At a press conference last week, Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 announced he will not seek re-election next fall, saying he wants instead to focus the remainder of his term on addressing state issues. Chafee, who this past May changed his political allegiance from Independent to Democrat, had been expected to participate in a heated gubernatorial primary against rising two Democratic stars: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo. While Chafee’s decision not to run could constitute a sort of retirement from politics, it is the best decision for Rhode Island and, we believe, for Chafee himself.
Because Chafee will not run, he can devote his energy to pressing state issues, a focus that will benefit the state. Rhode Island’s flagging economy requires the governor’s full attention: The state’s 8.9 percent unemployment rate is a full 1.5 percentage points higher than the national statistic. Furthermore, Rhode Island currently has the second-worst rate of private sector growth since the 1990s. Its roughly 4.6 percent growth in that time pales in comparison to the national rate of 25.6 percent. Chafee cannot completely resolve these issues in one year, but eliminating the amount of time he would spend fundraising and campaigning will give his office the chance to make some real progress and focus on these fiscal woes.
Moreover, Chafee has proven that he does not bow to party interests, having switched from a Republican to an Independent in 2007 and to a Democrat in 2013. Now that he is not seeking re-election, he can freely pursue innovative solutions without fearing political repercussions.
By exiting the gubernatorial election, Chafee also spares the state at least part of what was sure to be a contentious and expensive primary battle on the Democratic side. Taveras and Raimondo now almost surely become the two frontrunners, though it remains to be seen how Chafee’s supporters will split between them. Had Chafee run, he likely would have lost: A poll conducted February by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions found the incumbent had exceptionally poor approval ratings compared with his potential primary challengers.
Chafee, a former Republican and Independent, would have split the Democratic Party in Rhode Island further by entering the race with the support he carries from moderate voters as well as the backing of labor unions. Though other contenders may join the race now that Chafee is not participating, his departure essentially whittles the list of eventual Democratic candidates down to two.
Chafee’s announcement, made quietly in the parking lot of Cranston’s Department of Motor Vehicles, reflects the unassuming way in which he has conducted himself as governor. Though he may not have held answers to the state’s toughest economic problems, he did reduce the state’s unemployment rate from 11.5 percent to its current rate. He also increased aid for education and streamlined the DMV. His decision not to run suggests Chafee realized he would likely lose a re-election campaign and that his time would be better spent focusing solely on improving Rhode Island.
With this pragmatic decision, Chafee is setting a model for how one should depart a public office. He has surprised the public before, with his two changes in party loyalty, and he may indeed surprise again by taking his political career in a new direction entirely. Regardless, Chafee has exhibited prudence and pragmatism with this decision, and more politicians should follow his example.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to email@example.com.