Gov. Donald Carcieri (R)
Elected: 2002, term expires Jan. 2011, 2nd term.
Born: Dec. 16, 1942, East Greenwich .
Home: East Greenwich.
Education: Brown U., B.A. 1965.
Family: Married (Suzanne); 4 children.
Professional Career: High schl. teacher, 1965-71; Banker, Old Stone Bank, 1971-81; Director, Catholic Relief Services, Jamaica, 1981-83; CEO, Cookson America, 1983-97.
Donald Carcieri, elected governor of Rhode Island in 2002, grew up in East Greenwich, on Narragansett Bay, where his father was a teacher and coach at the town high school and worked in the summers harvesting quahogs, large clams found in the waters off the coast. East Greenwich today is one of the state’s most affluent suburbs, but when Carcieri was growing up there in the 1950s, it was a more modest enclave of fishermen and farmers. Carcieri was class president and a top athlete in high school; he attended Brown University on scholarship and played varsity football and baseball. He taught high school math in Newport and then in Concord, Mass., before going to work for Old Stone Bank. Within 10 years, he was executive vice president. In 1981, he moved to Jamaica to head the Catholic Relief Service’s West Indies operation, but two years later, returned to Rhode Island to join Cookson America, the U.S. branch of a London conglomerate that owned dozens of manufacturing, electronic, and precious metals companies around the world. He rose to become chief executive officer of Cookson America and a joint managing director of Cookson Group Worldwide. He moved Cookson America’s headquarters to the former Providence train station, overlooking Burnside Park and the Statehouse. He retired from business in 1997, and in 2002, launched his political career by running for governor.
|Donald Carcieri (R)||197,306||(51%)|
|Charles Fogarty (D)||190,686||(49%)|
|Donald Carcieri (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (55%)
The incumbent, Republican Lincoln Almond, was ineligible for a third term. Three Democrats and two Republicans ran to succeed him; Carcieri was the only one without experience in public office, though he did serve as Rhode Island chairman for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. His primary opponent was James Bennett, former head of the Convention Center Authority and the owner of Mitkem, an environmental testing laboratory. Carcieri and Bennett mostly agreed on priorities—rein in the Legislature, cut spending increases, and promote economic development. Both avoided Rhode Island’s public financing system and spent their own money on their campaigns—$600,000 for Carcieri and $275,000 for Bennett. Bennett spent much of his money on fierce negative ads, charging that under Carcieri’s leadership Cookson’s debt rose, layoffs increased, and Carcieri was given a $2.6 million golden handshake. But Carcieri won the September primary, 67%-33%.
Running again as the Democratic nominee was liberal Myrth York, who twice lost to Almond in 1994 and 1998. York’s father had founded a successful chemical equipment company, and she managed the family’s money. She also spent $2 million of her own money before the primary. The Providence Journal’s post-primary poll showed York ahead 49%-35%, but she had led in early polls in 1994 and 1998, too. Their differing stances were apparent in a September debate. York said, “I have a knowledge of government and a knowledge of how to get things done in government. Government is there to provide opportunity for folks.” Carcieri said, “I believe if real change is going to happen in the state, it’s going to have to come from somebody who owes nothing to the system, somebody from outside.” He pledged not to raise taxes in his first year; York said she didn’t want to but wouldn’t make a pledge. She also called for new prescription drug and education programs; Carcieri said his focus would be economic development.
In mid-October York ran a series of negative ads about Cookson. One said the company brokered a “tin mining deal” that ravaged an Amazon rain forest, and another said that it owned a plant in Philadelphia that released hazardous lead into a neighborhood. But the ads had little effect. Carcieri won 55%-45%. York won big in Providence but in the rest of the state carried only East Providence and the tiny textile mill town of Central Falls. Altogether, York spent $3.8 million of her own money, Carcieri $1.5 million of his.
