Chafee Calls for Cooperation, Civil Discourse
Rhode Island’s 58th governor promises to rescind E-verify and push for marriage equality.
Promising to usher in a new era of political cooperation and establish a more "civil state," Lincoln D. Chafee accepted the oath of office Tuesday afternoon, becoming Rhode Island's 58th governor.
Repeatedly invoking the memory of state founder Roger Williams throughout his inaugural address, Chafee urged fellow political leaders and residents to reaffirm Williams' vision of a "vibrant, diverse community that is free of political, cultural and ethnic division."
In that vein, Chafee announced his first official act as governor will be to rescind the E-verify executive order former Gov. Donald Carcieri enacted. As Carcieri looked on, Chafee lamented the impact his predecessor's order — which required employers to check the immigration status of job applicants before extending an offer — has had on the community.
"However well-intentioned it may have been, it has caused needless anxiety within our Latino community without demonstrating any progress on illegal immigration, an issue I strongly believe must be solved at the federal level," Chafee said.
Continuing the theme of "cultural and ethnic acceptance," the governor urged the General Assembly to quickly pass a marriage equality law, ending Rhode Island's status as the only New England state yet to allow gay marriage.
"When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality," Chafee said. "Rhode Island must be as welcoming to all as Roger Williams intended it to be."
Noting the willingness of the electorate to embrace diversity among its leaders — specifically, the election of Angel Taveras as Providence's first Latino mayor; David Cicilline, an openly homosexual man, to Congress; and Jim Langevin, confined to a wheel chair, also to Congress — Chafee expressed optimism that both issues will meet with resident approval, and will ultimately benefit the state.
"Mark my words, these two actions will do more for economic growth in our state than any economic development loan," Chafee said. "Because good business is about treating people right, just as good government is."
Chafee pledged to support and improve public education, improve job conditions in a state still struggling to recover from a deep recession, repair and maintain the state's infrastructure, support municipal police and fire departments, provide a safety net for those residents in need of assistance and generally provide the basic services Rhode Islanders expect of their government.
He noted that his definition of a "civil state means that responsibility flows in both directions. As citizens, Rhode Islanders deserve honest, reliable government. But as users of services, taxpayers must give government the resources to do its job well."
After receiving his own oath of office, Chafee swore in Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis and General Treasurer Gina Marie Raimondo. They were joined by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, sworn in by Chief Justice Paul Suttell.
Chafee, Rhode Island's first Independent governor, urged his fellow state office-holders to join him in preserving and expanding on Roger Williams' vision and work toward establishing a civil government that will work to pull Rhode Island out of the difficult financial times.
"Our present condition has not developed overnight," Chafee said. "It has been decades in the making and it is the shared legacy of Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, liberals and conservatives. Finger-pointing and blame will do nothing to alleviate our situation. We have tolerated a refusal to do the work necessary to correct our course, and an acceptance of a fractious society that emphasizes division over common purpose. In short, our politics have not lived up to our ideals. That must change. The time of irresponsibility has ended.
"Let us begin an era of political collaboration, of cultural and ethnic acceptance, of shared sacrifice and, most importantly of faith and trust in each other. If we do, Rhode Island will most certainly prosper once more."