Chafee: I’m open to running as a Democrat in 2014

Gov. Lincoln Chafee says it’s possible he’ll run for reelection as a Democrat in 2014 – and it’s also possible he’ll decline to endorse Barack Obama’s bid for a second term in the White House.

The next gubernatorial election is “a long way away” and running as a Democrat “would be a hard step, just because of history,” Chafee said Monday during a 45-minute interview with Chafee’s father was a Republican governor and senator, and the younger Chafee was in the G.O.P. until 2007.

Still, Chafee said he thinks his lack of party affiliation has caused him some political headaches. “I love being an independent, but the disadvantage is I don’t have a party spokesperson – somebody that traditionally fills the role of hatchet man out there,” the governor said.

By contrast, Chafee said being an independent has proven to be “an advantage” in his dealings with the General Assembly, because it allows him to mingle with members of both parties – although he acknowledged “there’s some persona non grata atmosphere” when he visits the Republican minority’s offices.

‘War machine just grinds on’

Chafee endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008, a year after he left the Republican Party. Obama repaid Chafee last fall by pointedly declining to endorse Democrat Frank Caprio in their gubernatorial race – the impetus for Caprio’s infamous “shove it” comment.

But Chafee says he hasn’t made up his mind yet about whether to endorse Obama again in 2012 – because of his administration’s foreign policy.

“The wars are my only hesitation,” Chafee said, referring to the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. “It’s costing so much money. And lives. … The war machine just grinds on. Makes no sense to me.”

“Don’t forget – [Obama] stayed neutral in my race,” Chafee said. “So there’s a precedent to stay neutral.”

Chafee did say he was “very flattered” to be seated with Obama at the head table at the White House when his fellow governors were in Washington over the winter. But he questioned the president’s handling of last week’s negotiations with Republicans to avert a federal shutdown.

“It sounded to me like the president might have given away a lot,” Chafee said. “And Clinton didn’t do that – Clinton said, ‘Go ahead and shut down the government. I’m not going to send us into deficits and broken programs that we can’t afford.’ ”

Ducks Magistrate Montalbano question

During his campaign for governor, Chafee frequently referred to his “ABCs” of economic development – maximizing the state’s assets, dealing with the budget deficit, and cracking down on political corruption. On the last of those, he said the key for him will be leading an ethical administration.

“Even if my cousin were the best qualified for the job, you just can’t do it,” Chafee said. “You have to be cleaner than clean when you’re trying to change your reputation.”

But the governor clammed up when asked whether that meant it was inappropriate for former Senate President Joe Montalbano to have been named a magistrate judge last month.

“I’m not going to fight with the General Assembly,” Chafee said flatly.

The governor also responded curtly when asked whether he would read the new memoir by former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, one of his staunchest critics: “No.”

However, Chafee did confirm one of the stories Cianci tells in his book – that years ago the future senator and governor asked for a job as a garbageman in Providence.

“That is a true story,” Chafee said, explaining that he and his roommate at Brown University were looking for a summer job after their senior year and thought picking up trash might be a good one. There was a similar program in his hometown of Warwick, he said.

“I just thought about it this morning,” Chafee recalled. “I saw a truck go by with the guy hanging on the back – you talk about being outdoors, that looked like fun. The truck stops, it’s good, hard work, and you’re hanging onto the back.”

Chafee also said he and his roommate were surprised when they wound up in front of Cianci after requesting the job. “We just reached out to the Public Works Department about a summer program, and the next thing we know the mayor’s invited us into his office,” he said. “We never expected that.”

This is the last of three articles based on my interview with Governor Chafee.

Follow-up: Dem leader Pacheco noncommittal on Chafee joining the party

(photo: Chafee campaign)

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