Rhode Island governor’s race endorsment: Lincoln Chafee (I)

This is the second and final installment of my blog’s gubernatorial endorsement series.


In 1999, then-Mayor Lincoln Chafee was thrust into national politics when he was appointed by Governor Lincoln Almond (yes, two Lincolns) to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Chafee’s father, veteran Republican Senator John Chafee.  Although the junior Chafee maintained his affiliation with the G.O.P., he continually bucked party expectations and voted as a moderate on many key issues.  Calling himself a “traditional conservative” Chafee was the only Republican (and was among the few Senate Democrats) to vote against the invasion of Iraq.  He declined to vote for President George W. Bush during his re-election and endorsed then-Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy for President.  In 2007, Chafee officially left the Republican Party to become an independent.

The 2010 gubernatorial election is the first time since 1786 that one of Rhode Island’s two leading candidates for governor is an independent.  Unlike his Democratic challenger, Lincoln Chafee is not polished or slick or smooth, but the record shows that he is honest.  Honest not only to his constituents, but honest to himself.  He sat alone at the lunch table (quite literally–see his interview with Jon Stewart) as the independent man, determined to vote his conscience on principles he believed were best for Rhode Island.  While he has taken some heat from his opponent for it, he is the only candidate brave enough to propose concrete and viable fiscal reform, even if part of that reform means introducing a modest and temporary sales tax on presently-exempt items (a sales tax increase is generally agreed to be the least harmful to economic growth).  Chafee’s opponent, Rhode Island General Treasurer and Democrat Frank Caprio, has harped on Chafee for his sales tax proposal.  However, as a Rhode Island state senator, Caprio himself voted to increase sales tax from six percent to seven percent, along with votes for increases to dozens of fees on businesses and taxpayers, including taxes and fees on over-the-counter drugs, drinking water and motor vehicle registration.

Lincoln Chafee’s candidacy has been endorsed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, numerous environmental groups, and teacher and nurses unions among others. While his opponents claim these endorsements put him in the pockets of special interests, Chafee clearly owes his own vote to no one, as evidenced when he bucked his former party in U.S. Senate and stared down the G.O.P. on several divisive issues.