At the beginning of June, Governor Lincoln Chafee announced a change in party affiliation … again. The once Republican Senator turned Independent Governor has now changed uniforms once again to that of a Democrat.
In a Guest Mindsetter® opinion piece with GoLocal Providence, Chafee wrote, “This isn’t about politics, it’s about principles. For nearly three decades, I have been in public service to do what is right for the people of Rhode Island. Today, with this decision, I believe I am advancing that cause.”
Actually, having one of the lowest (if not the absolute lowest) approval ratings of governors in the nation, this was a no lose situation. His meeting with Obama resulted in a presidential endorsement and the opportunity to raise national contributions to supplement his war chest for a difficult 2014 Democratic primary battle against the money-train General Treasurer, Gina Raimondo, and the well-liked Mayor Angel Taveras. The switch to D on the ballot could also win him back some of the unions he lost by backing down to Raimondo in the state pension cuts. Yes, pension cuts. Not reform. The worst that comes out of this is a loss followed by a likely Presidential appointment to a D.C. position as a consolation prize.
“Education. Infrastructure. Workforce development. Tax relief for middle class Rhode Islanders. Quality, affordable health care. Environmental protection. Tolerance of diversity. These are my priorities and guiding principles as governor.” Wrote Chafee, “They are the same priorities I have always had, since I started my career as a Republican. But as I survey the political landscape, I realize that these priorities are overwhelmingly the priorities of one party – the Democrats.”
Perhaps, then, he should show more initiative as a governor to embrace these guiding principles. Christine Hunsinger, Governor Chafee’s communications and media relations director, said that Chafee stands strong on lowering the corporate tax. Furthermore, Chafee’s office responded to questions about Rhode Islanders for Tax Equity’s proposal of raising taxes 2 percent on those earning $250,000 and over by saying that the Governor supports increasing taxes on the rich on a national level, but the measure has demonstrated an adverse impact on a state level due to close proximity with neighboring state’s borders. So much for the middle class. He has taken recent steps on environmental protection by hiring former Ocean State Action leader and environmental activist, Kate Brock, as a policy analyst. That is a step in the right direction. Workforce development has certainly failed, seeing as the state unemployment rate has ticked up another tenth of a point and still remains well above the national average. Jobs are still being lost in the thousands every month and the RI Department of Labor and Training faces a FY ‘14 reduction in budget of $131 million. Again, so much for the middle class. Education has been a fiasco with protests by students, parents and teachers over high-stakes testing and his continued support of the less than popular Education Commissioner Gist. In all, Chafee has not acted much like a Democrat.
Finally, although a second term can’t be discounted as a possibility, his move may have one altruistic outcome in the likely event of his loss. Chafee could make rain for Raimondo and, if that doesn’t win him back a portion of union support, it will generate a split of less progressive Democratic voters and hand the primary to Taveras.
A final note from his explanation to GoLocal for his decision to choose yet another party, “Dad chose to name me after one of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln, father of the Republican Party. I recently came across a quote attributed to my namesake that I believe is fitting for the decision I have made. ‘I am not bound to win,’ he said, ‘but I am bound to be true … I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him when he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.’” Yes. He quoted the father of the Republican Party to describe his change from Independent to Democrat. Perhaps he’ll quote Ross Perot when he switches to the Cool Moose party in 2018.