Meet Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee: Former Republican, current Independent, future Democrat?
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Yet Chafee’s economic development plans amounted to providing incentives for certain areas of the state and specific industries. (Think of it as Solyndranomics on a smaller scale.) In sum, as governor, Chafee has elected to take a top-down approach to the economic challenges facing Rhode Island. We could also call this “twenty-first- century liberalism.”
But even the governor’s supporters must concede that Chafee’s liberalism is of the explicitly anti-populist variety. He opposes, for example, E-Verify, despite illegal labor’s effect on blue-collar wages (his Democratic opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial race was a strong E-Verify supporter). Indeed, one of Chafee’s first actions as governor—announced in his inaugural address, in fact—was to revoke the state police’s authority to enforce immigration laws, a measure that had been implemented by his predecessor in the governor’s office, Republican Don Carcieri. “My view is that Rhode Island can grow economically by being a tolerant place to do business,” Chafee said at the time, according to the Boston Globe. Alas, some two years into his term, the unemployment rate remains at 10.4 percent, still the second highest in the country.
On education policy as well, Chafee has displayed a “let them eat cake” attitude. Rhode Island has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the Northeast. In urban school districts like Pawtucket and Central Falls, the dropout rate approaches a scandalous 40 percent. Last year’s New England Common Assessment Program found that only a third of Rhode Island 11th grade students were proficient in math.
Prior to Chafee’s election as governor, the state’s nascent education reform movement—particularly its charter school movement—was gaining steam. Nonetheless, Chafee began his term by removing three pro-reform members (including the chairman) of the state’s board of regents, and calling for a “thoughtful pause” (read: indefinite moratorium) in the development of charter schools. “These decisions were the direct result of strong support his campaign received from the teacher unions,” said Angus Davis, one of the removed regents.
Chafee has long been a strident opponent of charter schools, and has argued that traditional public schools are performing just swimmingly. Substituting rhetoric for data—or even argument, for that matter—on taking office, Chafee blustered:
This notion of all these failing schools, if this were true, how did America get to be at the status where we are in the world if it were that bad? So I don’t buy into the trashing of our public school system. Somehow Brown University and University of Rhode Island and Bryant University, Providence College are full of public school students that are doing very, very well and leading America in many fields. Yes, there’s room for improvement. I don’t deny that and I want to be part of the improvement. But the notion that our public school systems are in disarray and failing, I don’t buy that.
Perhaps Chafee’s own education—at private schools, incidentally—lacked a lesson on the difference between anecdote and evidence. (Davis does say he sees signs of Chafee moderating his positions, however, noting that the state has begun competing for “Race to the Top” funding.)
Still, any changes to Chafee’s policies at this point may be too little too late. “To the extent that he’s implemented an education policy,” says Justin Katz of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, “it has been to impede any motion toward reforms based on parental choice and accountability.” Chafee’s education stance has come under fire from even some left-leaning groups. The Rhode Island branch of Democrats for Education Reform, for example, has called on Chafee to “abandon” his opposition to charter schools, which could jeopardize federal funds. Several Rhode Island mayors, Democrats all, have also called on Chafee to back charter schools.
Chafee is certain to face a tough reelection fight come November 2014. Not only has a recent poll pegged his approval rating at 29 percent, but the governor also lacks the party machinery, fundraising infrastructure, and even simple group loyalty that Republican or Democratic party membership would provide. Last December, he candidly admitted that he might decide to run for reelection as a Democrat. “There is no independent governors association throwing money around,” he told the Associated Press. But Chafee has earned a reputation for being supercilious and aloof, almost like that other Boston Brahmin John Kerry. He thinks of himself as above the fray. Whether this stems from his upbringing, his education, or simply his last name, it’s a serious obstacle to his ever joining the Democrats.
Then again, maybe he’ll leave the Independents, and simply claim that the Independents left him.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?