Sabato welcomes Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee

Former Senator says difficulties of politics stems from economy


Gov. Lincoln Chafee, D-RI, spoke to Politics Prof. Larry Sabato’s Introduction to American Politics class Wednesday, addressing political polarization and his career in politics.

The hour began with a conversation moderated by Sabato. Chafee, who has identified as a Republican, an Independent and a Democrat, spoke of political polarization around the country.

“It’s the issue of the day, trying to get things done,” he said.

He reflected on his 2006 Senate campaign where, after serving one six-year term as a Republican Rhode Island senator, he faced a heavily financed primary challenge. The state’s GOP supported Steve Laffey, who they believed was more conservative and had a better chance to win in the general election.

“There I was, a Republican Senator in the most democratic state in the country […] and I got primaried,” he said. “So in the end they ended up with a Democratic senator who was way more liberal than I was.”

Chafee said the difficulty of his work in politics has always depended on the strength of the economy, also noting as a moderate Republican he faced opposition when he didn’t vote the party line, including votes against the tax cuts proposed by President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. He described a meeting he had with former Vice President Dick Cheney after voting against the tax cuts.

“He [Cheney] never asked me why I was opposed to the tax cuts,” he said. “He lectured me about supporting the President.”

Turning to President Barack Obama, Chafee reflected on how the two would working out together and how he got to know him as a freshman senator from Illinois. Looking ahead to 2016, Chafee did not rule out any potential presidential endorsements, though he did take the time to point out Hillary Clinton voted for the use of force in Iraq.

“We would have liked to have her on our side,” he said.

In a question and answer session with students, Chafee touched on the drug policy, the Affordable Care Act and how to get involved in politics.

On the president’s highly controversial health care legislation, Chafee said he did not understand why there is such opposition to attempts to reduce high health care costs.

“I think eventually the Democrats are going to win on this,” he said. “We are going to win on this issue.”

To students looking to enter politics, he gave the same advice he heard from his father, John Chaffee, who was Senator of Rhode Island until he passed away in 1999.

“There’s no second place in politics,” he said. “Have something you like doing to fall back on.”

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