PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Could Lincoln Chafee return to Rhode Island’s corner office?
The former Republican U.S. senator and Democratic governor says he’s a long way from making a decision on whether to pursue a comeback bid, but he’s keeping the option open.
“It’s early, and I don’t have any further comment other than that,” Chafee told Eyewitness News during a short phone interview Monday, amid growing chatter about his plans. “Never say never,” he added.
A 2018 gubernatorial bid would pit Chafee, 64, against incumbent Democrat Gina Raimondo, who had a famously cold relationship with him despite their collaboration on the landmark 2011 pension overhaul. Chafee declined to seek re-election in 2014 after facing low approval ratings throughout his time in office, and endorsed Clay Pell, one of Raimondo’s primary opponents.
“I’m a realist, too,” Chafee said Wednesday. “We’ll see.”
Soon after leaving the governorship, Chafee shocked local observers and puzzled national ones by embarking on a long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he quit the race in the fall of 2015 after facing criticism for his performance in the first televised debate.
Chafee has reemerged recently in a series of interviews, with sharp critiques of Raimondo’s performance as well as media coverage of President Trump. Most recently he came out against the proposed power plant in Burrillville, which Raimondo supports – and about which Democrat U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who unseated Chafee in 2006, has pointedly refused to take a position.
Opponents of the plant “asked me up there to hear their pitch, and it was convincing,” Chafee said, adding that he continues to think Canadian hydropower is the answer to energy shortages in Rhode Island.
Another policy issue high on Chafee’s radar screen: Raimondo’s 2011 decision as treasurer to invest Rhode Island pension-fund assets in high-fee hedge funds, a strategy her successor Seth Magaziner has partly reversed.
“There’s no doubt that our investment in the hedge funds was a disaster, and as everybody talks about free tuition and phasing out the car taxes and truck tolls and all these things – is anybody factoring in what we’re going to have to put into the budget?” he said.
A forecast released last week by Magaziner’s office showed the state’s annual required contribution to the pension fund will rise from $256 million this fiscal year to $315 million in 2021-22. Those figures are incorporated into the official state budget projections, which predict a deficit of $194 million in the latter year.
Chafee noted, however, the State Retirement Board is soon likely to lower the pension fund’s projected rate of return on its investments from the current 7.5% level, which would increase the required taxpayer contributions to the fund.
“So just as a taxpayer I’m watching – and especially one who was involved in pension reform, signed it into law,” Chafee said.
Republican Governors Association spokesman John Burke quickly seized on Chafee’s comments Monday, arguing it’s a sign “things are getting even worse for failed Governor Gina Raimondo” and that his candidacy “could cost much needed votes for her re-election.”Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook