Russell Moore: Is Raimondo Just a Smooth Lincoln Chafee?

Monday, October 06, 2014


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Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo, given her stances on major issues that are eerily similar to the Lincoln Chafee's is in a precarious position.

That's because her opponent, Republican Allan Fung, has a real opportunity to tie Raimondo to Chafee, the unpopular governor who was forced to abandon reelection efforts due to low poll numbers, in the next few weeks leading up to the election.

To her credit, Raimondo has been able to avoid such associations given her talent as a politician. She's a gifted speaker with undeniably high levels of intelligence. But the Fung camp has proven that they shouldn't be underestimated. Don't expect them to allow her to sit back and avoid comparisons to Chafee.

Dig in

Dig into the issues and create a grid that compares the two politicians, and it becomes apparent rather fast that the two politicians aren't so far apart on the issues. There's been much made about Raimondo's ties to the financial industry, and for good reason, but that may have given some folks the illusion that the Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate is a centrist. In reality, like Chafee, Raimondo seems most comfortable with the progressive, or put another way, far left.

In fact, Raimondo's affinity for The Hedge Fund Cowboys might be the only thing that differentiates her from Chafee.

For instance, both Raimondo and Chafee are staunch gun control advocates. Both of the two politicians, if they had their way, would ban assault style rifles and other assorted types of weapons. That position, in large part, satisfies the far left side of the political spectrum on that particular issue.

In the same respect, both candidates recognize the importance of courting the Latin American vote. In 2010, then candidate Chafee vowed to rescind the previous Governor's executive order on immigration, created to make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to locate in Rhode Island. And he made good on that promise. 

What's the difference?

Raimondo has tracked a similar course in this year's gubernatorial race. Raimondo has vowed to fight to help make driver's licenses available for illegal aliens--a position that Chafee agrees with wholeheartedly. Both candidates agree that undocumented college students should be allowed in-state tuition rates.

Yet Raimondo and Chafee's agreement on issues doesn't stop at gun control and immigration. The candidates are also perfectly simpatico on the social issues. 

Both of the two Democrats are staunchly pro-choice politicians. Chafee has a long history of supporting abortion, which goes back to his days as a US Senate Republican. Raimondo drove her pro-choice advocacy home with a sledgehammer last week when she very publicly received the endorsement of planned parenthood.

Far left of the spectrum

With respect to health care, Chafee has been a staunch advocate of Obama Care. Under Chafee's leadership, Rhode Island created one of the first health care exchanges. Questions remain, however, as to how the taxpayer's will be able to afford it. Raimondo, for her part, has said that she doesn't support dismantling Health Source RI and returning it to the feds. So the two largely agree on the issue of health care.

Further, Governor Lincoln Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo also agree on the issue of gay marriage. Chafee was the state's most staunch advocate of same sex marriage, and it will likely be known as the biggest hallmark of his administration. Raimondo, for her part, was fighting right alongside the Governor to bring same sex marriage to fruition.

They're Simpatico

Similarly, there's this notion that the two politicians have different economic ideologies. But the proof of that assertion is difficult to ascertain. Both Chafee and Raimondo support raising the minimum wage.

And during Chafee's gubernatorial campaign, he always spoke of his vague plans to develop the land in downtown Providence opened up by moving the highway. The fact that nothing has been accomplished is perhaps the single biggest failure of his administration. 

Raimondo, for her part, has made vague assertions of bringing manufacturing back by locating it on the 195 land a hallmark of her economic plan in this year's race. Whether or not she can make that dream any more of a reality than her Democratic counterpart has remains an open question. But nobody can fault voters for being skeptical after the last four years.

A real contrast

Voters will be presented a question this November as to whether or not the state should elect and convene a Constitutional Convention that could literally reform the government in the state of Rhode Island. Raimondo has come out in opposition to the convention. Chafee, who was a delegate the last time the state convened a convention, has been notably silent on the issue, which is akin to opposition.

On most of those issues, Republican Fung gives voters a contrast in Raimondo, unlike in the Democratic Primary where all three candidates seemed to agree on everything.

Don't be surprised in November if Raimondo is wishing she did more to differentiate herself from Chafee.

