Why Governor Chafee won’t run

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Political pundits are all parsing the reasons why Governor Lincoln Chafee has declined a reelection run. Most attribute his declination to the fact that he has less than a 26% approval rating. While that poll number is relevant it is symptomatic of the real reason why he won’t be a candidate, namely, he feels unappreciated.

Before you conclude that this is “over-psychologizing,” look at the two rather unusual statements he made when he announced he would not seek a second term. He bemoaned the fact that there was an “irrational negativity” around his positions on such issues as driver’s licenses for undocumented residents, and his refusal to call the State House holiday tree a Christmas tree. He added that if one were  to look up the definition of “principled leader” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Linc Chafee…That (will) never change.” He  also predicted that in time, his positions would be vindicated.

Certainly, there’s a fair amount of hubris when politicians pontificate that they are “principled,” a leader, and correct on the issues. Then again, faint egos don’t populate the political ranks. Folks can admire a straightforward recitation of a position but that doesn’t equate with the fact that the office-holder can’t be wrong. Even if there is some merit to a stance which a voter likes, the whole kit and caboodle can sink a politician. Perhaps neither position above was fatal to Mr. Chafee—just his lack of creative solutions. The Christmas tree fiasco could have been settled like the Menorah, with the placement of the Christmas tree by a private party like the Knights of Columbus who could call it what it wanted. This was the distinction made for the correct appellation of the Jewish symbol. The argument about “regulating” drivers ignored real issues as to how drivers’ licenses are a de facto identification for many programs which ostensibly are for citizens only. The lack of solutions can be overlooked on one or two matters but they all add up if there is a confluence of unsolved issues like unemployment and stagnant economic growth that cloud an administration.

Mr. Chafee’s vacillation on some issues didn’t help his cause either, and contributed to the less than “principled” stance he embraces. His vacillation over the pension reform undertaken at the expense of  great political capital of many leaders, of allowing the unionization of day care providers, and the grand daddy of them all, a massive hike in overall sales taxes, all contributed to the lack of “appreciation” for his leadership.

Sometimes there are multiple solutions to problems and, yes, one idea can be as good as the next without a concomitant fall-out. Assuming that one’s analysis is always “spot-on” is a blind spot.

The Governor has some 16 months left in his term. Hopefully, he will do great things that will make the state a better place than he found. I hope that he does so well that in the future, voters will wax poetically about his accomplishments and the “good ol’ days” of the Chafee administration.

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