Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14, independent candidate for governor, spoke with The Herald before Thursday's gubernatorial debate.
The Herald: As governor What would your top priorities be?
Lincoln Chafee: I call them the A, B, C's — make our assets work better for us. We talked about that tonight, the knowledge district that we opened up, connecting the Amtrak line to the airport, also investing in Quonset Point, (we) didn't get a chance to talk about that but that's a billion dollars in the last 10 years of infrastructure improvements. That's a huge investment. And creating assets to me is having a fair budget process so that companies have some certainty in what they're going to confront when they come to Rhode Island. And the C is very, very important — corruption. Rhode Island is just plagued by stories such as the North Providence corruption. That word spreads throughout the country —‘don't go to Rhode Island,' and we have to change that.
What do you think of the tone of this campaign? As someone with a lengthy career in politics, do you think this race for governor is particularly contentious?
This latest incident where my campaign manager's unemployment files were illegally released, that's something a little different from any other campaign. Somehow, somebody got access to his unemployment records, and it's illegal to share that confidential information. So it has taken a darker turn, I think, than any of my previous campaigns just today.
Could you comment on the allegations against your former campaign manager and how they arose?
What happened is I remember he was very, very careful not to have overlap of coming onto my campaign and the payment of his unemployment benefits. He was very adamant that we be careful about that, but as it turned out, the payroll company that we hired found that although he was paid on January 15th, it wasn't for that two week period, which he was working for the campaign in January. That payment period went for the last two weeks of December, even though that first check came on January 15th, so now he has an overlap, and I think the payment is $458. When our treasurer picked up on it, unbeknownst to my campaign manager, he did put it in our campaign filing report, so we had some responsibility in the campaign, and he submitted his resignation. But now the leak that involved the information is getting more suspicious that it's connected to the Caprio campaign.
How is there a connection?
My campaign manager, when he was working for the state, worked for the Department of Higher Education. That was his state job, and when he was laid off, he continued to collect benefits from the Department of Higher Education. Judge Caprio, my opponent's father, is chairman of the Board of Higher Education. Now as we looked at this, we thought, ‘well I didn't know initially that the Department of Higher Education would be aware of benefits being paid.' I thought it all came from the Department of Labor and Training. … But in further research today we found out that the Department of Higher Education knows what is being paid out to their former employees. So that made us suspicious. We want to find out who leaked this information — it's illegal. All the (Department of Labor and Training) or the Department of Higher Education had to do was call us and say there's an overlap, and of course we would have sent in the $458 and said that's a mistake, but when it turns into a campaign issue, then that's illegal.
What would you do to jumpstart Rhode Island's economy and create jobs for Rhode Islanders given the constraints on the state's budget?
I think my A, B, C's are very, very relevant, and they are specific. Take our assets — the day I'm elected I'm going to start making plans to go to Houston and see what they're doing right. And in the Station District, there's already some construction that has been planned, but they need tenants in the buildings before they break ground, so we can capitalize on our investment there. So it is starting on day one, taking these assets and making them work better for us and then having a good Budget that's relevant to getting our economy going and getting people back to work. And Corruption — on day one I'll be making sure that we do everything possible that in Rhode Island we're not only going to be doing business legally, but ethically. That's going to be my mantra. Is it legal? Is it ethical?
Speaking of the budget deficit — a projected $330 million for 2012 — what would you do to ensure Rhode Island remains solvent?
Well, my proposal is to have a two-tier sales tax that other states also have. Tennessee has it; Illinois has it. And the lower rate on the exempt items in my proposal is 1 percent, and that would generate $100 million. Just 1 percent on all our exempt items. You go and spend $50 on groceries, that's 50 cents more. I think most shoppers can handle that to get us out of the deficit. $100 is a dollar more to get us out of the deficit and not pass it down to the property taxpayer.
Do you regret having proposed the tax increase so early in the campaign given the target that it has become for your opponents?
No, I couldn't run a campaign without being honest with the voters. If this is my plan that I'm going to do when I get in office, I'm going to share it with them over the course of the campaign. I'm not running just to win. I'm running to govern.
As a 1975 Brown graduate, do you have any favorite memories from Brown or experiences here that might inform your tenure as governor?
They were all good. I had a great four years here. For some reason I just heard on the radio this Bruce Springsteen song, the song he played on the Pembroke Campus in Alumni Hall before he really got famous. I don't know if that's relevant to being governor, but it's certainly a memory. But in helping me govern, of course, teachers, the great teachers. I majored in classics, and that has been a good foundation for good decision-making, relying on ancient and historic perspectives.
Why did you decide to run as an independent?
I disaffiliated from the Republican Party before I decided to run. So I was an independent, and when I decided to run, I started looking. I didn't want to be a Democrat. That was a crowded field at the time, about five Democrats wanted to run. It thinned out until no one ended up in the primary except Mr. Caprio. So I did look at other parties—the Green Party, the Libertarian Party. I even went online to see if any party would fit, and I couldn't find anything. So I'm just an unaffiliated independent.