Raimondo: R.I. ‘in a good, stable place’

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Gina M. Raimondo delivered what’s expected to be her final State of the State address virtually on Wednesday, focusing mostly on what she sees as her successes over the past six years while acknowledging ongoing pandemic challenges she’ll leave behind.

“The state of our state is strong because the people of our state are strong,” said the Democratic governor, who has been nominated to serve as the next United States secretary of commerce. Raimondo’s nomination was approved by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, sending it to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

If confirmed, she’ll be replaced by Lt. Gov. Daniel J. McKee, with whom she hasn’t worked closely but who she’s confident “is prepared to lead our state.”

She acknowledged that the decision to leave Rhode Island was difficult for her, but that “the women in my life, my mother, my sister, and even my teenage daughter – gave me the push I needed … to look within myself and summon the courage to lead.”

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Raimondo believes she’s leaving Rhode Island “in a good, stable place,” and that 2021 will be a “year of rebuilding.”

She noted that there will be “no disruption” to local COVID-19 relief efforts and said the data suggests the state is making strides in controlling the latest outbreak. She said the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests has been declining, along with hospitalizations.

“We have performed over 2.5 million tests and administered over 100,000 vaccines. By every measure, we’re on the right path, and the end is in sight,” she said.

She also highlighted the challenges women have faced during the pandemic. “Women have borne the brunt of this economic crisis. Women lost jobs in record numbers. Women are disproportionately on the front lines as teachers, nurses, child care workers and caregivers. And moms have carried the load at home during the pandemic.”

Raimondo said her work over the past six years has led to investments in “skills and education, job creation, infrastructure, health care, equity and sustainability.”

She said her administration “designed job creation tools” that helped “7,000 Rhode Islanders who had been laid off during the pandemic get back to work.”

“Over the last six years, we went from having the worst infrastructure in the country to more road construction than ever before, creating thousands of good, union jobs in the process,” she said. “We’ve also grown our green economy, built the nation’s first offshore wind farm, and put Rhode Island on a path to be the first state powered by 100% renewable energy by the end of this decade.”

She said the state had “$84 million in commercial real estate investment” when she took office, but by the end of her first term, the state “had record growth and over a billion dollars in new investment. The long-empty Route 195 land in Providence is now a hub of innovation, with two million square feet of new development underway, creating thousands of new jobs.”

Raimondo stressed the need for ensuring that children “get a fair shot to realize their potential” with an education in the state’s schools. “We’ve gone from crumbling school buildings to a billion-dollar, once-in-a-generation investment in school construction.”

Raimondo lauded her R.I. Promise scholarship program offering free tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island. “Now our country looks to us as a model. … the two-year graduation rate at CCRI has tripled, and we’ve seen a 500% increase among students of color.”

Echoing what she said during her acceptance speech for the nomination as United States commerce secretary, Raimondo touched on her family’s history. “This is the state that gave my grandfather hope when he arrived from Italy as a teenager and taught himself English at the Providence Public Library,” she said.

In closing, she expressed thanks to her administration and Rhode Islanders for believing in her vision.

“You have made me a better person and a better governor,” she said. “I’m forever grateful for the trust you placed in me these last 10 years. Rhode Island is – and always will be – my home.”

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. You may reach him at Shuman@PBN.com.