solidify his efforts and go from a media oddball to a serious contender.

The first would be with regards to style. He badly needs a make-over. The man currently is an oddity as perhaps one of the last living Rockefeller Republicans on earth. Whereas the contemporary Republican Party is a collection of mad hatters and the Democrats a bunch of union-busting Wall Street insiders, Chafee hearkens back to the days when a sizable and respectable branch of the GOP was pro-choice, pro-union, and in favor of the various welfare state programs that define our social safety net. And perhaps such an estimation is, in reality, a bit conservative! Whereas the Rockefeller Republicans were foreign policy hawks, particularly with regards to Vietnam, Chafee has expressed enthusiastic verbiage for the Scandinavian-styled democratic socialist Hugo Chavez in Venezuela despite the nearly 20-year campaign of espionage and sabotage sponsored by the American government. He has emphasized diplomacy over bellicosity with nations that political players more conservative than he demonizes regularly and still has my respect for his opposition to the barbaric and illegal pillage of Iraq. And many will remember in his 38 Studios testimony that he described his successor as ‘Ms. Wall Street’ while scorning the financial industry that the public pension was handed over to. All these points make the case for Chafee to ditch the stuffy country club austerity of his Yankee pedigree in the name of a make-over that would produce a barn-burning populist in the mold of Bernie Sanders, someone who would campaign against Raimondo with scorn for her 1%-er donors and the rhetorical presentation of a prophet. Does he have the guts to burst out of the paddock and become a progressive with a spine? 

Let’s hope so, and here is why. I had the opportunity a few months ago to ask Jack Reed at an East Providence town hall meeting “Senator, do you know how many of you constituents said they voted for Donald Trump ‘because Gina Raimondo took away my COLA’?” His deadpan response, “I would not be surprised”, is the augury of what we face in 2018 if Chafee does not take up the mantle. Alan Fung is aligned with the most reactionary and insanely dangerous elements of the Rhode Island Republican Party, a collection of retrograde ideologies that would be a true detriment for our state. And, given his ability to generate the appearance of an economic renaissance in Cranston through a combination of business tax cuts and privatizations of public services, he would have a serious shot at getting into office whereupon he would work to pass Right to Work legislation. So I need Lincoln Chafee to come out swinging and not hold anything back.

Next would be an economic recovery program, namely by way of infrastructure and other projects for the vital Building and Trades unions that swing many an electoral decision. With school buildings in Providence and other municipalities crumbling, Chafee could and should push for an end to the absurdly dangerous construction ban on the capital city. Simultaneously, he could create more work by emphasizing a transition to a renewable energy grid funded through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. He could propose opening that bank to consumer deposits and checking, creating for low-income voters the opportunity to escape the jaws of parasitic for-profit banks that charge their customers outrageous fines and fees. 

And, while we are at it, he should just save everyone a load of misery and steal Raimondo’s idea of free college tuition by turning it into a campaign plank that would exchange the free education for a term of service as a state worker that has a definite termination date (it’s not like she was ever serious about this anyway and furthermore she quite obviously cribbed it from Bernie Sanders). Rockefeller Republicans were famous for their constituencies within the building trade unions (Google ‘1970 Hard Hat riot’ for proof) and support for higher education (Governor Rockefeller oversaw the conversion of SUNY into a state system) as part of building a great society. Whereas Democrats like Claiborne Pell did this through individual Pell Grants awarded to students on the basis of need, the City University of New York had free tuition which was instituted in 1964 by Mayor Robert Wagner, who is worthy of mention because he also was bucking trends by breaking with the old Tammany machine that had run the Democratic Party for a century.

