PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — R.I. Department of Labor and Training Director Scott Jensen will step down after six years leading the state’s employment agency, adding to the ranks of Raimondo administration officials who will leave office when she departs for Washington.
Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office announced Jensen’s plans, effective Feb. 22, in an email sent late Friday afternoon.
In addition, two members of the governor’s senior staff — Nell Abernathy, policy director, and Kevin Gallagher, senior deputy chief of staff — also left her office effective Friday; two others — Michael Prescott, senior advisor and special counsel, and Nicole Verdi, deputy chief of staff — “will be transitioning out over the coming weeks,” the email said.
Raimondo’s office announced she has appointed David Cruise, her former senior adviser, to the R.I. Superior Court, a position that requires Senate confirmation. Cruise would replace Judge Bennett Gallo, who retired two years ago this month.
She also made three appointments to the Judicial Nominating Commission, which vets judges: Krystle Guillory Tadesse, who her office said would be the first woman of color to chair the panel, along with Jina Petrarca and Christian Capizzo as commissioners. Tadesse will replace Sally Dowling, while Petrarca will replace Julie Duffy and Capizzo will replace Mary Shekarchi.
The Senate does not need to approve the governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission picks.
It was not immediately clear how the 11th-hour appointments will sit with Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who is set to succeed Raimondo when she is confirmed as U.S. commerce secretary. McKee has already taken issue with her effort to give former Senate Majority Leader Jack Revens a six-figure seat on the R.I. Public Utilities Commission; McKee, a longtime PUC critic, had hoped to make the pick.
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, looked to history in questioning the governor’s actions, referring back to a seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling more than 200 years ago.
“Since Marbury v. Madison last minute executive appointments have been controversial,” Marion said in an email. “Governor Raimondo continues in that tradition, except that unlike President John Adams we don’t know when she’s leaving office.”
“Given how long it took her to fill vacancies before she became a lame duck this can be interpreted as nothing other than rewarding political patrons on her way out the door,” he added.
R.I. Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki took aim at the Revens nomination on Friday, saying, “Governor Raimondo has to stop playing political games on her way out the door and allow the lieutenant governor [to] attempt to get Rhode Island back on track.”
Jensen is the second cabinet director to say he will step aside rather than stay on in the incoming McKee administration. R.I. Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley announced his resignation plans earlier this week, after controversy over a Target 12 report that he raised campaign contributions from state vendors.
The transition from Raimondo to McKee is dragging on longer than some had hoped as she continues to await a final U.S. Senate confirmation vote. The Senate has been tied up this week with the impeachment trial of former President Trump, and is scheduled to have a recess next week – suggesting that the soonest Raimondo will be confirmed is the week of Feb. 22.
Frustration with the gubernatorial limbo has begun to boil over. In recent days multiple mayors have suggested Raimondo should step aside for McKee, who is close to municipal leaders as a former mayor himself. But she has repeatedly ruled out departing before she is confirmed, and her office insists the situation is not the reason Rhode Island’s vaccine rollout is lagging other states.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram