Yesterday, the Associated Press broke the story Governor Lincoln Chafee, the state’s first independent governor, would register as a member of the Democratic Party prior to his campaign for re-election in 2014.
Born and raised in Warwick, Chafee spent the early part of his political career as a Republican, inspired to enter the world of politics by his father, the late John Chafee.
The story Chafee will now join the Democratic Party comes along with rumors of who will be running against him in a bid for re-election in 2014.
Ken Block, chairman of the Moderate Party, has already formally stated his intention to run for governor; Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras are suspected to run as well.
Should Chafee register as a Democrat, the primary could be a three-way race with Taveras and Raimondo.
When reached for comment, Fung said a Democratic Chafee wouldn’t change his mind.
“What someone else does really doesn’t have an impact. If he does [register Democrat], it doesn’t have any influence on my decision,” said Fung, adding that he believes Rhode Islanders are looking for capable leaders, regardless of party. “That’s what I’m looking at.”
He does see the effect this could have on the 2014 election however.
“I think it will have an impact on the Democratic primary because it will be a crowded field,” he said. “But I don’t think it will have an impact on the Republican race.”
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, a Republican, said in an e-mail statement, “We all know the governor is a free and independent. This will mark the first time that I will not be allowed to vote for him.”
Speaker Gordon Fox also released a statement on Chafee’s party affiliation.
“The Democratic Party has always been about inclusion, so I am certainly pleased that Governor Chafee has joined our ranks,” said Fox. “I have not had the opportunity to discuss his decision and his future plans, but I look forward to talking about it with him soon. I have enjoyed an excellent personal relationship with the governor and he has always been a true gentleman.”
Late yesterday, according to an article from The Washington Post, President Barack Obama said he was “delighted” to welcome Chafee to the Democratic Party.
“For nearly 30 years, Linc Chafee has served his beloved Rhode Island as an independent thinker and leader who’s unafraid to reach across party lines to get things done. I enjoyed working with Linc when he was a Republican in the United States Senate, and I look forward to continuing that collaboration on the issues that matter not just to the Democratic Party, but to every American,” reads a statement from the president the Post received from the Democratic National Committee.
The Rhode Island public may not take the news the same way President Obama has. When the story was posted on the Beacon’s Facebook page, followers were vocal about their feelings toward the governor.
“He is a traitor to his party. Another reason NOT to vote for him,” said Jane Every Westell. “He’s run out of parties to join now.”
“This isn’t news. He’s been a de facto Democrat since he got into office,” wrote Bernie Stevens.
“Reelection … are you kidding me?” wrote Mary-Ann McCurry.
But Chafee did not begin his political career right off the bat. After graduating from Brown University, the future governor worked as a blacksmith at harness racetracks in the United States and Canada for seven years.
When he returned to Rhode Island, he entered the political arena as a delegate to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention in 1985.
The next year, he came to his hometown to become a member of the Warwick City Council from 1986 to 1991. Then he spent almost seven years as mayor of Warwick, until completing the term of his father who died as a U.S. Senator in 1999.
During his time on Capital Hill, Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against the Iraq War.
In 2006, Chafee lost re-election to Sheldon Whitehouse and returned to Rhode Island. It was then that he left the Republican Party to become an independent.
Before running for governor, Chafee spent two years as a visiting fellow at his alma mater, Brown University, at the Watson Institute for International Study. It was there that he wrote his book, “Against The Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President.”
In 2010, Chafee became Rhode Island’s first independent governor, winning a four-way election between himself, John Robataille, Frank Caprio and Block.
The governor’s office had no comment on Chafee’s rumored joining of the Democratic Party yesterday.
Jonathan Boucher, interim executive director for the Rhode Island Democratic Party, had no official comment either.
“As far as we hear, everything is rumor,” said Boucher. “We haven’t heard anything official yet.”
The Washington Post story also reported that Chafee intended to announce a party affiliation today.