Q&A: Here’s what happens in RI when Gov. Raimondo leaves for DC

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With Gov. Gina Raimondo being named the next U.S. commerce secretary, her departure in the middle of her term triggers a series of other changes across state government.

12 News is tracking all the developments — here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

When would Raimondo go to Washington?

The timing isn’t exactly clear, but President-elect Joe Biden isn’t being sworn in until Jan. 20 and Raimondo won’t technically become commerce secretary until confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The process will likely take several weeks, meaning Raimondo will have some time to work with the next governor on a transition plan.

Who becomes governor after she leaves?

Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, a second-term Democrat and former Cumberland mayor. Unlike other elected positions, which might be filled by a special election, the Rhode Island Constitution requires the lieutenant governor to take over as governor if the officeholder is unable to serve or the position becomes vacant.

Who takes over as lieutenant governor?

The law is a little murky, but as it stands now — McKee would choose.

The Rhode Island Constitution is clear about appointing powers for the positions of treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state, but there is no section that specifically addresses what happens when only the lieutenant governor job is vacant. (There’s a section on what to do when both the governor and the lieutenant governor jobs are vacant.)

The issue hasn’t come up since 1997, when then-Lt. Gov. Robert Weygand left office after winning a seat in Congress. At the time, Gov. Lincoln Almond appointed Bernard Jackvony for the position, but the Supreme Court offered an opinion that would allow the General Assembly to pass a law to take over that appointing power. However, state constitutional changes enacted in 2004 cast into question whether the opinion was still relevant. House Rules Committee Chairman Arthur “Doc” Corvese said he plans to reintroduce legislation to do that this month, but the Senate has shown no appetite for it.

How long do their terms last?

McKee and the lieutenant governor he chooses will serve out the remainder of the current terms of office, which go through the end of 2022. McKee has told 12 News he intends to run for governor in the 2022 election, although he has not announced formally. Other likely gubernatorial candidates include the General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea — all of whom are term limited in 2022 — and former Providence Mayor Joe Paolino.

Is McKee eligible to serve two more terms if he finishes out Raimondo’s final two years?

Yes. If McKee serves less than two years of Raimondo’s remaining term, he is still eligible to be elected to two more four-year terms. If he became governor right now, he’d just be under the two-year mark. So when McKee becomes governor due to Raimondo’s departure, and then he wins two terms in his own right, he could conceivably serve as governor until the year 2030.

What does this mean for Raimondo’s cabinet?

McKee — like Raimondo — will get to pick his own people, which is causing a lot of hand-wringing within the Raimondo administration. To what extent the new governor cleans house, however, could depend on how much he’s willing to upend operations in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic response, as well as what Senate leaders signal about their willingness to confirm new appointees.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter

Ted Nesi and Steph Machado contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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