Gina Raimondo

Gubernatorial Campaign Kickoff Speech - Jan. 13, 2014

Gina Raimondo
January 13, 2014— Pawtucket, Rhode Island
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Good morning!

Thank you, Elizabeth, Donna, Grace, Sterl, & Tim!

I am honored to have you stand with me this morning. I am honored to call you all friends.

Let me start by telling you how much I’m already enjoying 2014 … because, finally, I can answer the question I was asked all of last year – “Are you running for Governor?”

The answer is … Yes!

Yes! Today I am kicking off my campaign for the Democratic nomination for Governor.

But all of you know that the more important questions to be asked have nothing to do with me … and everything to do with Rhode Island.

Instead of wondering who’s up and who’s down … we should be asking how we build up our economy and bring down unemployment.

We should be asking how we lift up those who have been left out … and better educate our children and workers so they have the skills they need in a global economy.

We should be asking how we reform state government so that it works better and smarter and faster … while staying true to our Democratic ideals.

And we should be asking what it will take to have a state government with the courage to tackle hard truths … and a governor who will tell you the truth, no matter how loud or angry the opposition.

These are the questions that matter most. And they are at the heart of why I’m running for governor.

Our children deserve a Rhode Island where it doesn’t matter who you know, but rather what you know … and how hard you’re willing to work.

Growing up in Smithfield, there were challenges I faced. And as a mom, this is the standard of success I wish for my own children more than anything else.

But it will require a Democratic governor with heart and hard work to pull us together so we can rise together.

This business of running for office is still somewhat new to me, so I’m going to talk with you, neighbor to neighbor … which, of course, in a state like Rhode Island, we all are.

Now, if you’re looking for a candidate who professes to have all the answers to the challenges we face, then I think the danger is to fall into a trap that we’ve fallen into many times before.

No one person has all of the answers, but together we can deliver Rhode Island from all that ails us.

There are good people running for governor. And more may join our ranks – each with our own set of experiences and approaches to problem solving. And there are differences that matter.

But I think anyone running for governor has to begin with the realization that it’s not just about him or her. It’s about all of us.

Because the challenges we face have been festering for decades. We lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and the state’s leaders watched them go and did little to stop it.

Even worse, because these politicians turned a blind eye to difficult choices and buckled under pressure from special interests, we now have underperforming public schools, pension systems on the verge of default, chronic crime and joblessness, cities on the brink of bankruptcy and Central Falls falling over the edge.

These things didn't happen overnight. And we won’t fix them overnight. But we have to finally overcome the persistent, pervasive and passive acceptance that things are “good enough” … when they clearly aren’t.

Do you think it’s good enough to be tied for the highest unemployment rate in the country and to be ranked the worst state for doing business?

Is it good enough for our high school graduation rate to be 37th and our school attendance rate to be 48th?

How about our roads – 47th worst in the country and the safety of our bridges dead last? Is that good enough?

I don’t accept that Rhode Island is somehow less able than Massachusetts or Connecticut or Vermont or any other state to build a 21st century economy, nationally competitive public schools and, given our size, a transportation system second to none.

I don’t think we’re near good enough … and I know you don’t either.

One of the reasons I wanted to kick off our campaign here among this collection of smart growth businesses, is because this is a symbol of how Rhode Island can rebuild.

Using the discarded shell of an empty mill, rebuilt brick by brick into a collective of high tech startups, architects, artists, bakers, coffee makers, and one of my personal favorites – Farm Fresh Rhode Island – all under one thriving, bustling, glorious roof.

This is the strength, resiliency and character of Rhode Island.

And no one here settles for “good enough.”

Like many of you, I know where the strength and character of Rhode Islanders come from … because I’ve seen it up close.

I saw it in my grandfather who came on a boat from Italy by himself at age 14, taught himself English at the public library, was drafted and fought in the First World War, and came home to become a cook and eventually an executive chef.

This humble but strong man who, after his wife died, moved into our family’s home and would sing along to Italian radio while he taught me to cook in our downstairs kitchen.

I saw this strength and character in my dad who grew up in a family of butchers – including his own father, another Italian immigrant, who helped found Rhode Island’s meat cutters union … so every butcher would have a voice at the bargaining table.

Dad volunteered for the Navy in World War II, then went to college on the GI Bill – the first in his family to get a college education. He worked for decades on the floor of the Bulova watch factory while also teaching skilled trades at night at the vocational school. Then he and hundreds of other Bulova employees lost their jobs when the factory closed and the work was sent overseas.

That was when I first saw his bravery. And now I’m seeing it everyday as he battles his health.

Finally, I see grace and strength in my mom – a child of the Great Depression who raised three children, cared for my dad, managed our home and stretched every dollar he earned by sewing our clothes, growing food in two gardens, canning vegetables, and reusing nearly everything our house in Smithfield could hold, down to the lunch bags we took to school.

