- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo formally kicked off her campaign for governor Monday, vowing to improve schools, boost government efficiency and bring a new approach to efforts to spur the state’s lagging economy.

Raimondo, a Democrat, told supporters at her first campaign rally that she’ll approach the state’s problems in the same manner as she took on public pensions in 2011, when she pushed through landmark legislation designed to stabilize the public retirement system and save billions of tax dollars in future years.

She said that like the pension problem, the state’s economy - which has trailed its neighbors for decades - is similarly due to years of missteps by state leaders, and that it’s time for someone who understands the scope of the problem to find solutions. The state’s 9 percent unemployment rate is tied with Nevada’s for the highest jobless rate in the nation.

“Our children deserve a Rhode Island where it doesn’t matter who you know, it matters what you know and how hard you’re willing to work,” she said. “… The challenge has been festering for decades and the state’s leaders did nothing to stop it.”

Raimondo faces Providence Mayor Angel Taveras in what’s expected to be a contentious Democratic primary. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee is not seeking a second term. Clay Pell, the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, is also considering entering the race as a Democrat. A spokesman said Monday that he expects to announce his decision by month’s end.

Taveras’ campaign released a statement Monday restating its request that Raimondo sign onto a pledge designed to limit the influence of independent campaign groups, known as super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited sums of money. Raimondo hasn’t made a decision on signing the pledge, but is open to discussing the details, a spokesman said.

Raimondo announced her candidacy last month but waited until Monday to formally kick off the campaign in a redeveloped Pawtucket mill that now houses small businesses, artist studios and workshops.

In a lengthy speech to supporters she proposed the creation of a Rhode Island Innovation Institute, an economic development partnership of private business, government and higher education; a statewide college scholarship program; and new efforts to streamline government regulations and boost workforce development.

In a move likely to please some progressive Democrats, Raimondo said she supports tougher gun laws, a higher minimum wage and drivers licenses for people in the country illegally.

The pension overhaul is being challenged in court by public unions and retirees who say the changes were unfair and unnecessary. Hundreds of firefighters protested Raimondo outside Monday’s rally.

“They can’t scare me from doing the right thing,” Raimondo said of the protesters. “What scares me is not doing the right thing.”

Raimondo, 42, is a Smithfield, R.I., native whose father worked in a watch factory. She attended Harvard University and went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. She obtained a law degree from Yale University and was a venture capitalist before being elected treasurer in 2010. She lives in Providence with her husband and two children.

The list of Democrats endorsing her at Monday’s event included Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts; state Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, the president of the University of Rhode Island College Democrats, and state Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket and one of the leaders of the effort to pass gay marriage in Rhode Island. Raimondo was also endorsed by the manager of a plumbers and pipefitters union.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Moderate Party founder Ken Block are running as Republicans.



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