PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In a lot of ways, hosting a national conference in your state is like hosting a party – just on a much larger scale. There are events to plan, guests to coordinate, and plenty of bumps in the road to smooth over.
For Governor Gina Raimondo, hosting the National Association of Governor’s Summer Meeting is above all an honor, while at the same time a challenge.
This weekend is set to be one of the largest governor’s conferences in the past few years, with more than 1,000 people planning to attend, including at least 30 governors. According to Scott Pattison, Executive Director and CEO of the National Governor’s Association, these conferences have about half as many in attendance.
Governors conference: Road closures planned in Providence»
“I have to say, hats off to the attraction of Rhode Island,” Pattison said.
For Raimondo, one of the most important panels of the weekend will be a discussion of the ongoing opioid overdose crisis led by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
“We’re all struggling with the issue,” Raimondo said. “That’s where I think you get the most out of a conference…and it’s completely bipartisan.”
The conference comes at the same time as a critical juncture for the country-the introduction of the new healthcare bill. Protests have already been planned against Vice President Mike Pence, who is scheduled to speak Friday. While this event is not necessarily a political one, Raimondo feels that it is important to take a stand on vital issues.
“On a political level, I really want to take the message to my fellow governors, to the vice president, to Secretary Price: don’t repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Raimondo said. “I want to make some noise about it, and see if we can change the outcome.”
Other important figures in attendance this weekend will be Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is set to deliver the keynote address, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who will make a closing speech.
“It’s exciting for Rhode Island to host the head of state of a major country,” Raimondo said. “That doesn’t happen every day.”
While a main focus of the weekend will be showcasing the state, there are several dark spots the governor says she wishes she could address.
Thirteen days into the new fiscal year, the state is still operating under the 2017 budget. The House and Senate have reached an impasse over reconciling the two versions of the bill, with compromise seeming a distant possibility.
“It doesn’t look good for us,” Raimondo said. “I wish I could say instead that we got out budget done, instead I have to say our legislative leaders can’t get together.”
The stalemate, Raimondo says, is likely due to the House and Senate being so “dug in” that they are not willing to compromise.
“At this point, they haven’t even gotten together in a room,” she said.
Throughout the weekend, Raimondo hopes the conference will serve to show other state leaders the beauty and opportunities available in the Ocean State. Events throughout the state are planned, including a clambake in Newport, a celebration of the arts at Providence Performing Arts Center, and displays of local talent including a performance by Billy Gilman, the Rhode Island native who recently came in second place on the TV show The Voice.
Throughout the weekend, road closures will be in effect around the city to accommodate conference events.