In a surprise announcement, Governor Lincoln Chafee announced Wednesday afternoon he won't seek re-election for a second term.
Chafee's approval rating has remained below 30 percent, yet he maintained his decision was motivated by a desire to focus on improving the Ocean State and its economy in his remaining time in office.
"There are many factors into this decision, but the main thing is that you can’t be doing two jobs well at the same time, especially with the situation that we have here in Rhode Island," he said.
Chafee said he won't make an endorsement in next year's expected Democratic gubernatorial primary between Rhode Island's two most-popular elected officials, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo.
Standing surrounded by reporters under a blazing sun outside the Cranston headquarters of the state DMV, Chafee smiled frequently during a news conference that was announced about two hours before its 2 pm start. He said he felt good about his decision and does not have immediate plans for what he'll do after he leaves the governor's office in January 2015. Chafee said he didn't inform President Obama in advance of his decision, and he did not rule out a possible return to politics.
For a few minutes, he cited some accomplishments -- like cutting wait times at the DMV -- before sharing his decision and offering this explanation:
“I enjoy the challenge of combat, but I also enjoy the challenge of running a government and in this moment of RI’s history, I want to devote all my time, all my energy to the task at hand and that is running our government.”
Chafee, 60, was born into one of Rhode Island's founding Five Families; his father was the iconic John Chafee, a moderate Republican who served as governor and then senator before dying in 1999. Then-Governor Lincoln Almond appointed Chafee, then a Republican mayor in Warwick, to fill the remainder of his father's term and he won it on his own right in 2000. Chafee was defeated in 2006 by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.
In talking about his move not to seek re-election, Chafee noted how his father invoked the campfire rule -- that public officials should leave their responsibilities in better shape than where they found them.
After working for a few years as a professor at Brown University and leaving the Republican Party, Chafee reemerged to run an independent campaign for governor. He became a Democrat in May, although he says that decision was unrelated to his departure from the race for governor.
Chafee narrowly won the 2010 race for governor, beating Republican candidate John Robitaille by slightly less than two percentage points. During his news conference, he conceded being governor has been more difficult than anticipated and said he will strongly support a constitutional convention expected to be on next year's statewide ballot.
This post has been updated.