Chafee takes issue with Raimondo’s policies, ‘general competence’

Chafee takes issue with Raimondo’s policies, ‘general competence’


PROVIDENCE — Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee, taking a break from what he describes as a sabbatical of “rest and renewal,” is reinserting his voice into state politics by criticizing his successor and a fellow Democrat, Gov. Gina Raimondo.

The former Democratic presidential candidate and one-term governor said in an interview Monday that he doesn’t “have any plans at this time” to try to unseat Raimondo in 2018. But he said he has grown concerned about the “general competence” of her administration in handling a host of issues.

“Making the trains run on time, so to speak,” said Chafee, as he listed a series of problems involving the state’s child welfare agency, a faulty new computer system for distributing public benefits, and a botched tourism campaign. He also questioned some of Raimondo’s “big-ticket” priorities, especially an economic development strategy that involves awarding businesses with tax credits and other incentives.

“It’s huge amounts of money that the studies show don’t work,” Chafee said.

Raimondo’s administration responded by saying that Rhode Island during the Chafee administration had one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates but now private sector firms are investing and hiring and unemployment is below the national average.

“We’ve made a lot of progress since then,” said Matt Sheaff, a spokesman for the state Commerce Corporation.

When Raimondo took office in 2015, Chafee said he wanted “to let the new administration move forward without any commentary from the sidelines.” But he said it’s now an appropriate time for him to speak out.

Speaking by phone, Chafee expanded on comments he made in a letter to the state’s economic development agency ahead of a Monday meeting. In the letter obtained by WPRI-TV on Sunday, Chafee advised Commerce Corporation board members to “redirect” millions of dollars that Raimondo wants to spend on business incentives for a new technology complex near downtown Providence.

The board on Monday night was expected to approve $13.5 million in tax credits for the future Wexford Innovation Center, which would be built on land made vacant by the relocation of Interstate 195.

Chafee said he was concerned about the lessons learned from Rhode Island’s failed $75 million deal in 2010 with 38 Studios. Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video company ran out of money and went bankrupt less than two years later.

Chafee said money subsidizing businesses could be better spent lowering state college tuitions, cutting car taxes or eliminating “anti-business” truck tolls — the latter a reference to a tolling plan Raimondo signed into law last year to pay for road and bridge repairs.

In recent weeks, Chafee has also stepped up criticism of Raimondo’s work as the state’s treasurer, when she directed pension fund investments into hedge funds. He has said for months he would not rule out another run for governor.

Chafee served as a Republican U.S. senator from 1999 to 2007. He was elected governor in 2010 as an independent but became a Democrat midway through his single four-year term.

Chafee said Monday he has been “on a sabbatical” since dropping out of the presidential race in October 2015. Asked what he meant by that, Chafee looked up the word in the dictionary, before coming to an entry describing a period of “rest and renewal.”

He said that if he does decide to run for governor, it could happen anytime between now and a June 2018 filing deadline. Asked if he would run as a Democrat or independent, he said, “I’m getting too far ahead to think about that, but I’m a Democrat.”

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