Chafee could reply to deficit hawks in the General Assembly with this brilliant video of David Graeber, a co-founder of Occupy Wall Street, explaining the way public sector debt helps a local economy. As the Governor who was in charge during the collapse of 38 Studios, he could use his office to push for the appointment of a special prosecutor and cooperate fully with him/her in finally bringing some justice for the taxpayers of Rhode Island. He could end the war on public school teachers and get rid of the awful policies of charter school law breaker Ken Wagner, the current Education Commissioner, by working in tandem with legislators to rewrite the tax code to take on the billionaire class and give relief to the middle class. One of the largest engines of racial segregation and a rightward shift in American politics since World War II has been the coupling of property taxes with education funding that overwhelmingly burdens the middle class while the rich get off scotch free. This, in turn, would reinvigorate local businesses and help rebuild the local economy rather than turning the state into a strip-mine for Wall Street to pillage. 

Such assertiveness would also have the capability of being seen as a sort of peace offering and mea culpa to teacher unions which were forced to endure the miserable behavior of Deborah Gist when Chafee was last in office. While the Ed Commissioner serves at the pleasure of the Board of Regents as opposed to the Governor, Raimondo’s “open door policy” with Wagner has demonstrated the level of interaction and rapport which is possible between the two offices. Shoring up the teacher union votes by scuttling Wagner’s efforts to bust them via “empowerment school” policies and other insults to those who dare do an honest day’s work is quite tangible in this instance. He has previously said "I am wary of charter schools undermining and cherry picking and skimming off the top of our public school system" and that “the notion that our public school systems are in disarray and failing, I don't buy that.”

Off of this, Chafee should promise to utilize his office to regain monies lost by the investment of the pension in hedge funds. It is a very simple matter, Gina Raimondo made a set of promises as Treasurer about how these instruments would deliver returns for our local retirees. Instead, she has caused the single greatest loss of money in Rhode Island history. And what’s more, she profited off this via her own Point Judith II fund and a blind trust that the pension was invested in! In case you missed that, let’s say it one more time with feeling. While retirees are wasting away from a pension fund that is hemorrhaging millions daily, the Governor is one of the people who is pocketing said hemorrhaging money. Furthermore, things enter the realm of insane when we understand the role of these hedge funds in education. Paul Tudor Jones was one of the major recipients of pension funds from the Ocean State. Paul Tudor Jones finances union-busting charter schools. That means every week a local school teacher sees a deduction on their pay stub that is quite literally financing the busting of their own teacher's union! (And this doesn’t even get into the way First Gentleman Andrew Moffit profits from charter schools.) Kafka could not dream up a crazier scheme and Chafee could not ask for a better campaign plank to bash his opponent over the head with, particularly since the NAACP and Movement for Black Lives have both issued calls for national moratoriums on charter school expansion (https://www.blackagendareport.com/naacp_blm_charter_schools).

As a final touch, Chafee could shore up revenues by promising to legalize marijuana, something that is both logical from a fiscal perspective and humane given the toll the opiates crisis is having in this state. During his first stint in the Governor’s office he signed into law the recognition of same-sex marriages, why not double down with another celebratory boost for civil liberties that would also make us look like a forward-thinking state? Anyone at this point who continues to oppose legalizing marijuana when families are being decimated by doctor-prescribed heroin taken in mortal doses is quite literally high as a kite. Just as it was long past time for same-sex marriage so now it is long past time for marijuana legalization.

Can Rhode Island’s most famous political chameleon ride the pink tide that has swept politics in the past 24 months? Will he try to instigate a carnation revolt in local elections? The 2014 election was a three-way race wherein Bob Healey took a significant chunk of Raimondo’s vote in part because he called her out for the First Gentleman’s ties to charter schools and the effort to privatize public infrastructure. Chafee can likewise take that swathe of voters if he comes out swinging and holds nothing back as a loud and proud populist rather than a dyed in the wool WASP. Recent comments by Democratic Party spokesman Billy Lynch makes clear that they are no longer in support of teacher unions, ergo perhaps joining a progressive third party is in the cards. Could it be?

The choice is either a third party or Alan Fung as the next governor. The Democrats have yet to apologize for giving the election to Donald Trump and I see little indication that they are headed for the confessional anytime soon. The unions leaders who refused to read the writing on the wall and insisted on sticking with the neoliberal corporate Democrat despite a popular uprising against that candidate would do well to learn from 2016 nationally and not repeat it in 2018 locally. Could Chafee win an independent bid for office, perhaps leading a slate of third party progressives in 2018? He’s done it before, why not?

