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Gov.’s chief of staff speaks about career path, achieving bipartisan objectives

Brett P. Smiley speaks at U., discusses changing demographics in Rhode Island

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Brett P. Smiley, Gov. Gina Raimondo’s chief of staff, came to the University Monday to talk about his experience in politics, his responsibilities as chief of staff and bipartisanship in the Rhode Island State House. The event was organized by No Labels at Brown University, a student organization that promotes bipartisan cooperation on campus to solve local and national problems.

Smiley began his speech by talking about his early career in politics, working on campaigns and in district offices in Illinois and California before coming to Rhode Island. He said that he decided to come to Rhode Island in January 2006 to work for then Lt. Gov. Charlie Fogarty. “I like to say that I moved here for a nine-month job 11 years ago and never left,” Smiley said.

Once he got to Providence, Smiley put down roots: he started his own political fundraising business and founded the Consulting Group, LLC, a political consulting firm. He also ran for mayor of Providence briefly but dropped out to help Mayor Jorge Elorza win the bid. He went on to work for Elorza for two years.

At this point in his career, Smiley maintains an open mind when it comes to potential clients: as a gay man, he wouldn’t work for anyone who is homophobic or a bigot, he said, but other than that, he is open to working with anyone, and “everything is negotiable.”

As the current Chief of Staff in the Raimondo administration, Smiley said he is responsible for balancing different political objectives, making difficult decisions on budgetary items and negotiating between a variety of stakeholders in the state.

Moving forward, Smiley posed a couple of tips for what the Democratic Party needs to do in a post-2016 political climate. He posited that people prefer more authentic candidates who are not afraid of taking bold positions, adding that this was an important reason for Trump’s success. Mayors and governors should be more involved in the party too, he said. 

When Smiley opened the room for questions, one student asked how to push local political officials into making the jump to national offices.

In response, Smiley said that we have to convince local mayors and governors to run for federal positions, especially congress, because these local officials have a different approach to problem solving. This diversity of perspectives will benefit the federal government, he said.

Another student at the event asked Smiley how the decline of unions in the state might impact voting patterns, particularly as historical political coalitions built from them weaken.

Smiley said other demographic changes, like the growth of Latino populations in the state, has affected voting patterns more than the decline of unions.

Smiley criticized the congress in the Trump administration as ineffective. Federal disfunction affects Rhode Island on the state level, he said, citing health care as a sector that has been under considerable stress in the state due to national policy uncertainty.

But there is hope for a bipartisan country, Smiley said, noting that, in spite of the high levels of national partisanship, Democrats and Republicans are working together on the opioid crisis, transportation infrastructure and power sector transformation.