Chafee’s Last Out

I have to admit that I dig Mariano Rivera. Aside from being the greatest closer of all time—and there is no close second—his giant smile tells me that he loves the game and is grateful to have had the opportunity to play for as long as he has. He announced his retirement earlier this year and has spent the season meeting fans in every ballpark and thanking the people who have made his time in the Majors so enjoyable. He’s been at the top of the game spanning three decades and yet he knew when it was time to go. With two blown saves just over the weekend, it’s clear that his “stuff” isn’t what it used to be.

As Governor Chafee contemplated the next sixteen months, perhaps he had the same realization: his best years in politics are behind him. His relationship with Rhode Island voters and his ability to lead the state is clearly not what he hoped it would be. Since his election in 2010, in published polls he has never done better than the 36 percent that allowed him to squeak into the governor’s office in the first place and there was no path to victory in 2014. While he blamed Rhode Islanders’ “irrational negativity,” for his poor standing, I can’t be the only one who thinks that his “I’m right and the rest of you are wrong” attitude contributed to voters’ scorn. He calls it “principled leadership,” but some of us hear “if you don’t agree with me, you are stupid.”

Aside from polls, Governor Chafee does not have to hear what Rhode Islanders are thinking, but he has heard from their representatives in the General Assembly. Rhode Island’s constitution has made the governor’s office a weak one and governors during the past twenty years have all realized at one point or another that they will get nothing done unless they work closely with the General Assembly and respect their place in the legislative process. Governor Chafee has ignored the General Assembly’s role repeatedly by issuing executive orders on hot button issues ranging from E-Verify to health insurance. Worst of all, after an emotional 2011 special session on pension reform where legislators took a really tough vote, Chafee is doing his best to undermine and unravel the very pension reform law which he has heralded as an accomplishment of his administration.

I was recently asked who benefits most from Chafee’s departure from the 2014 governor’s race and I said “the Rhode Island voter.” This is not a slam against Chafee. The simple truth is that the tone of the race will be much different. Rather than re-living the gaffes of this administration, all the candidates will have the opportunity to lay out their competing visions for Rhode Island. If one the expected candidates (Block, Fung, Raimondo and Taveras) win, we are going to have a governor under the age of 50 for the first time since John Chafee won in 1963 and are likely to have a “first” with an Asian, woman or Latino winner.

As someone who falls in the middle of the political spectrum, I always described myself as a “John Chafee Democrat” and I am grateful to the Chafee family for their service to our state. However, I will not be sad to see the Chafee administration end any more than I’ll miss hearing “Enter Sandman” and watching Mariano Rivera mow down Red Sox hitters with his cutter. They do have one thing in common—they knew when it was time to go.

Cara Cromwell is a public affairs consultant with more than twenty years experience managing issues campaigns for corporations, non-profits, associations, coalitions and candidates on both sides of the aisle.  An unaffiliated voter, serial ticket-splitter and enthusiastic Red Sox fan, she believes that in politics—and baseball—game changing action occurs in the middle, creating opportunity on the ball field  and compromise and coalition-building in the halls of power. Visit her blog, Straight Up The Middle, at http://straightupthemiddle.blogspot.com/ and follow her on Twitter @cmcromwell.

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