Raimondo ‘not ruling anything out’ on 2014 bid for higher officeJanuary 27th, 2012 at 6:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Treasurer Gina Raimondo acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that she may seek higher office in 2014, which will add to the heated speculation about her future plans.
Asked whether she would rule out a run for higher office in 2014, Raimondo told WPRI.com: ”As you know, I am obsessed with being a good treasurer and working as hard as I possibly can. But I’m not ruling anything out, no.”
Raimondo, 40, didn’t get more specific than that during a half-hour interview in her State House office, but speculation is widespread that she may run for governor in two years when independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee is up for reelection. She had $513,584 in her campaign war chest as of Sept. 30, more than any other politician at the state level in Rhode Island.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Raimondo said. “Pension reform was a huge step forward. I do think Rhode Island is being nationally recognized as a leader on one of the toughest issues the country faces, and saving $4 billion is a big nut – it’s big, no doubt about it – it’s big. But sure, there’s more to do.”
Raimondo’s job approval rating was 52% in a December Brown University poll, tying her with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras as Rhode Island’s most popular elected officials. Chafee’s approval rating was 27%. Among Democrats, however, Raimondo and Chafee were nearly tied at 38% and 39% approval, respectively.
Volcker, Bond Buyer impressed
The treasurer, a political newcomer when she won office in 2010, saw her star soar during last year’s heated debate over the state pension system. Since November, when Chafee signed the sweeping overhaul they crafted, she’s gotten the attention of The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg News and even North Dakota’s Grand Forks Herald.
“I think it’s great that Rhode Island is getting positive press,” Raimondo said Thursday. “I think it’s great that people around the country are saying, ‘Wow – Rhode Island is leading the way. Rhode Island is doing something right.’ … A year ago, honestly, nobody thought we could get this done. And we did it. And that’s proof that we can do great things and move the state forward.”
Raimondo said former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker is among those who’ve told her they’re impressed that Rhode Island passed the pension law. “Connecticut just got downgraded; Rhode Island is being heralded on the front page of Bond Buyer,” she said. “That’s great. And that’s why I’m optimistic.”
“We have a really good story to tell right now, in large because of the pension,” she added.
Raimondo urges states and cities who contact her for advice on their own pension problems to focus first on scrutinizing their liability estimates and then on educating the public. “Don’t talk about the solution until you talk about the problem, the size of the problem, and the consequences of doing nothing,” she said.
‘That’s not good government’
A coalition of liberal groups criticized Raimondo earlier this month for accepting an award for her pension efforts from the Manhattan Institute, a New York City think tank, because of its scholars’ writings on issues including gay rights and campus rape. The treasurer rejected the idea that she’s a “DINO” – a Democrat in name only.
“I’m a Democrat, in part, because I believe in government and the value of good public services,” she said, citing the importance of public schools, transit and libraries in her own life.
“I get really upset when I hear people – particularly Republicans – saying government is the problem,” Raimondo said. “All the time – ‘government is the problem,’ all this anti-government sentiment. I just disagree. However, we need a government that works. We need an effective, efficient, high-performance government. I think that’s what Democrats should be doing.”
“Having said that, I just want to get things done,” she said. “We have 10.8% unemployment. … We have people really struggling and suffering. I want to get things done. And if that means working with businesses I’m going to do that, and if that makes people uncomfortable it’s still what I’m going to do, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Raimondo emphasized that she sees her push for the pension system overhaul, which includes a freeze on cost-of-living adjustments and the transition to a hybrid retirement plan, as not in conflict with her identification as a Democrat but rather as a direct product of it.
“It’s because I believe in government services and because I value public employees that I was so focused on pension reform,” she said. “I don’t know how it’s good for public employees to have an anemically funded pension fund that’s running out of money. To my mind that’s not good government.”
“You say, what’s it mean to be a Democrat?” Raimondo added. “If we hadn’t reformed the pensions we would have seen real cuts to higher education, public education, social services, aid to people with disabilities. I just think that’s wrong. So I think it did make me a Democrat.”
Tim White contributed to this report.
(photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)