By the end of this week, barring some unforeseen surprise (and we can't rule anything out these days), Rhode Island will have a new governor for the first time in over six years. Much print will be dedicated in the coming weeks to try and calculate
By the end of this week, barring some unforeseen surprise (and we can’t rule anything out these days), Rhode Island will have a new governor for the first time in over six years.
Much print will be dedicated in the coming weeks to try and calculate exiting Governor Gina Raimondo’s legacy. What were her major accomplishments? Her biggest mistakes? Did she leave the state better than she found it? Was she a “good” governor, a “bad” one – or somewhere in between?
No matter where you fall on that spectrum, Raimondo’s tenure as the first female governor of Rhode Island – as well as her encountering of a once-in-a-century global health crisis and holding the distinction of being the first Rhode Island governor to be selected for a Cabinet position within the White House mid-term – is surely be remembered as an historic one.
Incoming Governor Dan McKee will surely be challenged as he steps out from under Raimondo’s lofty shadow and assumes the reigns of a state that is, like everywhere else in the world at the moment, in a precarious position societally and financially. In fact, it is hard to imagine a less enviable job than McKee faces at the moment – with only a little more than 20 months to try and enact positive change among a political landscape that is as complex as it is unforgiving.
McKee has made clear that his number one priority will be bolstering Rhode Island’s administration of the COVID-19 vaccine and getting the state to a better place for the summer. It is a goal with high stakes, as we can hardly imagine a more disastrous outcome than seeing closed beaches, limited seating in restaurants and hotels shuttered during the state’s most important economic season, with a deficit as possibly high as $500 million looming in the background.
The current rollout of vaccinations in the state has been inconsistent at best, so McKee will have his work cut out for him figuring out how to open more vaccination centers, secure more doses and create a system that reduces confusion and prevents line jumping from people who are less prioritized. Of course, McKee will also need to be wise about deciding who gets priority as the vaccination period rolls on. These decisions should be made in concert with sound public health expertise, rather than personal biases or gut calls. The success of our inoculation program is too important to be left up to the whims and decision making of any one person.
In this same capacity, it will be crucial for McKee to quickly establish an open and transparent relationship with the Rhode Island media, as no benefit can be gained from trying to govern in the dark during a time when people want fast, honest answers. Despite any misgivings Rhode Islanders may have had about Governor Raimondo prior to the pandemic, she enjoyed skyrocketing support during the early days of the pandemic for her commitment to being a calming voice of reason. McKee would be wise to emulate this strategy, and it seems he is poised to do so.
It will be equally important for McKee to make fast friends of the new legislative powers that have formed within the Rhode Island State House. There should be no room for egos in Rhode Island during the crucial months to come, and everyone should have a seat at the table – Democrat, Republican or otherwise – to voice their opinions and be heard.
Knowing the extent of work needed in the months and years ahead, we are cautiously hopeful that McKee can blend the right mix of informed counsel and transparent, steady handed governing to guide us through the last phase of our nightmarish plight. As all governors learn quickly, tomorrow’s history books are being written today.