PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is vowing to stay busy in his final year in office and says that while he has no plans to leave Rhode Island when his term expires, he’s keeping an open mind.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the Democratic governor talked about his priorities for the next year, why New England should consider Canadian hydroelectric power and how congressional gridlock is hurting the economic recovery.
The AP: New projections suggest the state could generate $45 million more in revenue this year than initially expected. Does that give you some hope that the state’s economic recovery is continuing?
Chafee: Yes, but there have been so many fits and starts. It feels like we’ll get some momentum and then there will be sequestration or the threat of a budget shutdown and people start to hunker down again. Investors and risk-takers delay making decisions. People just want some certainty when these things happen. It’s natural that you’d be very careful about spending and taking any kind of risk.
The AP: You mention the government shutdown, the sequestration. Do you think the gridlock, the partisanship is worse than it was when you were in Washington?
Chafee: You keep saying to yourself “can it get any worse?” and it does ... I’ve felt right from the beginning that this is a moment in history for this country to act responsibly in so many areas. And we degenerate into meaningless squabbles. You do wonder if a lot of what is happening is just personal against President Obama. After he won re-election you would think there would be a moment to put aside the partisan differences and get on with the business of what you’re elected to do. It just didn’t stop.
The AP: What do you think of the rollout of the health care law?
Chafee: Ours is good.
The AP: But nationally?
Chafee: It’s unfortunate what happened nationally because it does cast a shadow over our state efforts. This is a huge undertaking and there have been many attempts going back to the early ’90s when my dad [former U.S. Sen. John Chafee] was involved in it ... There have been many failed efforts and good faith attempts. I’m worried, to be honest, that ... the ’14 elections could bring in even more proponents of scrapping the law. That’s what it boils down to: do you have the votes or don’t you? The House has voted to repeal. If we get a few more (repeal votes) in the Senate we’re in trouble.
The AP: Let’s talk about our legislature. Do you have any big ideas that you’re ready to talk about for next session?
Chafee: Not really. Do the same, invest in the same priorities. It’s not going to change. I like doing the hard work, building a good foundation. It’s not flashy but it’s necessary.
The AP: You’ve been talking about bringing hydroelectric power from Canada into the region. Give us your sales pitch.
Chafee: If you’re thinking about climate change you have to think about ways to produce electricity that don’t contribute to climate change and that’s hydro, solar, wind and nuclear. If you take nuclear off the table because of the waste then you’re down to hydro, solar and wind. Hydro [hydroelectric power from Quebec] is reliable, which is very important, as opposed to wind and solar. And it’s cost-competitive.
The AP: How has life changed for you since you made your announcement [about not seeking a second term]? One thing you said was that you wanted to concentrate on being governor and not on a campaign. Have you found that to be the case?
Chafee: Yes. It’s a completely different dynamic.
The AP: Are you concerned that you and your proposals might be viewed differently now that you’re not in the mix?
Chafee: I’m just going to put forward what I think is best for the state, and the General Assembly is going to do what it is going to do, whether it’s politically motivated or whatever other motivations might be there. I’ll do my best to do promote what I think is best for the state and the future. That hasn’t changed.
The AP: Any idea what you’re going to do in a year?
The AP: Do you think you’ll stay in Rhode Island?
Chafee: It’s always going to be my home, but I like adventure, too, so who knows what might be out there.