Lincoln Chafee became Rhode Island's 58th governor on Tuesday. But how he got there has been months - some might say years - in the making. This week, in a wide-ranging interview with Jim Hummel, Gov. Chafee talks about his short- and long-term goals, the controversial proposal to broaden the state's sales tax and offers insight about some of the people he's brought into his inner-circle.
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He became Rhode Island's 58th governor at noon on Tuesday.
Officially, the planning for Lincoln Chafee to take the reins at the State House began nine weeks ago.
Unofficially, it had been in the making for nearly four years.
The seeds for a run were planted when the man who is now the governor's chief of staff, Patrick Rogers, wrote Chafee a note back in 2006 - after he had lost his Senate seat to Sheldon Whitehouse.
Chafee: ``And this is a true story, he wrote me a note, I found it the other day, going through looking for something else, right after I lost in '06, saying `You ought to think about running for governor, and as an independent.' Then we had lunch months later and he continued to say opportunity's there for an independent to run for governor in '10.''
Chafee, of course, would leave the Republican Party to run as an independent and squeak out a win in a four-way race. At a news conference the day after his victory, the governor-elect gave the first indication his cabinet choices might not follow conventional political thinking.
Chafee: ``You can bring in the best people from all from all of the parties. I intend to do that. And working with everybody without any partisan affiliations I think that's going to be a benefit; we'll see.''
Fast forward to two months later.
Hummel: ``Are there some days when you wake up in the morning and think: this is quite a job I have to do?''
Chafee: ``Well, to be honest, the best part has been the talent that has agreed to come in and face the challenges we have here and it's just a terrific team that's agreed to come together and try and get Rhode Island back in the right place.''
In a wide-ranging interview with the Hummel Report at his transition office the week before he was inaugurated, Chafee talked about his first cabinet choice: Richard Licht for Director of Administration. Licht is a former lieutenant governor lobbyist who ran unsuccessfully against Chafee's father John, for Senate in 1988. Linc Chafee says he got to know Licht because they both served on a national board together that would meet in New York City.
Chafee: ``Richard is one of a kind, enormous energy and good sense of humor and that was one of the first meetings we had after getting elected.
Hummel: ``You've' always said: I know municipal government as mayor, you know the national scene as senator, the State House and the governor's office is not something you know a lot, so there is a little bit of a learning curve.''
Chafee: ``Yes, that's why Richard Licht is so important - he knows every member of the legislature, he's worked in the State House; he was lieutenant governor, that was a big part of it, because that's a gap in my experience, having never been in the State House.''
Chafee says he is not backing off his proposal to broaden the state's sales tax by charging 1 percent on some now-exempt items like food and clothes. In fact, he wants lawmakers to it pass it this spring before the fiscal year ends. In our interview, though, he acknowledged the political reality of the plan.
Hummel: ``It ultimately will be determined by the legislature because they hold the votes. And although you're not a Republican, you're not a member of their party either. I know you're trying to bridge that gap. What has the leadership, I know you've had discussions, maybe not extensive, but have you had this talk with (Speaker) Fox and Senate President Paiva-Weed?''
Chafee: ``Yes, and they remind me, we have two-year terms and that's very important. These people are going to have to stand for election in two years, it's a tough vote to take.''
Hummel: ``Meaning the concern is they have to go back and answer for a tax increase.''
Chafee: ``Yes, yes, in this tough, tough climate. That's a reality, I understand that.''
The governor says one area he won't be pushing for cost savings is the long-talked about idea of regionalizing Rhode Island's municipal government. He doesn't believe the numbers add up.
Chafee: ``Well as I said in the campaign it's all based on facts, you have to look at the facts, are we going to save a lot of money by regionalizing. The facts do not support that.
Fairfax County, where I lived when I was a senator, has a million people. It's the size of Rhode Island, one school department, one fire department, one police department, one planning department, the size of Rhode Island, and their administrative costs are not that different, when you pool all of our 39 cities and towns, our administrative costs.''
Hummel: ``So you're not sold on regionalization.''
Chafee: ``I'm not sold on it.''
Hummel: ``What concerns you the most when you take over a week from today?''
Chafee: ``Well the immediate issues are the budget and we're talking right now about the school system. But this is my top priority: having good schools because that helps move the economy forward.''
Chafee: ``Yeah, but I'm looking optimistically at our place in history in Rhode Island.
We're due, we're overdue and there's a lot of good people coming together and I do think we're on the threshold of getting this state going in a much better direction.''
Hummel: ``Do you think it's realistic, that it's going to be at least a year before we really chip into the unemployment.''
Chafee: Oh yes. It's going to take some time.''
At the State House, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.