“Everyone knows her political career was over on Election Night.”
Thus spoke a teachers union member and source for my education reporting when we sate down for coffee a few months ago. He was describing Rhode Island’s current Governor, Gina Raimondo, and how her stock has been plummeting of late with everyone that was not already disgusted by her time as Treasurer.
Raimondo was a failed venture capitalist when she got herself elected Treasurer in 2011, a position traditionally held by Democratic Party machine insiders whose hijinks and silliness would make Larry, Curley, and Moe look like characters from a Bergman film. She then began to “reform” the pension by investing it in hedge funds, claiming this would make better deliveries than the traditional indices that are much lower in returns but less volatile. This was able to be accomplished because Rhode Island’s union culture had a bad name for years owing to a crony nepotist culture dating back generations. But in reality the hedge funds she put this capital into were actually the very ones that in turn finance the privatization of public infrastructure and institutions, such as the charter school industry.
What was particularly devious about this whole affair was that Raimondo postured as such a progressive when she entered politics, a breath of fresh air that would be a welcome change of administration. One local minister recently recalled seeing her as the highest state official in attendance at Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations in Providence that are historically major ones for the African American community. Yet instead she was always working on behalf of her benefactors, Paul Tudor Jones and John Arnold. As she has ascended further in power, Raimondo has built alongside her a hearty cabinet of similar faux-progressive power players with dirty ties to the FIRE sector and Wall Street. There is Richard Culatta, the Obama Education Department veteran who is an Innovation Officer (whatever the hell that is), intent on implementing computer-based learning that would significantly reduce the ranks of the teaching profession. Or perhaps Brett Smiley, the bespectacled boyish-looking Chief of Staff whose husband has been interested in privatizing the Providence Water Authority for several years (paging Roy Cohn). And don’t forget Ken Wagner, the Education Commissioner who broke the law in December by approving the expansion of a charter school to “break” the Providence school district, to quote one city councilor, and who seems like a shoe-in for a suspense thriller sociopath that would make Thomas Harris blanch.
When Raimondo’s predecessor, Lincoln Chafee, was deposed in relation to a failed business scandal known as 38 Studios, he rather infamously and hilariously was revealed in the transcripts to have called her “Ms. Wall Street”. Though his presidential campaign in 2015 was a bit of a flop, who can deny with one-liners like that they don’t #FeelTheChafe?
Raimondo has been working throughout the past few years to build her credibility up while the New York Times and other neoliberal press courtiers present her as presidential material. I do not doubt the possibility the press might attempt such a move.
Yet the public would better understand what is in store for them if they heed this anecdote.
A few weeks after the 2016 election, I was sitting in a meeting in rural northern Rhode Island, which went heavily to Trump. One older woman explained the conversation she had with a typical male pensioner in her community.
“So I asked him, do you hate gays?”
“Do you hate Latinos?”
“So why did you vote for Donald Trump?”
“Because Gina Raimondo took away my COLA!”
As part of her pension policies, she revoked the yearly pensioner cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) until the pension returned to a certain viable threshold. But owing to the exorbitant fees charged by the hedge funds, the pension fund will never reach viability and, as a result, thousands of retired public sector workers who put in years of honest work are now living on a pittance per month. Raimondo was a Clinton super-delegate at the Democratic convention of 2016 and it was clear she was bound for Washington if Hillary was elected.
And so when I told this clever anecdote to our senior Senator Jack Reed at a Town Hall meeting in East Providence and asked him if he knew how many seniors in his constituency said that decided their vote last November, his reply was perfect: “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if Raimondo is waiting for Reed’s retirement to get closer to the White House. Watch out if she does! At a recent pro-Trump rally in Providence, the crowd featured signs with Raimondo’s face imposed onto the Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz. It also featured some documentable and no-bullshit neo-Nazis who were obviously present to ingratiate themselves with the Republican Party voters. This is what neoliberalism breeds and what Raimondo is unleashing on us already.