Most of all in my parents and grandparents, I saw Faith and Love. Faith that helped us persevere in difficult times. And love for family, tradition and life in a state unlike any other.

This is who I am and this is the Rhode Island I come from – a hard working family of immigrants, veterans, union members, and teachers.

As your state treasurer I’ve stood up for ALL the people of RI. And you will come first every day that I serve as your governor.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done in the treasurer’s office.

We faced a pension crisis that was among the worst in the country, during the worst recession in generations. It threatened, not just the solvency of state and city governments, but tens of thousands of public employees who could have lost their pensions, and hundreds of thousands of citizens who would have suffered if tax increases and budget cuts were used to prop up a failing system.

We had to DO something -- and we did it in a way that brought people together and invited everyone to be a part of the solution.

Our reforms not only saved defined benefit pensions for public employees and retirees, but we did it in a fiscally responsible way that didn’t kick the problem down the road.

We did it while also pushing for the toughest transparency standards in Rhode Island history for our state investments.

And we did it with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the state legislature.

It was in everyone’s interest to solve the problem -- the best interest of our kids, our public employees, and of every Rhode Islander who pays taxes.

It wasn’t “us v. them” …. because our economic futures are all linked together. In doing it this way, we showed that Rhode Islanders can come together to solve big problems.

Lasting pension reform freed up over four billion dollars over the next twenty years. That’s money we can use to invest in pressing problems – like job creation, improving our schools and rebuilding our infrastructure – and that’s what I’ll focus on today.

But I also knew when I took on pension reform, that there would be challenges and dissenters. And there are some who think you get your way through intimidation and bullying.

But sooner or later they’ll realize that they’re not going to scare me from trying to do what’s right.

What scares ME is what happens if we don’t.

My vision for a better Rhode Island starts with a simple idea – that we are all in this together, that we need less demonizing and more common decency, and that each of us rise to this moment of obligation to move Rhode Island forward.

I believe that we all face such moments in our lives. And it’s what drew me into public office.

I could not sit aside and watch the state that I love continue to go in the wrong direction and people suffer because of it.

It’s why we need a collective moment of obligation where we commit ourselves to long-term solutions and not short-term fixes. Today I ask you to join me in believing that Rhode Island can be better, and commit yourselves to moving Rhode Island forward.

For too long, Rhode Island took risky gambles on poorly planned insider deals that enriched a few at the expense of many.

This desperate get-rich-quick mentality has to end.

All of this starts with growing the businesses we have and encouraging startups to set up home in Rhode Island. As someone who helped create over a thousand small business jobs in my career, this is a world I know well.

We have to make Rhode Island a destination for business and a home for talent. We have so many resources: a gorgeous coastline, easy access to New York and Boston, some of the best colleges and universities in the world.

And here's the problem – when people graduate from our colleges and universities, they leave … because there's not enough opportunity.

It's our job to work to keep them here. And it's time to take advantage of our size.

You know, everyone says to me, “Oh, I thought you'd be bigger.”

But the truth is, it’s because we are small that we can do things that have never been done before.

But we also have to start thinking big and bold, and it’s time to change the tone at the top. We need a Governor who sets a tone of urgency, focus and possibility as we turn this economy around.

We can be a leader in manufacturing again, advanced manufacturing for the 21st Century. As governor I’ll start by creating the Rhode Island Innovation Institute, or RI II, dedicated to bringing together universities and the private sector to promote innovation in high-growth industries where Rhode Island has a strategic advantage, like biotech, food science, and marine technologies. The mission of the institute would be to turn innovation into businesses that produce jobs and goods here in Rhode Island.

We will make Rhode Island a cradle of innovation again.

In the words of Sister Ann Keefe, a friend who is an inspiration to so many of us – “Think tanks are important, but I’d like someone to form a ‘do tank.’”

Well, that’s exactly what RI II would be … a “do tank’ that creates jobs and puts people to work.

As I mentioned earlier, one of Rhode Island’s biggest problems is that we’ve been rated the worst state in the nation for doing business.

We need to streamline overlapping regulations, set up single sourcing for permits, establish mandatory time limits for turning around applications and reward state employees for treating citizens and businesses like the customers that they are.

Business owners aren’t the enemy. But neither are state employees. We’re all in this together.

We put the state on solid fiscal ground with pension reform … we need a state government that starts reaping the benefits.

We need to re-imagine CCRI and our public colleges as workforce development engines that works hand-in-hand with local businesses.

We need to work with businesses to create curriculums based on skills businesses need -- and establish a job-matching program for recent graduates. So that if you own a business that needs a certain type of skilled employee, you will have a dedicated place to go to find the workers you need.

Whether you are an 18-year-old just starting out or a 50-year-old who just got laid off, our public colleges can be the hub of our workforce development efforts.

