If Governor Gina Raimondo could have predicted the weather, she might have included a pun in her second inaugural address that the 40 mile per hour gusts that buffeted the crowd on the front lawn of the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday afternoon represented proof she had brought about real winds of change to Rhode Island.
After all, her speech encapsulated many of the themes she hit during her campaign for re-election – economic recovery, job creation, promotion of societal and educational equity, etc. – that ultimately resulted in a landslide victory and gave her control of the state’s affairs for the next four years.
“I am humbled that you’ve again placed your trust in me. Together we’ll continue bringing the change that will set us on a path for enduring success,” she said to begin her address. “Four years ago, I stood here before you and we faced a very different Rhode Island than we do today.”
Raimondo said that the state has changed the way it invests in infrastructure, goes about economic development and performs job training, which are the main pillars that have put tens of thousands of people back to work. She praised the “once in a generation” investment to support school rebuilding projects and the roll out of the Rhode Island Promise program – although she did not strictly commit to expanding it beyond the Community College of Rhode Island in the speech.
“There is no question we have stopped our decline and this new approach is working,” she said. “Now, let’s commit ourselves to sustaining the comeback until every Rhode Islander is included, and to making choices that will position our state for success for the long haul.”
While she understandably didn’t get into the weeds on the state’s fiscal reality, it will be hard for Raimondo to avoid conversations about the less-than-stellar projections put forward by experts in the coming years. The state is looking at a $160 million budgetary shortfall next year that could grow to as large as $190 million by FY23. Where decreased spending or increased revenue could come from, at this point, is purely speculative.
Moving forward became the main theme of the speech, as Raimondo turned to areas that still need improvement. She mentioned ending the opioid crisis, improving economic opportunities regardless of gender and making work environments places free from sexual harassment as priorities.
“And, let’s take a moment to recognize the record numbers of women who have run for office and are taking on positions of leadership in all walks of life here in Rhode Island and around the country,” Raimondo said. “We’re all counting on you to stay at the table long enough to make real change.”
However, despite this specific mentioning of women legislators, Raimondo did not mention enshrining state protection of federal abortion rights as a legislative priority, while some female representatives have vocalized that measure as being a significant goal for the new session.
Raimondo mentioned that the country “is more divided than ever” and posited that economic inequality was the cause, while those with hatred in their hearts exacerbate the division due to “fear and resentment.” Too often, she said, we fail to try to understand the points of views of people who disagree with our own and fall into an “us-versus-them” mentality. She called on leaders at every level of government to embody the values that Rhode Island was founded for.
“With the stakes so high, it’s time for us to adhere to Rhode Island’s founding principles of inclusion, equality and tolerance,” she said. “We believe that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity no matter your race, religion, gender, ethnicity, who you love or where you come from. Let’s find the courage to bring to the table perspectives that have been missing.”
An issue sure to continue to divide people is gun control, and in one particularly descriptive, committal part of the speech, Raimondo mentioned specifically her intent to ban high capacity magazines and “assault weapons.”
“It is not enough to send our thoughts and prayers each time another act of gun violence takes away a life full of promise. Since I’ve been Governor, I have lowered the flags at the State House 13 times in four years for 223 lives lost in mass shootings,” she said. “Our children’s future and their lives depend on it [the aforementioned ban].”
Raimondo emphasized the importance of making higher education available to all that seek it, and that professional training and apprenticeships be available to those who wish to seek a different means into a good paying job. She mentioned investing in education from Pre-K to post-secondary opportunities as vital pieces to the economic recovery of the state.
“A high school diploma can no longer be the endpoint of our education system. Kindergarten can no longer be the starting point. We have to prioritize investing in our children during their formative years,” she said. “We won’t stop until every Rhode Islander has a shot at a good paying job. Our world is changing so quickly. This change requires all of us to be lifelong learners.”
Raimondo also touched on the protection of the environment and the protection of Rhode Islanders’ healthcare benefits. She once again asked citizens of the state to look to what brings us all together rather than what tears us apart. She said Rhode Islanders have the ability to put all differences aside and to “let our size be our strength.”
“The cure to divisiveness is action. So, let’s show everyone what Rhode Island can do. Above all, we anchor ourselves to hope. Hope makes us resilient. Hope cannot be easily taken away. And hope guides us toward lasting progress,” she said. “As I stand here looking out on our Capital City I’m filled with optimism, because I’ve seen what we can accomplish together in just four short years, and I know that even more is possible.”
In the biggest picture, Raimondo said that she believed Rhode Island can inspire the rest of the country to rise above negative forces to become a nationwide success story.
“Together, we will overcome fear and make Rhode Island a beacon of hope for America,” she concluded.