Why You Should Vote Chafee

by by George Warner & Simon van Zuylen-Wood

Lincoln Chafee B’75 was eleven when he went to the 1964 Republican National Convention, with his father, then the immensely popular Republican Rhode Island Governor. At the convention, far right-wing Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater claimed the Presidential nomination—famously saying, “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”—in front of a whooping coalition of John Birch Society Members and disillusioned southern ex-Democrats. When New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the face of northeast Republican moderation, stood up to speak, he was literally booed off the stage. Forty-six years later, the Republican party’s rightward shift has perhaps reached its apex. The GOP’s moderate wing is nearly extinct. When Lincoln Chafee replaced his father in the Senate in 1999, his “(R)” was couched more in loyalty than in ideological coherence. With “huge tax cuts, no climate change legislation—Bush was arrogant towards the world,” Chafee said in an interview with the Independent, “I realized this maybe wasn’t the party I wanted to be a member of.”

Chafee’s Republican past is not unimportant. As a Senator, he voted against his party on major legislation (he was the only Republican to vote against the war in Iraq and a higher income tax bracket for millionaires in 2005, and was one of the few who broke ranks on climate change, gay rights, and abortion), pandering not to party leadership or interest groups, but abiding by his own conviction. Chafee’s political courage stems from a fierce—and politically risky—honesty. But he never officially left the Republican party while representing Rhode Island in the Senate. As a member of the majority party, Chafee was able to channel significant federal dollars and support to Rhode Island.

Four years after losing his Senate seat to Sheldon Whitehouse (D), Chafee is now an Independent. He is running for Governor not just as a moderate, but as the most progressive of the four candidates. Four years after supporting his departure from the senate, we support Chafee for Governor.

Chafee is the only candidate supporting comprehensive immigration reform, endorsing the creation of an in-state bill similar to the failed 2005 McCain-Kennedy US Senate bill that championed paths to citizenship for illegal aliens. In contrast, Frank Caprio, the Democratic candidate, supports E-Verify, which has long provided deeply flawed results. Caprio also supports Governor Carcieri’s 2008 executive order that increased cooperation between the state and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The executive order, as Leutenant. Governor Roberts said, is part of a larger “politics of polarization.” It does not address the real issues of immigration.

Chafee has argued convincingly for the legalization of gay marriage, recognizing that marriage is not only a basic civic right, but also that Rhode Island loses potential business owners and consumers by not providing equal marriage rights.

His most contentious plan is his proposed one percent tax of the wide-array of currently exempt consumer items, including heating oil, clothing, gasoline and food, to help repair the state’s deficit. Sales tax is an especially regressive tax, unfairly placing the tax burden on the working class, who spend a larger share of their income on basics than richer Rhode Islanders. He has said, “fifty cents on a $50 grocery bill isn’t a big deal,” on a number of occasions, but over the year, one percent adds up. Chafee’s plan would bring the state $89 million in yearly revenue.

But his plan is an economically—if not politically—viable way to solve Rhode Island’s crippling budget deficit within four years, unlike the other candidate’s proposals. John Robitaille (R) will cut yet unnamed social services. Robitaille believes taxes are already too high, and plans to cut taxes for veterans, but has not addressed how he will pay for it. Ken Block (Moderate) evokes waste and fraud, reminiscent of McCain’s perpetual pork talk during the 2008 elections. The waste and fraud rhetoric is noble, but it also reflects Block’s lack of a better idea. Cutting back waste and fraud won’t be enough to address a $350 million deficit in 2012. Caprio, like Robitaille and Block, has promised to keep taxes as they are. Alarmingly, he supports renewing the Bush-era tax cuts for America’s wealthiest families. And when Rhode Island found out that it had inadvertently cut the income taxes of the 35 Rhode Islanders who make over $10 million a year with new legislation—instead of raising their taxes by $5 million, Caprio praised the error, describing the rich not as those with a civil duty to support the state, but as the state’s “best customers.” To balance the state, budget Caprio proposed slashing the state worker’s pension fund. Largely because of Caprio’s shaky commitment to the working class, several prominent unions have taken the rare step of bypassing the Democratic candidate. Rhode Island branches of the Service Employees International Union and the American Teachers Association have, like us, endorsed Chafee.

Caprio does not deserve the vote based on party affiliation alone—and not just because he captured the headlines by telling President Obama to ‘shove it’ on Monday. Two incidents in particular call into question Caprio’s viability as a Democrat—and suggest he’s the latest in a legacy of Rhode Island political operators. In August, Robitaille said Caprio and two campaign operatives had been pushing him to drop out of the race so he could take his place as the Republican candidate. On Monday, it was revealed that Caprio met with Republican National Committed Chairman Michael Steele in February. Caprio leans closer to Robitaille than Chafee on most issues. Yet Caprio’s Democratic affiliation is preventing him from gaining any GOP votes. According to a Rasmussen poll last week, Robitaille commanded 75 percent of likely Republican votes. Chafee received 15 percent, a legacy-loyalty vote if there’s ever been one.

In another episode of deal-making, Caprio as State Treasurer in 2009 granted approval for four new securities litigations, all major contributors to his campaign. Shame-faced, Caprio returned the money.

In a field of imperfect candidates, we trust Chafee and the bold, flawed tax proposal he has given, not the politically slick and/or yet unspoken proposals of the other candidates. He’s proven himself a legitimate Independent, who in the Senate defied party expectations while remaining loyal to his constituents. He’s got it right on immigration and right on marriage for all. This is why we support Lincoln Chafee. We hope you support him too.

GEORGE WARNER B’10.5 and SIMON van Zuylen-Wood B’11 <3 Linc 4ever.