But at least Zainyeh has some experience with mercurial pols. He was, for a time, chief of staff to former Congressman Patrick Kennedy.
One place where Chafee will have a chance to make his mark: municipal pension reform.
Treasurer Gina Raimondo effectively owned the overhaul of the state pension system, but Chafee has made reform of the troubled city-and-town system a signature issue. And the General Assembly's leadership has signaled a willingness to take on the problem next year.
But it will be a tricky endeavor. Some municipalities are in far worse shape than others, making a one-size-fits-all approach impossible. The local pension plans are tied up in union contracts not easily undone.
And in an election year — without the political cover the popular Raimondo offered during the state pension fight — legislators may be hesitant to anger firefighters, police officers, and other city employees.
Rhode Island voters rejected plans for a full-blown casino — a step up from the existing slot parlors — in 2006. And the choice is looking less-than-wise these days.
Blackjack and poker, if approved then, might have choked off plans for a casino in nearby southeast Massachusetts — providing some protection for the gambling revenue that is so important to state government.
Instead, the Bay State is moving forward with plans for three casinos, including one in southeast Massachusetts, and Rhode Island is on the defensive.
A ballot measure calling for conversion of one or both of Rhode Island's slot parlors to casinos will go before voters this fall. Look for it to pass. But will it be too little, too late?
GAY MARRIAGE, RELOADED
After this year's bitter defeat in the General Assembly, gay marriage advocates are pledging to come back strong in 2012.
The chances of getting a same-sex nuptials bill on the floor of the legislature are slim in an election year; most lawmakers are loath to take up controversial measures as they campaign for re-election.
But advocates say they will push hard to re-elect supporters in the legislature and defeat opponents. Whether they will have the money and manpower to make a difference — whether they can fully engage the national gay rights lobby, alongside their local supporters — is key.