Former RI Secretary of State Matt Brown files to run for governor

Matt Brown in 2006.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – You can add another name to the list of candidates who want to be Rhode Island’s next governor: former Secretary of State Matt Brown.

Brown, 48, filed paperwork Tuesday afternoon with the R.I. Board of Elections to seek the state’s highest office – a move that took the state’s political class by surprise and further scrambled calculations about this year’s gubernatorial election.

In a news release Wednesday, the former Democratic officeholder said he plans to run as an independent, and described his campaign as “exploratory.” He is listed as an unaffiliated voter, not a registered Democrat, in Providence.

“As a politically independent governor, I will best be able to reach out to people of all backgrounds and parties to find ways to come together and work together based on our common interest and our common humanity,” Brown said. “I will be the governor for every single one of you equally, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated or anything else.”

Brown and his campaign treasurer, Holly Davis, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

But in a letter posted on his newly launched campaign website –, a URL registered last week – he laid out three proposals likely to win support on the left: build a “local renewable energy system” by 2035 that pays dividends to residents, as Alaska does with oil; create a state-run bank, like North Dakota has; and seek to let Rhode Islanders buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

Brown was only 32 when he defeated incumbent Democrat Ed Inman in the 2002 primary for secretary of state, and was seen at the time as someone with a bright future in local politics. But the Yale and Columbia graduate has largely disappeared from the political scene since 2006, when he bowed out of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate after a fundraising controversy. Sheldon Whitehouse went on to win that race.

In recent years, Brown has been active with a group he co-founded called Global Zero, which has sought to eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide. He and his wife, Marisa, have two children.

Brown filed his candidacy paperwork one day after a new WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll showed a wide-open race for governor, with Democratic incumbent Gina Raimondo taking just 38% against her strongest Republican opponent, Allan Fung, who receives 36%. Nearly one in four voters are undecided in a Raimondo-Fung race.

It’s unclear who else is backing Brown’s surprise candidacy. Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a vocal Raimondo critic who has openly flirted with challenging her in this year’s Democratic primary, told Eyewitness News he had not spoken to Brown or known about his plans. (Chafee said he expects to make his own decision about a run by late May.)

Bill Gilbert, chairman of the Moderate Party, said just last week he has spoken to multiple “prominent” individuals about being his small party’s candidate for governor this year. Reached Tuesday, Gilbert said he had not known about Brown’s candidacy before Eyewitness News reported it, but now planned to reach out to him.

Ted Nesi ( covers politics and the economy for He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

This story has been updated.