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McKee inaugurated as R.I. governor, Raimondo confirmed Commerce Secretary

Political figures, community members reflect on former Lt. Governor ascension to governor as Raimondo joins Biden cabinet

Former Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee was ceremoniously sworn in as governor of Rhode Island March 7. McKee takes the place of former Governor Gina Raimondo, who resigned after being nominated as secretary of commerce by President Joe Biden. 

McKee inherits a state combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and financial hardship; still, political leaders in the Ocean State remain optimistic about his tenure as governor.

“Governor McKee brings a valuable perspective as a former municipal leader, which will be important as we work collaboratively to rebuild our state,” Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives K. Joseph Shekarchi wrote in an email to The Herald. McKee was Mayor of Cumberland before becoming lieutenant governor.

McKee “has been a consistent and strong voice on behalf of Rhode Island’s hard-hit small business community, which I’m sure will continue to be a major area of his focus,” Shekarchi wrote.

For Shekarchi, who worked on Raimondo’s first public office campaign for general treasurer in 2010, Raimondo’s appointment is “bittersweet,” because he was excited to work with her upon being elected speaker in January. But Shekarchi is “thrilled she has reached the pinnacle of her personal and professional career in President Biden’s cabinet.”

“From the day I accepted the job to manage her first political campaign when she ran for general treasurer in 2010, I knew she was destined for greatness,” he wrote.

McKee and Raimondo have “very different (leadership) styles, but both are effective,” Shekarchi wrote.

Zoë Mermelstein ’21, president of College Democrats of Rhode Island, said that she was “relieved” to see McKee inaugurated.

“Rhode Island has kind of been in limbo the last few months,” Mermelstein said. Raimondo was nominated for Commerce Secretary in January but did not resign until last week.  “So I'm really glad that (McKee) is in office and hopefully he'll do the work to keep us progressing in a positive way.”

Zack Mezera, organizing director for the Working Families Party of Rhode Island, cited COVID-19 as a primary concern for his organization as McKee takes office. 

The Working Families Party is a minor political party that focuses on improving the lives of working families by supporting candidates who prioritize social, environmental, racial and economic justice in Rhode Island, according to their website.

“The pandemic revealed the fragility of the (Rhode Island) economy,” Mezera said. “The inequity was really unveiled as the consequences of the pandemic rolled out across” the state.

“There's a lot of structural work that we need to be doing long-term, well beyond COVID,” Mermelstein said, to ensure a “more sustainable future for all Rhode Islanders.”

Under McKee, Mezera hopes to see the Rhode Island government “invest in a much higher-level, good-quality economy” to improve the lives of essential, childcare, healthcare and minimum-wage workers, among others financially impacted by the pandemic.

“Regardless of whoever the governor is, we know that in the last election cycle here, people clearly supported and voted for an agenda that was focused on supporting the working class,” Mezera said. “So that's kind of what we want to communicate to whoever the new governor is. And we hope that they’ll take that to heart.”

The Working Families Party focuses less on individual politicians in power and more on “specific issues,” Mezera said. Though the party at times disagreed with former Governor Raimondo, he explained, “there were also so many ways that she invested in priorities that we had,” such as establishing the R.I. Promise Scholarship program, which increased accessibility of post-secondary degrees for residents of the state.

Mermelstein is “optimistic” about McKee’s future as governor, as well as Raimondo’s work as commerce secretary. 

“I think that (Raimondo) is really smart. I think that she has a pedigree in business,” Mermelstein said. Still, the College Democrats of Rhode Island and other progressive groups will be “pushing” Raimondo, as well as the “entire Biden administration,” she said, to prioritize “progressive policies that are supporting … working class Americans.”


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