Chafee, 60, was born into one of Rhode Island’s founding Five Families; his father was the iconic John Chafee, a moderate Republican who served as governor and then senator before dying in 1999. Then-Governor Lincoln Almond appointed Chafee, then a Republican mayor in Warwick, to fill the remainder of his father’s term and he won it on his own right in 2000. Chafee was defeated in 2006 by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. 4
Chafee was sworn into [the governor’s] office under a sun-splashed winter chill on the south steps at the Statehouse in January, 2011. He inherited from Republican Donald Carcieri an economic mess and a state government adrift. Unemployment was 12 percent, the worst since the Great Depression. Carcieri, whose experience had been in the private sector, ran as the “businessman’’ governor. But after eight years at the Statehouse, Rhode Island had about 40,000 fewer jobs than the day he took over. To top it all off, in the waning days of his administration, Carcieri pushed the disastrous 38 Studios deal, which risked $75 million in taxpayer-backed bonds on a video game company run by retired Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. The company went bankrupt shortly after Chafee took office. Rhode Island government was once again a national laughingstock. Some even blamed Chafee, even though he was the most vocal critic of the Schilling deal. 5
He has always been a true gentleman with great character and compassion. 6 I don’t think he has that dynamic personality that modern politics really requires, so I don’t think he did a great job of kind of building a coalition. But, for my money, I’d really rather deal with a principled person than a fast-talking politician. I think most Rhode Islanders agree with that. 7
Chafee has managed to hemorrhage support each time he’s been on a statewide ballot: he got 57% in 2000, 47% in 2006 and 36% in 2010. In short, it was very, very hard to see how Lincoln Chafee could win another election for governor without another multi-candidate perfect storm. 8 I think he realized he couldn’t win and I think he’d rather spend the next year and half doing some good for the state than waging a losing battle. 9 Yet by hanging up his hat, he also evinced a modicum of humility and self-awareness that’s become all too rare in politics. 10
And it seemed fitting that on the day before he made his announcement that he would not seek reelection, he made his feelings clear on another tragedy in the making. He urged there be no U.S. military strike on Syria. He said he is a peace person and peace is achievable if gone about the right way.
Peace, imagine. The man believes in peace.
And he is a champion of same-sex marriage, one of the great leaps forward in the state’s recent history. The man believes in equal rights.
And he refused to flush more public money down the rat hole of the 38 Studios debacle. The man believes in not throwing good money after bad.
Go figure. 11