PROVIDENCE — Lincoln D. Chafee, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who served as Rhode Island’s governor and as a US senator, is now a member of the Libertarian Party.
“I bought property in Wyoming and registered to vote out there in my fourth party — I’m a Libertarian,” Chafee said Tuesday while in Providence. “It’s what I’ve always been — fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”
The county clerk’s office in Teton County, Wyo., confirmed that Chafee, who lives in Teton Village, near Jackson, registered as a member of the Libertarian Party on March 11 of this year.
Chafee said he still owns property in Exeter and Warwick, R.I., where he served as mayor from 1993 to 1999. A Globe reporter ran into Chafee on Tuesday as he was having lunch at the Wayland Square Diner with his brother, Assistant US Attorney Zechariah Chafee. He said he was back in Rhode Island for his niece’s wedding.
The Chafee brothers are the sons of the late Republican Senator John H. Chafee, a former Navy secretary and governor whose name was synonymous with the Republican Party in Rhode Island for years. Lincoln Chafee was appointed to the Senate when his father died in 1999, and he won a full term in 2000. He soon bucked the Republican Party, opposing President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and casting the only Senate Republican vote against authorizing the war in Iraq.
In 2006, Chafee lost the Senate seat to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, and he left the Republican Party to become an independent in 2007. Chafee endorsed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, and when Chafee ran for governor as an independent in 2010, President Obama withheld his endorsement from Democrat Frank T. Caprio, prompting Caprio to say Obama could take his endorsement and “really shove it.”
In 2013, Chafee joined the Democratic Party. But months later, amid low job-approval ratings, he announced he would not seek reelection. In 2015, he ran for president, seeking the Democratic nomination, but he failed to gain traction and withdrew from the race.
Now, Chafee is a member of the Libertarian Party. “They are against capital punishment, pro-choice, against war, strongly for the Fourth Amendment, no torture,” he explained. “All these things that American has gotten away from.”
So will Chafee, now 66, get back into politics at some point? “I’m still on sabbatical,” he said. “I’m out West. Wyoming is the reddest state. But my little county tends to be blue.”
Chafee raved about the natural beauty of Wyoming. “When we were young, we took a trip out West and that particular part of the trip to the Teton Mountains was the most memorable,” he said. “The peaks rise out of this pool-table-flat valley — flat, flat, and out comes these dramatic spires of rock.”
How does Wyoming, the second-least-densely populated state, compare to Rhode Island, the second-most-densely populated state? “I like the wide open spaces,” he said. “I’m not disparaging Rhode Island. It’s a beautiful state. But it’s a new adventure.”