 

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Andrew Stewart is a member of the Rhode Island Media Cooperative, an organization created for freelancers by freelancers which you can join for free.

 

Related Slideshow: Potential 2018 Candidates for RI Governor

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GOP/Moderate

Ken Block

The founder of Rhode Island's Moderate Party ran as a GOP candidate for Governor in 2014, but was beat by Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in the primary, 55% to 45%.

The two never made amends and could face each other again. A Block third-party run would almost assuredly mean a Raimondo repeat win.

Block was the champion of eliminating the master lever, but that proved to be a bit of a false god -- the GOP made no gains in the legislature and in fact lost seats. Now, he is calling for line-item veto which may not be the ethics messiah that it is advertised to be.

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GOP

Giovanni Feroce

Everyone knows Feroce as a high profile CEO -- first as head of Alex and Ani and now as the CEO of BENRUS. He is a retired combat Army Major, former State Senator and one of the most high profile Rhode Islanders.

His recent open letter to Brown President Christina Paxson this week went viral, and forced a statement from the Ivy League President after students trashed American flags on campus for Veterans Day. 

He would bring government, military and business experience to the job.

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GOP

Allan Fung

The Mayor of Cranston has a run under his belt, and is widely considered to be making another bid. 

In 2014, Raimondo won 40% of the general election vote, Fung garnered 36%, and the late Bob Healey running under the Moderate Party flag collected 21% of the vote.

Many believe that Block put Healey up to run and cost Fung the Governorship. 

In his re-election effort this fall, Fung racked up nearly 70% of the vote against long-time Democrat politician Mike Sepe.

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GOP

Bobby Nardolillo

The Coventry GOP representative has aspirations of higher office. His family owns one of the largest funeral home companies in Rhode Island, and Nardolillo isn't shy about calling the current Governor out.

He is an outspoken critic of Raimondo and pounds social medial on hot-button issues that he disagrees with her on daily. He is a traditional Republican with a strong base in Coventry - West Warwick - Warwick - Cranston. Those are good places to have a base in a Republican Primary.

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GOP

Anthony Giarrusso

He is the one of the legislature's leading advocates for small business - not a bad message for a Republican primary.

An interesting bio -- grew up in Providence and attended Mount Pleasant High School and CCRI. Today, he represents East Greenwich in the House and is the President of a jewelry company in Johnston. 

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DEM

Gina Raimondo

The first two years has been anything but smooth. She won the Democratic primary with just 42% of the vote and then won the general election with just 40% of the vote.

Her administration has stumbled on staffing, the ill-fated tourism campaign, failure to land GE's headquarters, technology implementation, and most importantly, the lack of economic development. No cranes. She has a fundraising advantage, but as 2016 proved (Clinton outspent Trump 4 to 1 on TV ads) the old rules no longer apply.

The big question today is - just who is her base?

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DEM

Clay Pell

The grandson of one of Rhode Island's most beloved political families finished a reasonable third in the 2014 Democratic three-way primary garnering 27% of the vote. 

His wife was a top Hillary Clinton campaign staffer and with the tough loss, living in RI must look a lot more attractive. As we know, his skating superstar wife Michelle Kwan coupled with deep pockets makes a Pell run very viable in a Democratic primary.

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DEM

Brendan Doherty 

Former Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police Doherty may be in the mix against sitting Governor Gina Raimondo as well. He ran as a Republican against David Cicilline in 2012 and raised $1.47 million. However, the moderate Doherty can't be ruled out for a Democratic run. 

A one-on-one with Raimondo could be interesting as Doherty could argue he knows how to effectively manage an organization. In a three-way with Pell, he could be take the center candidate. If Pell, Raimondo and Doherty were to all go for it, it could be a primary that rivals Bruce Sundlun, Joe Paolino and Frank Flaherty's mega-spend back in 1990.

 
 

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