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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments. Find Russell J. Moore Twitter @russmoore713.


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Gina Raimondo Has to Answer When Running for Governor

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10. Money

Can she explain the amount of out of state money?

Most of the candidates for Governor need to answer the question, can they raise enough to be competitive? That is not a problem for Raimondo. She has proven to be the most skilled fundraiser, but her issue is justifying that the vast majority of the money is coming from out-of-state.

Raimondo will face a number of questions regarding who is really behind her campaign - the amount of out-of-state dollars is just one of the questions.

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9. Pension Reform

Did she only reform certain pensions?

Raimondo rose to celebrity status because of her leadership on pension reform. Her efforts helped to stabilize the pension system, but the reform was hardly democratic.

Teachers took the vast majority of the hit, while major groups of pensioners escaped reform including the judges, state police and disability pensioners. Raimondo has some explaining to do.

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8. Lack of Transparency

If she lacks transparency as Treasurer, what will it be like as Governor?

From her deepest critics to the media and even members of the retirement board, many have questioned her and her office's willingness to share information and provide the public insights into her management of the investment commission and the performance of the fund under her leadership.

Data which historically was easily accessed by the public and media is now locked behind the Raimondo wall. Often this raises serious questions and forces the media to seek the simplest information via FOIA requests.

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7. Wall Street

Why is Wall Street spending so much money supporting Raimondo?

Raimondo is the queen of fundraising and so much of it derives from the major players on Wall Street.

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6. Performance

Has Raimondo managed the pension fund competently?

The most important job of the General Treasurer might be the management of the state's retirement fund. The blockbuster investigative piece by Stephen Beale unveiled that the pension system under Raimondo lost $200 million

While she may be able to blitz the airwaves with positive messages about her bio and her leadership in pension reform, her Democratic primary competitors and/or her GOP opponent in the General Election may be able to destroy her credibility by playing up her "mismanagement of the pension system."

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5. Hedge Funds

Will Raimondo pay the price for shifting so much of the assets into Hedge Funds?

For the past six months, Raimondo has been under constant critique for shifting more than 20% of the State's retirement dollars into unregulated Hedge Funds. The critics has included forensic auditor/Forbes contributor Ted Siedle, Rolling Stones magazine's star reporter Matt Taibbi, former General Treasurer and candidate again, Frank Caprio, as well as many of the public unions. The combination of where she gets her campaign dollars, coupled with the shift in investment strategy and the under performance of the fund may all build into a snowball effect.

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4. Connect to RIers

Educated at Yale and Harvard, a Rhode Scholar and a millionaire, can she connect to the average RIer?

Raimondo is a born and bred Rhode Islander, but for her adult life she has been educated at the best colleges in the world and living a professional life aligned with many of America's super rich associated with Wall Street. In her announcement she mentioned a number of times she was a mother, but did not mention that her husband is a partner at Mckinsey - and according to Forbes magazine probably takes home $2 million or so per year.

Raimondo talks a lot about her father losing his job when she was a child, but she has come a long way since then. She could come across as the ultimate RI success story or be perceived as an out of touch venture capitalist.

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3. Siedle and Taibbi

Neither Ted Siedle or Matt Taibbi are going away - can she deflect their questions and charges?

In the past two months, both forensic auditor/Forbes columnist Ted Siedle and Rolling Stone's star reporter Matt Taibbi have raised serious issues about Raimondo's motivation and judgment.

As Taibbi wrote, "The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast."

Read more:

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2. Is she a Democrat?

Will Taveras and Pell paint her to be too conservative?

Raimondo is simply hated by the teachers unions and others - big blocks of voters in the Democratic primary. Both Clay Pell and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras will tack to the left and may compete for the same voters allowing her to sneak through to the general. However, progressives and unions may decide to pick Pell over Taveras (who is struggling to raise money and whose track record in Providence may come under fire) and then Pell can take the left leaning primary.

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1. SEC Investigation

Can Raimondo survive an SEC investigation?

Both Siedle and a state senator have written to the SEC calling for an investigation into the investment practices of Raimondo. A federal investigation would be at a minimum a black eye to the General Treasurer and an enforcement action might end a credible campaign. Timing may prove to be everything.


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