The Hummel Report

Investigative Reports That Get Results

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Meet the Candidates

Linc Chafee - 2010 Independent candidate for governor





It is the first day of the Scituate Arts Festival and Lincoln Chafee is greeting hundreds of potential voters - one by one. Chafee, accompanied by a lone staffer at the ready with bumper stickers, often drives himself to events - like this one in Cranston earlier this month.


No entourage, just the candidate.


That solitude might be a metaphor this Republican-turned-independent's campaign. The former mayor of Warwick and U.S Senator is very much going it alone this election, with no party to shield or to boost him.


Chafee: ``I'm used to not having a whole lot of party structure as a Republican in Rhode Island, but there was some. And another thing I'm learning from this experience is traditionally you can have your party chair take your hatchet attacks on your opponent and remove, or separate yourself a little bit from that fray. I don't have that either...that's been interesting when you have some negative initiatives on my opponents.''


Hummel: ``Do you like getting out and campaigning, shaking people's hands?  Sometimes, you seem..and I watched you at the Scituate Arts Festival. You have to do it, but it's almost like you're intruding on people's time or space. Or is that not something that concerns you?''


Chafee: ``No, no. I don't know where that perception comes from because that's not accurate. I know from my council races, that's where I learned my issues, going door to door.''


When he lost his Senate seat to Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006, Chafee thought of getting out of politics altogether. He took a position teaching at his alma mater, Brown University, and saw a very crowded field of people considering a run for governor,  initially including David Cicilline and Patrick Lynch as well as Frank Caprio.


He knew how much his father, the late Senator John Chafee, enjoyed his three terms as governor in the 1960s. But - truth be told  - Linc Chafee was also worried about living up to the legend of John Chafee.


Chafee: ``He was known almost more as Governor Chafee than as Senator Chafee for a long part of his career, and so the pro was I knew how much he enjoyed it and loved and working with the legislature through the battles they had, moving the state forward. At the same time I was thinking that's Dad's niche that he had, can I fulfill all the legendary reputation that he had?  That gave me some pause actually.''


The specter of John Chafee may also have played a part in the most controversial aspect of this campaign: Linc Chafee's proposal to widen the state's sales tax to help bridge a $400 million budget gap.


In 1968 John Chafee proposed creating a controversial income tax, saying the state needed more revenue. His opponent, Frank Licht, promised no new taxes. John Chafee lost the election and two years later, Licht broke his promise by creating: a new income tax.


Chafee: ``Ultimately I knew during the course of this campaign the candidates would have to be specific about what they would do about the deficit. And I wanted to be able to have an answer and defend, it. I just couldn't face the voters and not tell them what I would do. I would rather not run. And then get in office and do something different from what I said in the campaign.''


Hummel: ``Does that ever go through the back of your mind that honesty sometimes, I'm not saying it isn't the best policy, but sometimes the voters may not be getting the message? Are you concerned about that repeating itself?''


Chafee: ``No, because I couldn't run and not be honest with the voters. I couldn't do it. And I guess the same with my dad when he had to tell the voters he'd rather be honest with them and it didn't work out in 1968, but I'm going to work doubly hard so they know what my plan is and call out my opponents on what their plan is.''


Chafee: ``The media sits back, very cynical. I found it interesting that no one's saying: `Good for Chafee, he's being honest.' They just sit back,  nobody's stepping back, on the talk shows or anything and saying, `Here's a fellow being honest with what we need to do.' The other's aren't saying anything - the Republican candidate says we're going to make more tax cuts and he gets a free ride.''


Hummel: ``Do you think it's the media's responsibility to step in and do that?''


Chafee: ``Yes, I do, the talk shows especially. It's all just negativity.''


And that brings us to media coverage of the campaign.


Hummel: ``How much do you pay attention to how the media is covering the campaign?''


Chafee: ``Oh you have to pay attention - I'm not a big TV watcher. I just don't have time. So I'm a print, newspaper person. I'm not an online reader. But occasionally when I'm in the car I listen to the talk shows. But you have to pay attention.''


HJummel: ``Do you ever get frustrated sometimes when you either read something in the Journal or turn on talk radio and say, `That's not right''?


Chafee: ``Oh yeah, very frustrating. The thing about this campaign, people are saying there's no substance. But if you put your toe into the water of substance, all of a sudden there' a lot of criticism. I use Deborah Gist and education reform - I started to talk about the debate that's going on - a healthy and dynamic debate about testing and choice - and  all of a sudden there's a front page, top of the fold story that I'm questioning. It wasn't balanced. I didn't think it was balanced at all.  And if you want substance, this is important.''


Lincoln Chafee has also taken a page from the political playbook of his father, who was known as ``The Man You Can Trust.''


Hummel: ``I'm looking at the sign behind you and it says `Trust Chafee' - that also has a little bit of history. Is the subliminal message to the voters, you can't trust the other guys?''


Chafee: ``I wouldn't say that, that wasn't the intention. It's just I've earned it, on the Iraq War, on a number of fronts, even in controversial times, to say thing that turn out to be true.''


A strategy that he is banking on again to help him in his latest quest for office.


Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.