Four years after losing a bid for re-election in "The Thumpin" of 2006, former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island will be back on the ballot as a candidate for governor this November.
Do not, however, look for an 'R' or a 'D' after his name: Chafee is running as an independent.
"I believe that running as an independent will free me from the constraints that party politics impose on candidates," Chafee said Monday while announcing his gubernatorial run in Warwick, R.I., the town where he served as mayor before being appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by his late father in 1999. The next year, Chafee was elected to a six-year Senate term in his own right.
"What we need in Rhode Island is someone not associated with either party," said Chafee in a telephone interview with ABC News which was conducted on New Year's Eve.
Although independent candidates are typically unsuccessful, Chafee sees his unaligned status as a major selling point. For starters, fully half of the state's registered voters are unaffiliated with either party. Furthermore, Chafee thinks state government has been hurt by the lack of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. Finally, as one of the best-known brands in Rhode Island politics, he is not worried about qualifying for the ballot.
The Rhode Island governor's office will be vacant in 2010. Gov. Don Carcieri, the Republican incumbent, is barred by term limits from running again. Democrats running to succeed Carcieri include Attorney General Patrick Lynch and General Treasurer Frank Caprio. Republicans are still looking for a candidate after businessman Rory Smith dropped out of the race last month.
If Chafee makes it to Providence, R.I., he says his top priorities will be tackling a state unemployment rate which is one of the highest in the country and closing a looming budget deficit of $500 million.
To close the state's budget gap, Chafee says that a combination of spending restraint and higher taxes will be needed. While promising to hold the line on what he calls the "insidious" property tax, Chafee says that Rhode Island needs to raise new revenue through its sales tax.
Rhode Island's sales tax is already the nation's second highest, surpassed only by California. But as he noted during his announcement speech, Rhode Island also has one of the broadest lists of exemptions, including things such as food, clothing, and over-the-counter drugs.
Chafee, who voted against the Bush tax cuts when he was in the Senate, is hoping that eliminating sales tax exemptions and implementing a two-tier system will generate increased revenue and make it possible to lower the overall sales tax rate.
"Rather than forcing our property taxes to rise across Rhode Island, we should carefully examine a two-tier sales tax," said Chafee. "Illinois has a 6.25 percent sales tax but a separate 1 percent tax on food and over-the-counter drugs. Tennessee has a 7 percent sales tax but a 5.5 percent tax on groceries. Working together, we can find the right formula for Rhode Island."