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The lady's a star

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In the famous Frank Sinatra song from the late 1960s, Old Blue Eyes describes a posh woman of questionable motives who is ubiquitously apparent. In the description of the woman being portrayed in the tune, some of the lyrics state: “If the lady’s chicer than chic” and “If the lady’s utterly charming” and “If the lady’s chummy with kings” and “If the lady’s someone with the same credentials, someone with the same essentials, someone who is worshipped from afar…She’s a genuine, positive, totally, marvelous, perfectly, wonderful…She’s a great big star!”

These song lyrics seem to apply to the Governor of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Gina M. Raimondo. At least the song is applicable to Gina’s perception outside the state.

Within the state borders, Raimondo’s poll ratings are abysmal. On the contrary, outside the Ocean State Gina is considered to be a shining political messiah. The triumph of public relations dovetailed with Raimondo’s ability to embellish the innocuous into grand successes have combined to create a national figure whose nest is well feathered for a future flight of possible extraordinary political heights.

The late controversial Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci was fond of saying, “I’d go to the opening of an envelope.” This is also true of the current governor providing the forum is outside Little Rhody. Although, Raimondo was the host of the National Governor’s Conference in the capital city recently, most of her celebrity appearances are elsewhere.

After two and one half years with Raimondo in office, we should reflect upon her degree of accomplishment versus her self-marketing prowess. We should analyze whether the tasks of her office have been in the forefront of her concerns. Or has the projection of an exaggerated political personality been more of a priority? And perhaps most absurdly, how has the lady become a star?

As with all politicians, when economic figures are positive they have a natural tendency to take credit for the positives. Such is the case with the governor and the latest state employment results. With a mantra of “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” during the campaign for governor, Gina Raimondo can certainly use the latest unemployment statistics to her personal advantage. According to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT), Rhode Island has regained all of the jobs lost since the economic crash in 2008. Simply our unemployment rate went from one of the highest in the country to one of the lowest.

Pointedly, the governor commented to the Providence Journal, “They’re the strongest jobs numbers we’ve seen in many, many years, and it is just a great thing that we’ve been able to finally recover all the jobs that were lost in the recession.” And great timing too, because Raimondo might likely be facing strong challenges from several competitors for the governor’s chair next year. The obvious question of course is this unemployment turn around a result of a national economic trend or specific policies instituted by the governor. Arguably, one could say that her efforts in lowering of the corporate income tax rate had a positive effect. One could postulate her efforts in constructing incentive driven deals, which have led to the eventual residence of companies such as Virgin Pulse, Finlay’s Coffee and Tea, Johnson and Johnson, General Electric, and Wexford Scientific, have started to turn the business tide in Rhode Island. Of course in contradiction, one could say that the tax incentives and financing assistance was way too costly in comparison to the eventual number of jobs created. Further, not many of those jobs had come to fruition yet.

Nevertheless, in a recent “Ask the Governor” interview on WGBH Radio in Boston, Raimondo took credit for the jobs numbers as if she were a one-woman band. Hosts Jim Braude and Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung were effusive in their praise of the governor.

During the interview, which was more akin to an infomercial rather than an unbiased Q and A, Governor Raimondo fielded softball inquiries about her recent proposals, her hosting of the governor’s conference in Providence, her state college tuition plan, and a strange digression into a feminist rant that should have been lined with a Helen Reddy song.

First in the interview was a disturbing exchange about the Prime Minister of Canada. Raimondo spoke of a message from her daughter in reference to meeting PM Trudeau. The governor said, “He is cuter than he appears to be”. Huh, how is this appropriate? Furthermore in relation to the governor’s association meeting, she aptly talked of the concerns that most governors had about the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would devastate many in our state. With one third of our citizen’s dependant in some way on the government, the repeal would have a significant effect. One could speculate on the measure of her expressed concern whether it was genuine or opportunistic.

Then she spoke about her free college tuition proposal. If and when the speaker and the senate president resolve their differences, the eventual free tuition program will be a mere shadow of her original plan. She of course did not relate that relegation to Braude and Leung.

Oddly and surprisingly, Gina Raimondo then went on a tirade akin to one that Gloria Steinem might have made in a rally in the late ’60s. Raimondo stated in her diatribe, “You need to find women” [to run governments], “People are still a little uncomfortable with women in the top job. They’re much more comfortable, I think, with sending a woman to congress or the Senate, more than governors.” Is the ulterior message of that statement that Gina aspires to hold one of those positions hopefully?

Further, Gina harkened back to her private sector days, “In the course of my career, I sat on a dozen boards, and almost always I was the only female. I can count on one hand the amount of times I had a female colleague also on the board, almost always you backed a male CEO.” One wonders whether this newfound feminism will be a centerpiece in some future national campaign.

Over the past 2½ years, there have been positive profiles of our governor in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Glamour magazine and Fortune magazine. In fact Gina has been named 38th in the list of the World’s Greatest Leaders in a business periodical. Also, she has been named a “Democrat to Watch” by the New York Times.

Along with her national fame has come a lot of money. According to the bipartisan political campaign website Followthemoney.org, Gina Raimondo has raised 7,176,337 dollars for both political races she has run. Additionally, she has over 2 million in her campaign war chest for reelection.

The governor might very well need that money with a potentially divisive race next year that may include former State Representative Joe Trillo, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, former Governor Lincoln Chafee, State Representative Patricia Morgan, a Moderate Party Candidate, and possibly a democratic primary challenger supported by Director Robert Walsh of the Teacher’s Association.

All of those competitors will have to contend with Gina Raimondo’s star power. Even though we Rhode Islanders do not hold Gina’s performance as governor in such high regard as recent poll numbers indicate. In a fractious field of candidates where the victor only has to realize a plurality of the vote, Raimondo could indeed prevail once again. Perilous political issues like the UHIP computer debacle at Health and Human Services, the failing “Cooler and Warmer” tourist marketing program, the truck tolling law passed against the majority will of the people, the pensioners’ and current union worker’s disgust with pension reform and her veto of the “evergreen” contract bill that benefited public sector workers, might be eclipsed by something more potent. No one should underestimate Gina Raimondo’s ability at self-promotion. Gina can be endearing, forceful, graceful, and appear decisive on a political stage, especially to a liberal Democrat audience.

As old Francis Albert crooned many decades ago “She’s a great big, a great big star.”

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