For workers receiving unemployment benefits, we’ll match them with companies that have on-the-job training programs that lead to full-time employment. This allows the unemployed to get their foot in the door while continuing to receive their benefits … and it allows employers to evaluate potential employees with no obligation.

We need a state government that sees unemployed workers as a resource, not a burden.

While we are revitalizing our economy, we need to make sure that no one is left behind.

That means rethinking how we fight poverty and economic injustice – with a greater focus on outcomes, to ensure that our social service programs are delivering results.

And we need to be creative in how we finance new initiatives to combat problems like homelessness, crime, recidivism, and workforce training.

One way of doing that is the emerging idea of social impact bonds. Philanthropists and foundations would provide capital to fund innovative approaches to addressing social problems like homelessness -- the return on their investments would come once we are successful – and the state saves money through more effectively delivering these social services.

We need a state government that is socially conscious, forward thinking and fiscally responsible, all at the same time. One is no less important than the others.

To get more people to work in good jobs, we must re-design our schools for success in the 21st century and consistently improve our student performance.

It starts in our elementary, middle and high schools. With my own children in a public school, I have a personal stake in this, too.

As governor, I’ll work to empower local schools with school leadership teams. Rather than administrators in a remote office building, it should be teachers, parents, and principals making the decisions on how to best spend their funding and teach their children.

One of my favorite benefits of pension reform is that these leadership teams now will have the funds to invest in specialized art and music classes again … athletics, electives, online AP courses, or even dual-credit high school and college courses. Whatever is the best fit for their students.

Good jobs in the 21st century require not only strong literacy and numeracy skills, but also problem-solving, digital literacy, creativity and collaboration skills.

We’re asking a lot of our teachers. It’s why we have to ensure they have the learning resources, technology, training and professional opportunities to do what they do best – teach.

In other words, we need to treat teachers like the professionals that they are.

Also, with the moratorium on school construction lifting soon, we will have an opportunity to reinvest in education by bringing our existing schools into the 21st century and building new schools, as well.

But Rhode Island needs a dedicated funding stream to make it happen.

Massachusetts uses a percentage of their sales tax to pay for school construction … and has a school building authority for sustainable, affordable school construction that takes politics out of the equation – and has saved them money.

If Massachusetts can do it, so can Rhode Island.

And it’s time we create a statewide scholarship program — to make attending one of our public colleges or universities a reality for more Rhode Island students — and a student loan forgiveness program for college graduates who stay in Rhode Island to work or start a new business.

Other states do this, there’s no reason we can’t too.

Lastly, investing in our infrastructure is one of the fastest ways we can put people to work and improve our quality of life.

Rhode Island has some of the worst roads and bridges in the country. It’s why I worked with the General Assembly to establish a road and bridge fund that will soon be rebuilding our state and creating jobs.

And as Governor, I will build on this good work to ensure we have lasting long-term solutions to our infrastructure needs. And that’s where we need to think differently.

Instead of funding infrastructure projects in a haphazard manner, we will be the first state to create a Road and Bridge Funding Formula, similar to our school funding formula -- it won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather would take each city and town’s specific needs into account. This will guarantee that we have a long term-statewide plan that over time will ensure our infrastructure is safer and reduce costs.

It’s never been tried here before. But when I’m Governor, we will.

Something else that hasn’t been done is to create a green bank. We need to leverage public and private funds to scale up our green infrastructure and clean energy in Rhode Island … and this bank will offer financing expertise and low cost capital to encourage homeowners, companies, non-profits, cities and towns to finally “Go Green.”

We have a history of innovation in Rhode Island. We need a state government that thinks that way, too.

These are the broad outlines and some of the details I’ll be talking about more over the course of this campaign when it comes to job creation and rebuilding our economy.

But I know that there are other issues that cut to the core of what kind of Democrat you are.

I am a Democrat who believes in banning assault weapons, getting rid of high capacity magazines and letting cities and towns ban these weapons without asking the state’s permission.

I’m a Democrat who believes in raising the minimum wage and indexing it with regular cost of living adjustments.

I’m a Democrat who believes that every four year old should have access to pre-K … and that we have a responsibility to protect every child from sexual exploitation.

And I’m a Democrat who believes that undocumented workers should be able to get drivers licenses. It’s not just about safety. It’s about doing the right thing.

Finally, I’m a Democrat who believes in holding Wall Street to the same ethical standards as everyone else in this country.

We need tougher laws and regulatory reform to prevent financial executives from defrauding investors, exploiting loopholes, and doing so much damage to middle-class families.

I love Rhode Island and care about the families living here. I love it enough to put myself and my family through a campaign for governor. But nothing good comes easily. And the hard things are worth doing.

There is a prayer that a friend recently shared with me. I hope you will remember it with me in the weeks and months ahead … and that is: “Help us to be brave, even if it is only that others may be blest. May we lay a careful foundation and plan to build the best that we can afford.”

Thank you for coming. Let’s work together. God bless you, and God bless Rhode Island.

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