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Rhode Island Governor urges women to engage in politics

Gov. Gina Raimondo encouraged students to work in Providence, run for public office

By and
Senior Staff Writer and Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The governor emphasized her desire to see students living, working and contributing to the betterment of Rhode Island after their graduation.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo encouraged students — and women in particular — to participate in the political process during a discussion hosted by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs Tuesday evening. She also voiced a keen interest in incentivizing University students to remain in Rhode Island post-graduation.

Raimondo discussed political involvement and her political leadership in Rhode Island during a conversation moderated by Cathy Russell, former U.S. ambassador at-large for global women’s issues. Students and faculty, as well as University and Providence community members, attended the event in the Metcalf Research Building.

One of only six female governors in the country, Raimondo told The Herald “it’s very challenging to be a female chief executive, particularly in the public sector.”

While Raimondo knew before running for office that few women hold positions of power in politics, “it’s surprising to live it,” she said. Women succeed to the same degree as men in school, but once they reach the business or political world, female participation drops, she added.

Both Raimondo and Russell said that women need to take more prominent roles in top positions. “It’s really important to get in the game and stay in the game,” Raimondo said, adding that women will only enter government if they see other women leading and taking risks.

“You make better decisions if you’re surrounded by a diverse group of people,” Raimondo told The Herald.

“I would have loved for her to be a little bit more intersectional with some of the topics she discussed. As a woman of color, those red flags …  stick up to me,” said Alisha Thompson, research fellow at The Swearer Center for Public Service who attended the talk. “She’s a great speaker, and she’s doing more than other governors do.”

Students need to participate in the political process, Raimondo said, even though “it’s easy to be so frustrated. … Lots of us are angry with what we’re seeing in the political world.”

“No one has the luxury of sitting on the sideline,” Russell said.

Raimondo also discussed her frustration with President Trump and the effects of his presidency on state governments. “What I see in Washington is a lack of leadership. … So, it’s incumbent upon governors to make up for that lack,” she said.

For example, Raimondo initiated an effort to fund the payment of renewal fees for Rhode Island residents who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as The Herald previously reported. “I don’t think it’s a good change,” Raimondo said about states needing to take action where the federal government has not. “I have one million people depending on me to do my job,” she said, adding that pushing federal issues to the state level “is not a sustainable situation.”

Raimondo also addressed the state economy in her discussion. “I’ve taken over a state that needs a lot of help. … By a lot of measures, we’ve been stuck for 20 years,” she said.

“I can’t build a great economy without talent,” she said, adding that she would love for University students to work and live in Rhode Island after graduation, a theme she repeated throughout the hour-long talk. Students who remain in the state and work in fields related to science, technology, engineering, math and art are eligible for the Wavemaker fellowship, which provides a financial incentive to stay, she said.

Raimondo often works with the University on economic development projects, including the recent Wexford Innovation Center, she said. “I’ve been able to recruit GE Digital, Johnson and Johnson (and others),” she said. “All those companies are coming here for our talent. … I leverage Brown, and our other universities, to bring these companies here.”

Javier Juarez MA’18 praised Raimondo’s work as governor. Juarez, who has spoken with the governor in the past, cited his admiration for her efforts to make college more affordable.

Raimondo recently signed into law a bill that makes tuition free for all in-state residents who attend the Community College of Rhode Island.

“She came through, so that’s why I came here to support her,” Juarez said.

Raimondo also answered questions during the talk. In the current media environment, the governor’s office relies more on social media and Facebook than traditional journalism, Raimondo said when asked about the relationship between politics and the media by Edward Steinfeld, director of the Watson Institute.

“It’s almost impossible to get the news out,” she said, adding that the Providence Journal “is a shadow of its former self.”

Raimondo also answered student questions on a variety of her recent actions as governor. Earlier this year, Raimondo hired the state’s first ever food “czar,” whom she tasked with creating a statewide food policy. The new policy supports local farms, creates training opportunities for aging industries like commercial fishing and encourages restaurants, large companies and even the University to buy local foods, Raimondo said. “This is what happens if you have an Italian governor: a premium focus on food,” she said.