In a Providence Journal story last Thursday, prospective U.S. Senate candidate Lincoln Chafee was painted as a man enamored with Vladimir Putin and a “brilliant” 2007 speech he made on the nature of global power.
When the Warwick Beacon sat down with Chafee Tuesday he delivered a different message, not one enamored with Putin, but instead a vision of what global peace could look like, how the U.S. had been so close to achieving that peace in the years after the Cold War, and why he should be elected to the U.S. Senate.
“My talk about the 2007 Putin speech got taken out of context,” Chafee said of the Journal story.
“Our [Russian] relations are terrible. I go back in time to see how we could have done things better, and reference the 2007 speech, which I saw as an olive branch by Putin. You just have to keep working. That’s why I want to go to the Senate. To get back to doing things right.”
Chafee rocked the political scene last week when he discounted a run for governor, as was the speculation and he was considering a run against incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse in the September Democratic primary. While still not a candidate, Chafee says he’s going to have an announcement soon, and that he’s in the “high nineties” for a chance of running.
“I think we can do better than Senator Whitehouse and his votes and his judgments on the four issues I’ve been talking about,” said Chafee.
Chafee takes issue with the fact that Whitehouse supported Hillary Clinton at the DNC Convention in Philadelphia in 2016, even though candidate Bernie Sanders won 35 out of 39 of the cities and towns in Rhode Island in the Presidential Primary.
“Senator Whitehouse said I know better,” said Chafee.
Chafee also thought it was a problem that Whitehouse voted against ending the war authorization given to the office of the President since the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Currently the President, using that 2001 document, is able to call for attacks all over the world in the name of stopping terrorism. Chafee thinks this vague and unclear law needs to get off the books. The Sanders - Lee Resolution, put before Congress this March, sought to end these war powers, and force debate in Congress before the President is allowed to pursue military action overseas.
“Whitehouse voted against that,” he said. “Sanders and Lee said ‘no.’ If we’re going to be going into Yemen or Niger we are going to get proper information, and Whitehouse voted against it.”
He’s also passionate about the Fourth Amendment, which is the right for people to be secure in their persons and possessions without the danger of being searched, without warrant, by the government. Chafee is concerned about warrant-less wiretapping by government security agencies, and how the rights of citizens are being infringed upon.
“Sen. Whitehouse has voted time and time again to bypass that warrant-less wiretapping,” said Chafee. “And he's out of step with most Democrats on these votes.”
Also, he’s concerned that Senator Whitehouse has not come out in opposition to the Burrillville Power Plant, even though 36 out of the 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island have passed resolutions against it.
“But I’m running on my record also,” said Chafee.
Chafee has a long history in Rhode Island government.
The son of John Chafee, one of Rhode Island’s leading politicians in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, Chafee got his start in politics in 1985, when he became a member of the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention. That led him to a spot on Warwick City Council, and eventually, in 1992, to being elected as Warwick’s first Republican Mayor in 32 years. Chafee was mayor for seven years, helping to usher in environmental initiatives such as more advanced recycling in the city as well as the “Greenwich Bay Initiative,” which extended sewer service into new parts of Warwick.
Chafee became a member of the U.S. Senate in 1999, when he was appointed by Governor Lincoln Almond to complete the term of his father, John Chafee, who had unexpectedly passed away in the middle of his term. Chafee won reelection in 2000, but lost in 2006 to the Democrat Whitehouse.
As a senator, Chafee was the only Republican to vote against the Iraq War.
It was during his time in the Senate that Chafee started to transition from Republican to Democrat. Others in the Senate labeled him a RINO, or “Republican In Name Only,” accusing him of being too liberal to be a Republican. After the loss to Whitehouse in 2006, Chafee changed his affiliation to independent. He ran for governor in 2010, winning with 36 per cent of the vote in a seven-person race, and after deciding not to run for reelection in 2014, Chafee became a Democrat and ran for President in 2016.
During his time as Governor, Chafee signed the DREAM Act, which gives in-state tuition to undocumented students. He also pushed for marriage equality.
When asked about his changing political affiliation on Tuesday, Chafee said, “I haven’t changed on those core principles. The party changed, absolutely.”
Chafee choose to join the Democratic party because it was difficult to govern without the backing of a party, and that he “certainly wasn’t going to go backwards to join the Republican Party.”
Chafee said he is a progressive but doesn’t want to be labeled one.
“I’m a little wary of labels. I’ve always cared about the environment, about fiscal responsibility, about fear of foreign entanglements, and liberties such as the Third and Fourth Amendment,” said Chafee. “I’ve always cared about social programs to build the middle class throughout my career.”
While Chafee is adamant that he is running his own race, on his own record and with his own people, he did say that Sanders supporters urged him to get into the race. Two Sanders supporters, left unnamed, who were heavily involved in the Vermont Senators 2016 Presidential campaign in Rhode Island, approached Chafee in January to suggest he run. Up until then he was thinking of running for governor against Democrat Gina Raimondo.
“At the time I hadn’t considered [the Senate] at all,” Chafee said.
Once decided, Chafee intends to use his familiar “Trust Chafee” slogan and to take Scott Avedisian’s current office on Airport Road for campaign headquarters.
“It’s tired and true,” Chafee says of his slogan, “whether it’s the Iraq War vote or 38 Studios. I think the slogan is appropriate.”
Even though Whitehouse has over $3 million in campaign money on hand, Chafee believes he can fight back with the usage of internet technologies and the simple fact that he is already a well known political figure. He intends to raise money for the campaign.
He also said that he has the support of his family to run.
There have been recent questions about Chafee’s willingness to go on RT, the U.S. arm of Russian state television. Chafee brushes aside any concerns, declaring that he accepts all invitations.
Chafee believes that he is the right candidate for Warwick.
“I have a long record of delivering. All you need to do is drive down Post Road and look at the airport-train connector,” he said, referring to the Interlink system he advocated as mayor.
Chafee also mentioned the roundabouts that make up the Apponaug Circulator. Chafee had a hand in procuring the funds for those projects when he worked as a U.S. Senator.
Chafee said, “This campaign is going to be hard. It’s just the way it is. It’s the world we live in.”
Chafee said he would make an official announcement in the near future.