Rhode Islanders can be a fatalistic bunch, convinced the state will never modernize its economy or fix a political culture that seems to lurch between corruption and absurdity. And yet, there’s always hope that the “Biggest Little” state can do better.
Gina Raimondo, the Democratic governor, embodies that hope.
The daughter of a metallurgist, she studied at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale and founded the state’s first venture capital firm before entering politics.
As governor, she’s made some mistakes. But she’s projected confidence and competence in a state that needs both. And she is focused laser-like on what should be Job 1 for any Rhode Island governor: improving an economy that’s always among the first to fall into recession and the last to climb out.
Now she wants to expand on that work in a second term, and the Globe endorses her bid for reelection.
Raimondo made her name as state treasurer in the early part of the decade, guiding a meticulous, politically fraught overhaul of the state’s troubled pension system — raising the retirement age and putting a freeze on cost-of-living adjustments until the health of the fund improves.
The effort won her the undying enmity of thousands of public employees and retirees — avid voters all. But it was the right thing to do — both to secure the retirement of future public employees and to free up state resources for investments in education and other important priorities. It also put her on the national radar screen as a politician able to tackle thorny problems head-on.
Her willingness to take political risks for the good of the state has been evident in her governorship, as well. She levied a tax on large commercial trucks, for instance, to pay for much-needed infrastructure improvements.
It’s just one pillar in a broader strategy for economic uplift. She’s worked to recruit or coax expansions from several companies, including Johnson & Johnson, InfoSys, and Agoda, an online travel agency that shares a parent company with Priceline and Kayak. Raimondo failed to keep the PawSox in Pawtucket, but not for lack of trying. (And hey, Massachusetts is happy to take the Red Sox farm team.)
She pushed through free community college for Rhode Island high school graduates. And in an interview with the Globe editorial board, she said she’d like to expand the program in her second term to include adults.
That’s a good idea, and Raimondo has some others: she wants to build toward universal pre-kindergarten, for instance, and buttress some impressive work on staving off the opioid crisis.
The six-way race for governor has proved a reminder of the circus-like quality of Rhode Island politics. One pro-cannabis candidate has been charged with possession of 48 pounds of marijuana, and a Trumpist has been fending off allegations that he attacked the future Speaker of the House with a caulking gun some 43 years ago.
But Raimondo’s chief opponent, Republican Allan Fung, is a credible candidate. He’s ably served as mayor of Cranston for almost a decade, and he offers some legitimate criticisms of the governor’s tenure — including the botched rollout of a computer system that was supposed to streamline the administration of Medicaid, food stamps, and other benefits.
Raimondo acknowledges her mistakes with a refreshing candor, though. And she seems to have learned from them. She wants to get better. She is the right governor for Rhode Island, and a politician setting a national example of strong leadership.