Continuing the themes of her gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Gina Raimondo took office as Rhode Island’s first female governor this afternoon with a pledge to work diligently to improve the state’s struggling economy.
Raimondo, 43, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard University graduate, projected optimism and a can-do attitude as she delivered her inaugural address under snow flurries and a January chill on the south steps of the State House.
She mentioned ``jobs’’ or the ``economy’’ more than 20 times in a speech that was largely a rehash of the campaign messages that vaulted her to victory in both the three-way Democratic primary in September and in a narrow, hard-fought November general election that comprised three serious aspirants.
Raimondo promised to tackle the state’s economic difficulties ``stop our decline and to ignite a Rhode Island comeback.’’
``We need new politics and new ideas. Too many interest groups have crowded into this building for too long, putting their short-term interests before the long-term interests of all Rhode Islanders,’’ said Raimondo.
There were a number of empty seats as Raimondo and the other state general officers were sworn in on a blustery, cold New England January afternoon. Yet none of that dampened the mood of the always upbeat Raimondo and her admirers, many of whom were bundled in blankets and shivering in parkas and wool hats.
It was an event that more resembled a post-season Patriots game at Gillette Stadium than a political ceremony.
There were hints of John F. Kennedy’s famous `Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ slogan when Raimondo said, ``Ask yourself: what role can I play in the comeback of Rhode Island?’’
``How can we, as elected leaders, represent all the concerns of a diverse people? How can business leaders develop new strategies to meet payroll and expand jobs here in Rhode Island? How can our educators create cutting-edge laboratories of learning where we teach the next generation of innovators and leaders,’’ said the new governor.
The only ``path out of this mess’’ Raimondo said, is to ``create middle-class, family-supporting jobs. And so we must foster an environment where businesses want to add jobs and where we support our workers,’’ said Raimondo.
As is the case with just about every inaugural address, Raimondo focused on lofty goals and historic themes, not specific policy proposals. Those will come later next month, when she takes the wraps off her first state budget, the taxing and spending plan that she will present to the General Assembly.
Raimondo thanked outgoing Gov. Lincoln Chafee for his``more than 25 years of dedicated public service to our state,’’ a reference to the many political roles Chafee has played, from Warwick city councilman and Warwick mayor to U.S. Senator and governor.
Yet, as is usually the strategy, Raimondo underscored how bad things are in Rhode Island and how far the state must travel before the economy gets to full recovery from the recession. ``In just the last year, we have had the highest unemployment rate in the country for nine straight months. We’ve been 49th among states where companies want to do business – and dead last for helping entrepreneurs.’’
``As a result, workers are insecure and families are more vulnerable and too many cities are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy,’’ she said. ``And far too many young people are leaving to seek opportunities elsewhere.’’
Raimondo promised to make decisions with an eye to building economic opportunity.``Every decision we make must pass the test of whether or not it will create opportunity for Rhode Island families. In everything we must ask ourselves `how will this create good middle-class jobs?’’
She also sought to tamp down expectations, saying that change doesn’t happen overnight. ``The job won’t be done in two, five or 10 years. The problems we face weren’t created overnight. And they won’t be resolved overnight either.’’
She mentioned her Smithfield childhood and the influence her family had on her success. And she mentioned the late New York Gpv. Mario Cuomo, the liberal Democrat who said, ``we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter, we are bound one to another.’’
It appeared at times that Raimondo rushed a bit during her speech. Who could blame her on such a cold afternoon?
While Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin boycotted the speech, spurning an invitation from Raimondo, because of her position in favor of abortion rights, she nonetheless mentioned God and a much beloved member of the Catholic clergy, Sister Anne Keefe of St. Michael the Archangel parish on Providence’s South Side.
``As I prepared for this day, I spoke with a friend of mine –someone who many of us know and are praying for …Sister Anne Keefe,’’ said Raimondo, who is a practicing Catholic.
``Sister Anne’s work has been teaching non-violence. And, like most things in life, it’s a work in progress. But she never loses faith,’’ said Raimondo.
Keefe has had a protracted battle with cancer and recently has undergone hospice treatment.
``Our collective future is tied to rebuilding our economy in a way that expands opportunity for all families and leaves no one behind,’’ said Raimondo. ``I believe this why we are all here today. We are tying our fates together, and with God’s help, we will find a way.’’