At midpoint: Is Gina real deal or great pretender
With half of her term already transpired, has Governor Gina Raimondo taken courageous political stands or has she preferred to focus on building a public relations portfolio? Every politician is driven by ambition. Ideally, a leader must find a pathway to achieve both goals simultaneously. There is a consistent conundrum with our governor regarding this paradox. Are her actions as governor driven by the glow of a federal office on the horizon or the fulfillment of her oath as Rhode Island’s governor or both?
On the face of the simple examination of her credentials, Gina is an extraordinarily accomplished individual. Arguably, she might be more credentialed than her 74 predecessors. Whether those past victories of academia and the business world have produced a juggernaut serving the public good or an imperious opportunist is for the voter to determine by the results of her tenure in office.
Well half of that tenure is over and we should examine what was promised in the gubernatorial campaign, what has been acted upon, what intentions have been left unfulfilled and what programs and initiatives became colossal failures.
We all know the back-story of our governor, as do most people nationally due to excellent marketing by friends of Gina. A local girl from Smithfield with a watch factory father who rose to the gleaming heights of success attended Harvard, Yale, and Oxford and then went on to conquer the financial world. Following those milestones, she ran for General Treasurer and prevailed. Once in office, she was portrayed as diminutive knight slaying the gigantic dragon of an excessive and doomed state pension system. Her pension law revision gained national acclaim and as a result, she surfed on the wave of that attention right into the governor’s chair.
Along with the positive publicity from her pension progression, Raimondo cultivated a campaign of can-do messaging regarding restoring manufacturing, infrastructure renewal, job creation, providing driver licenses for illegal immigrants, igniting new construction projects in the capital city (cranes in the sky), strengthening gun laws, and finding business suitors for archaic albatrosses like the Industrial Trust Tower (the Superman Building).
In a three-way race, she won the governorship with a slight plurality of about 40 percent. Unfortunately, according to a Brown University Poll last year, Raimondo has lost ground with the electorate with her approval rating dropping to 31 percent.
Thus, begging the question has she followed through on her campaign promises? Or perhaps equally important, has her management of the executive branch of our government met the expected level of competence indicated by her resume?
Once the definitive manufacturing center of textiles and jewelry in the United States, Rhode Island has for decades waned as a decaying mill state where productive working-class and middle-class citizens have been replaced by chronically unemployed people connected to an umbilical cord of social services. Raimondo’s laudable goal of restoring manufacturing greatness is thwarted by several factors. Offshore manufacturing which is free of costly OSHA safety standards, union membership, mandatory pollution controls, and no minimum wage requirements are tough to compete with. Also, Rhode Island has one of the highest energy costs in the country, along with the second highest commercial taxation rates and stifling regulation, consequently, the Ocean State is simply not attractive to grand manufacturing unless we either dramatically reduce our taxes and regulations or we give away the store with tax breaks and incentives to specific courted businesses. Governor Raimondo chose the latter of the two options.
Gina has enticed a few businesses to plant themselves here through individual tax breaks and various incentives. Wexford Science and Technology on the 195 land, General Electric Digital will employ about 100 people in Downtown Providence, Johnson and Johnson will employ about 75 people and Virgin Pulse will operate in the old Fountain Street Providence Journal Building. These deals can be considered victories of a sort. A candidate could herald them in a campaign. However, considering the giveaways needed to seal the deals and the low number of possible workers, how significant could they be considered to be?
On the other hand, if Governor Gina concentrated her efforts on substantially reducing business taxation and regulations the state would not have charm small employers with gifts. Prospective businesses would want to establish their companies here. Furthermore, if she truly wanted to try to reinvigorate manufacturing, she should push to make Rhode Island a “Right to Work” state. Right to Work states that do not necessarily require union membership of workers, instead offer it is an option for the individual, have consistently seen a revival in manufacturing comparatively.
Regarding infrastructure, Raimondo in cooperation with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, jammed through the “Rhode Works” law. This truck tolling program was overwhelmingly rejected by the populous. Polls had shown that over 60 percent of Rhode Islanders did not want the tolling scheme and believe it will inevitably eventually include passenger cars. Rather than put such an important matter to referendum, Raimondo and Mattiello pushed it through although it was converse to the public will. Raimondo has heralded Rhode Works as a great victory.
Rhode Works made Governor Gina the darling of the building trades. The four construction companies that receive all the road construction contracts will be flush for the foreseeable future. Similarly, Raimondo restored state aid for school construction and created a school building authority to help rebuild schools. Considering the condition of some of our inner city schools, the governor should be appreciated for this. Even though one cannot see cranes in the sky, a few restored classrooms will be a pleasant sight indeed.
Another campaign promise of strengthening our already stringent gun laws dropped like a lead balloon on Smith Hill, as it should have.
Similarly, trying to find uses for shadows of the productive past like the Superman Building is a fool’s errand. Raimondo’s ardent intervention in these far-fetched resurrections have a degree of nobility in them, but the image of Providence with its incredibly high taxation, enumerable homeless, and downtrodden financial future is too much to overcome. Further, both the city and state taxpayer do not want to open their purses to restore such edifices of the distant glorious past.
Regarding the governor’s affinity for those illegal residents who flaunt our system of laws, her notion of providing drivers licenses for these lawbreakers is currently in legislative limbo. Hopefully, it will remain there.
Besides these various efforts, the governor has some colossal failures. She wasted $550,000 of taxpayer money on an advertising campaign (Cooler and Warmer) that any high school student with a graphics arts program on their computer could have done better. This expenditure was part of a $5 million tourism program that by any measurement is total waste of money and effort.
Equally depressing, is the debacle known as the United Healthcare Infrastructure Project (UHIP). This 364 million dollar system’s implementation was an unmitigated disaster. Many of our most needy citizens lost their access to support, food, and health care. Raimondo came across as indifferent and ill-informed when the crisis erupted. Emergency actions that would have lessened the strife endured by the lower echelon of our society were not enacted. This was perhaps her worst public mistake and the adverse public relations legacy of this problem will hover over her like an apparition in further campaigns.
In answer to the aforementioned query is the governor driven by the heights of unbridled political ambition or by her sense of duty to Rhode Islanders, I would say both. Her tenure so far has been a mixed bag of good intentions, hesitant actions driven by worrisome future political ramifications, and a wrong-headed paradigm on how to restore Rhode Island’s competitiveness.
Blessed with a brilliant mind, if she were to change her mindset from the interventionist progressive governmental model to one of laissez-faire (hands-off), lower taxation, deregulation, and equivalent treatment of businesses (no special deals), she would indeed fulfill both of her objectives. Then she would emerge as the Real Deal and the sky would be the limit politically.