Yesterday afternoon, Governor Lincoln Chafee gathered members of the press in front of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Cranston to announce that he would not seek re-election in 2014.
Rather than run for a second term, Chafee said he would prefer to focus on continuing to fix the issues in Rhode Island for the next year and a half instead of devoting time to a lengthy campaign.
“We have our challenges,” said Chafee. “I want to focus on that.”
Many speculated that Chafee’s entrance into the Democratic Party last May meant he was looking for support from the party for a re-election campaign. Chafee says that was not the case.
“I wanted to have a political home,” said the governor. He added that he has enjoyed his time with the party so far and plans to support Democratic candidates in Rhode Island and throughout the country in the future.
The governor was also asked if any health concerns played into his decision; he said that his health is fine. Chafee pointed out that campaigns are “hugely time consuming” and he would rather focus on the task at hand, continuing to move the state forward.
Chafee chose to make his announcement in front of the DMV because lowering the wait time at the DMV is one of the many positive changes he was able to make during his term. Chafee also said investing in education, infrastructure, workforce development and struggling cities and towns are other things he is especially proud of.
“They all lead to a better economy,” he said.
Chafee said he believes his father, John Chafee, would be happy with his decision and even quoted some advice from the late senator.
“He always said leave the workplace better than you found it,” said Chafee, adding that he believes he has done that.
Chafee said his decision did not come without a great deal of consideration over the summer months and many discussions with his family. He says the discussion intensified in August when he spent a week in Maine. He said the opportunity to get away allowed him time to think and discuss things with his wife, Stephanie.
“We always talked about these decisions,” said Chafee, referring to all of his various political career moves.
Chafee’s elective political career took root as a Warwick city councilman in 1985. He was elected Warwick mayor in 1992. He was then appointed by Governor Lincoln Almond to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant following the sudden death of his father. Chafee was a senator from October 1999 until he lost his seat in the 2006 election to Sheldon Whitehouse.
He then ran for governor in 2010, winning in a seven-way race as an independent.
“I enjoyed all my jobs. They’ve all been very different,” said Chafee.
Looking forward, Chafee said he has no plans to seek another political seat or appointment.
He was also asked if he would endorse any of the rumored Democratic candidates for governor, specifically Providence Mayor Angel Taveras or General Treasurer Gina Raimondo.
“I am not going to support anyone at this time,” responded Chafee.
Raimondo and Tavares, however, both released statements late yesterday thanking the governor for his service.
“I would like to thank Governor Chafee for his many years of public service to the state of Rhode Island. Like his father before him, the governor always had Rhode Island's best interests at heart and was an unfailing optimist during very difficult times,” said Raimondo. “I enjoyed working with him in public life and wish him and his family the best in the years ahead. I also look forward to finding ways to work together with him in the future to continue to move Rhode Island forward.”
“I have a great deal of respect for Governor Chafee. He is a man of integrity who has dedicated his career to public service. Governor Chafee understands the need to support cities and towns. My office has worked closely with the governor’s office and will continue to do so for the rest of his term,” said Taveras.
Leaders in the General Assembly also expressed their support and thanks to the governor.
“I have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Governor Chafee and I am sure that it will continue throughout the remainder of his term,” Speaker of the House Gordon Fox said in a statement. “We worked well together on many important issues, from economic matters and retirement security to education reform and marriage equality. He has always been a true gentleman with great character and compassion. In making his decisions, I am convinced that Governor Chafee always had the best interests of the citizens of the state in mind. I wish him well in his plans beyond the governor’s office.”
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed expressed a similar sentiment.
“I have had the privilege of working alongside Governor Chafee throughout his term. He is a sincere leader who has had the courage to address the challenges facing our state, including pension reform and improving the DMV. I appreciate his strong commitment to education, improving our infrastructure and increasing funding for municipalities. He makes decisions based upon the courage of his convictions to make Rhode Island a better place. I look forward to working with him over the next 16 months, and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors,” said Paiva Weed.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian also had only kind words to say about the governor following the announcement.
“Linc Chafee served this city as a member of the State Constitutional Convention, City Council, Mayor, United States Senator and Governor. He is best known for his unyielding efforts to protect our environment, purchase open space and protect farmland. I can only wish the governor, Stephanie, Louisa, Caleb and Thea all the best in the future,” said Avedisian in an e-mail statement to the Beacon.
As for his own political future, Avedisian said he is still considering his options and the governor’s announcement is not affecting his decision in any way.
“It is too soon to think about any decision concerning what I might do next year. I have been contemplating a number of possibilities and the decision by the governor today does not change my process,” said Avedisian.
Chafee said he had done no polling regarding his chances in the Democratic primary before making his decision. In fact, he said he feels he would have won re-election.
“I’ve always been competitive,” he said.
Despite his competitive nature, Chafee said he feels “very good” about his decision.
While he said he knew what he was getting into when he ran for governor, Chafee admitted he did find the position more difficult in terms of what he called “irrational negativity.” Chafee cited the last year’s holiday tree/Christmas tree issue as an example.
“We want a civil society in Rhode Island,” said Chafee.
Chafee’s former press secretary from his days as Warwick mayor, Debbie Rich, was at the press conference because of her position as the public information officer for DMV.
“I’ve worked with Lincoln Chafee since 1997; nothing surprises me,” said Rich when asked what she thought.
She said that Chafee seems comfortable with his decision.
“He is staying focused,” said Rich. “Focused on his work instead of a campaign. Once again, he is thinking of the people as a whole.”
Chafee reiterated that he has no plans to seek public office after the completion of his term, but he cannot rule it out entirely. “Who knows,” responded Chafee when asked if he was done with politics forever.
In terms of the 2014 governor’s race, only Ken Block, founder of the Moderate Party, has formally declared his intention to run.