Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo ’93 made the case for pragmatism in state government at the annual Edwin L. Godkin Lecture hosted at the Harvard Kennedy School Wednesday night.
Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf moderated the talk, initiating conversation with Raimondo and facilitating audience questions. During the discussion, Raimondo devoted significant time to the importance of making compromises.
“When I think of moderate, I think of someone who is willing to compromise to get things done,” Raimondo said. “It’s not about politicians. What are you going to do for your constituents? And that means you have to sometimes meet in the middle to produce results.”
Raimondo talked about how she worked to grow Rhode Island’s economy after decades of manufacturing job losses in the state, as well as a spike in unemployment after the 2008 recession. She said a central goal of her gubernatorial campaign in 2014 was to bring unemployment down and to recruit companies to come to Rhode Island.
Despite the lecture’s title, “Making Tough Decisions,” Raimondo said it was not difficult for her to base her 2010 state treasurer campaign on reducing public employees’ pensions in the wake of the recession. At the time, the decision sparked controversy, but she argued that the policy would ensure long-term stability for the state’s pension fund.
“I didn’t think there was any alternative,” she said. “It was a very difficult political choice, and all my political advisors advised me against it. I knew the politics and the political ramifications would be challenging, but in good conscience there was no other alternative.”
Raimondo also took the opportunity Wednesday night to criticize the state of Oklahoma’s recent decision to limit the public school week to four days to manage the state’s budget crisis.
“They have such religion around taxes,” she said.
Raimondo also stressed the importance of effective governance for engaging constituents in the political process.
“If everything we do is poorly executed, people lose faith in government,” she said. “And when people lose faith in government, then they just say, ‘it doesn’t matter who’s in office why should I vote, let’s just cut taxes and make government small, government is the problem.’ It makes it very hard for those of us who actually believe in effective government to make the case.”
“There’s plenty of time to go make money, but there’s not always a great time to change the world for the better,” Raimondo added.
Jia Chen, a mid-career MPA student at the Kennedy School, said she enjoyed seeing a female political leader come speak.
“As a female student, I would never lose a chance to see an inspiring female leader,” Chen said. “I think she really cares about what happens at the end of the day.”
Anagha Kumar ’22 said Raimondo’s focus on Rhode Island’s residents’ needs was encouraging.
“I think she’s been extremely inspiring as being a fiscally conservative Democrat…it’s interesting to see how she deals with dissent from both sides and leads her life as a moderate,” Kumar said. “She put her constituents as a priority.”