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Metro, News

Brown political community reacts to Raimondo commerce nomination

Students across the political spectrum react with support, apprehension, opposition to Biden’s cabinet pick

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2021

If Gov. Raimondo’s nomination to Biden’s cabinet is confirmed by the Senate, her vacancy will be filled by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee.

President-elect Joe Biden has officially tapped Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo for Commerce Secretary, calling her “one of the most effective, forward-thinking governors in America.” 

Raimondo’s nomination coincides with an economic crisis, which has caused 22 million Americans to lose their jobs due to the pandemic. 

Three students across the political spectrum discussed their thoughts and apprehensions about the governor’s new cabinet role, which she would step into if confirmed by the Senate.

Raimondo “has done a lot for Rhode Island,” Vice President of the Brown College Democrats Morgan Awner ’21 told The Herald. Awner pointed at the Ocean State’s unemployment rates prior to the pandemic, crediting Raimondo with bringing that rate down to an average of 3.4 percent in January 2020.

Brown College Republicans President Jess McDonald ’21 said that while Raimondo’s politics do not align with all of her views, the governor has done some “good things” for small businesses and is “well-qualified” for the cabinet position. 

Raimondo is currently serving her second term as RI governor, and she is also the first woman to have held the position. Before becoming governor, Raimondo served as general treasurer of Rhode Island from 2011 to 2015. She co-founded the state’s first venture capital firm in 2000, Point Judith Capital. Raimondo, a Rhodes Scholar, holds degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Yale.

Prior to Biden’s announcement of his latest slate of Cabinet picks, the president-elect was rumored to be considering a Republican for the Commerce appointment to reach across the aisle, or a CEO in a neutral effort to appeal to the business community.

“I, of course, would love to see someone from the other side in and sort of get that unity going,” McDonald said. “Someone like a CEO would also be a really good choice because having that business experience” would allow the commerce secretary to “bring a new perspective.”

The governor’s nomination has both local and national ramifications. Lt. Gov. Dan McKee will fill Raimondo’s vacancy if her nomination is approved. 

“Looking forward, I know that the person who’s coming in to take her place, McKee, he’s supposed to be even better for small business,” McDonald said. “So that is another plus of the nomination that she’s getting.”

But Awner is concerned with McKee’s track record of supporting charter schools amid what she called the “dire state” of Rhode Island public schools. His advocacy for charter schools is a “dangerous thing right now,” Awner said. “That’s just not where our state resources need to go.”

A 2018 report from Johns Hopkins University found systemic failings within the Providence Public School District, and led to a state takeover of the PPSD. In the wake of the takeover in 2019, Providence legislators continue to grapple with allocating resources across public and charter schools. 

Raimondo’s nomination has also generated backlash from environmentalists, including members of the Brown community. 

“If (Raimondo is) going to become a secretary in charge of helping to rebuild our national economy, we think there should really be someone there who’s going to place climate change in that action seriously,” said Peder Schaefer ’22.5, a former Senior Staff Writer for The Herald. “And a lot of her history doesn’t show that.” 

Schaefer, who is originally from Providence, is a member of Sunrise Providence, one hub of the national youth-led movement advocating for political action on the climate crisis.

Raimondo passed an executive order in 2020 to shift the state entirely to renewable energy by 2030. But in 2018, Raimondo supported a power plant proposal by Invenergy in Burrillville, as well as National Grid’s liquefied natural gas facility in Providence. Both projects received opposition from climate activists. The Burrillville proposal ultimately did not come to fruition. 

The governor’s nomination is “an example of another corporate appointment by Biden,” Schaefer added. “It just shows even further how much more pressure we need to continue to put on the Biden administration to try and get serious climate change policy done.”

Raimondo’s history as a venture capitalist with ties to Wall Street is one some progressives like Schaefer have taken issue with. “I don’t think that’s the kind of leadership we need in D.C.,” Schaefer said.

Though Biden has deemed the climate crisis one of his priorities, Schaefer believes that Raimondo’s nomination may ultimately be a step backward.

Biden “has been receptive to listening to the Sunrise Movement. At this point, of course, we need to see actual changes there. Having John Kerry appointed, having a domestic climate change office — these are positive steps in the right direction,” Schaefer said. But “I don’t think frankly Raimondo is a very good appointment moving in that direction.”

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