Gina Raimondo’s long path to the top job in Rhode Island politics culminated when she was sworn in Tuesday as the state’s first female governor. Raimondo has cautioned that making change won’t be easy in a state plagued by persistently high unemployment.
Raimondo’s inaugural on the south portico of the Statehouse was steeped in tradition, from the singing of the National Anthem to the firing of a 19-gun salute.
The new governor began her inaugural address by citing a familiar set of Rhode Island problems: high unemployment; corruption; a brain drain of young people; and a political culture favoring insiders. While some might question whether the state can change, Raimondo says she’s committed to leading in a new direction.
“It’s time to stop our decline and to ignite a Rhode Island comeback,” she said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen on its own, or we can wait for someone else to do. Every person within the sound of my voice and far beyond has a role to play in this comeback.”
Raimondo did not use her speech to outline any new initiatives. Instead, she focused on the importance of striving to do better and creating the conditions for success.
“Every decision we make must pass the test of whether or not it will create opportunities for Rhode Island families,” Raimondo said. “In everything we do, we must ask ourselves, ‘how will this create good middle-class jobs?’ and then have the fortitude to act accordingly.
The 43-year-old former venture capitalist says three things are necessary to spark a Rhode Island comeback: building workers’ skills, so they can compete in the contemporary economy; attracting investments in industries that represent local strengths; and being innovative in state government and elsewhere to increase accountability and value for taxpayers.
Raimondo closed out her speech with references to the well-known activist, Sister Ann Keefe, who is struggling with an illness; The need for communities to pull together after Ferguson; and how the late New York governor Mario Cuomo emphasized the connections binding together different people
A few hundred people braved sub-freezing temperatures to attend Raimondo’s inaugural and well-wishers crowded into the Statehouse to say hello to her after the ceremony.
But first the new governor slipped into her office to sign a document that she said is meant to usher in an era of accountability: “It is an executive order which binds every member of my administration to the highest ethical standards and also which requires every department to have a point person on issues of ethics.”
Rhode Island faces a lengthy list of problems. They range from under-performing schools to an almost $200 million deficit for the next fiscal year. There’s also a looming hit to one of the state’s largest revenue sources with casino competition coming from Massachusetts. And of course, the pending lawsuit challenging the pension overhaul Raimondo spearheaded as state treasurer in 2011. The new governor told reporters she’s up to the task.
“I’m ready, I’m ready,” Raimondo said. “We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. There’s people in Rhode Island who are struggling, and we’re ready to go. As I said, the challenges are extreme, but we’re going to meet those challenges.”
A few hours later, Raimondo told state lawmakers she’s aligned with their goal of improving the economy. Then she was off to an inaugural WaterFire, eventually some sleep, and then the real work of trying to move forward this little corner of New England.