Carcieri faced an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature (32-6 in the Senate, 63-11-1 in the House) but posted early achievements. In 2003, he won praise for scheduling monthly office hours for average citizens to meet the governor for a 10-minute private visit. He was tested the same year when a nightclub fire in West Warwick killed 100 people and injured many others. In a state with only 1 million residents, nearly everyone knew someone affected by the tragedy. At a Warwick memorial service, Carcieri stood in the back of the church greeting mourners. His empathy, decisiveness, and calm resolve in the days after the fire won him much acclaim. In July, Carcieri signed the Comprehensive Fire Safety Act, requiring most nightclubs to install sprinklers, banning pyrotechnics from all but the largest venues, and eliminating a grandfather clause that exempted buildings constructed before the state fire code was written. State officials called the new fire regulations the toughest in the nation.
Carcieri launched a weekly deli lunch with legislators to get them to agree to send to the voters a measure strengthening the governor’s appointment authority on commissions and boards. For more than three centuries, dating to the original colonial charter, the General Assembly had had wide-ranging powers, including the authority to appoint members to, and have legislators serve on, hundreds of boards and commissions that make state policy and control billions of dollars in state assets. The arrangement encouraged political patronage, cronyism, and a culture of behind-the-scenes deal-making, and after a decade of assorted scandals that brought down a state Supreme Court justice and sent former Gov. Edward DiPrete and Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci to prison, voters in 2004 passed the “separation of powers” referendum, 78%-22%.
The governor battled regularly with Democratic leaders on a stream of bills that often returned to the Legislature for override votes. Carcieri vetoed a bill that would have allowed home-based child care providers to unionize and bargain with the state. He vetoed a medical marijuana bill, but that decision was overridden. In the face of a likely override, Carcieri backed away from threats in 2006 to veto an increase in the hourly minimum wage to $7.40. He was also forced to back down from a plan to create a statewide system to evaluate teacher performance.
Like Almond, Carcieri also ran into resistance when it came time to limit spending. He vetoed the Legislature’s budgets in 2003 and 2004, but was overridden both times, resulting in tax increases on hotel rooms, cellphone usage and cigarettes. He had more success in subsequent years in part because he worked more closely with Democrats, including House Speaker William Murphy. In 2006, the Legislature approved a $6.6 billion tax and spending plan that restrained overall spending increases to about 5% and limited property tax increases to 4% over six years.
Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, a Democrat barred by term limits from seeking a third term, challenged Carcieri in 2006. Fogarty was a career politician whose father was a state senator and whose uncle, the late Rep. John E. Fogarty, served in Congress for a quarter-century. Fogarty ran on access to affordable health care and on government reform, while Carcieri touted his attempts to control government spending. Some Democrats questioned the wisdom of Fogarty’s focus on corruption because of Carcieri’s already strong record of reform. On economic issues, Carcieri was more vulnerable. During a televised debate, Fogarty cited Rhode Island’s high unemployment rate and pressed Carcieri on his failure to create 20,000 new private sector jobs as he had promised. “I think 15,000 is pretty good,” Carcieri responded. “We are outperforming all of New England.” Each candidate spent just over $2 million for the race. Fogarty benefited from the Democrats’ solid voter turnout operation and from a strong Democratic current in the state. But he fell shy of victory, and Carcieri was re-elected, 51%-49%.
In his second term, Carcieri focused on illegal immigration in this heavily ethnic state, which has many recent legal migrants. Citing the failure of Congress to act, he said, “At the end of the day, the states and governors around the country are bearing the burden, and our citizens—hardworking citizens—are bearing the burden.” In 2008, he required state agencies and vendors to review the immigration status of new workers. Raucous crowds protested outside Carcieri’s office, and were forced away by police, although no one was arrested. Religious leaders in the state argued that the governor’s policies were discriminatory and sparked fear among migrants. Although Carcieri cited public polling that favored his position, legislators were not moved. They rejected his plan to deny driver’s licenses and workers’ compensation to illegal immigrants.
The governor also struggled to reduce the largest budget deficit in state history, which he said in January 2008 left Rhode Island at “a tipping point” of financial disaster. His funding targets ranged from Head Start programs to health care subsidies for low-income adults. Some Democrats responded by seeking to raise taxes on the wealthy and to reverse the flat tax that had been enacted in 2006. The Legislature’s continuing battles with the governor made the state seem increasingly dysfunctional, and Democrats focused on the prospect of electing in 2010 their first governor since 1990.