First comes governor, then comes cabinet. Then comes avoiding the press like it's the plague.
Rhode Island governor and soon-to-be US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo has spent her last few days in the Ocean State refusing to answer questions from the press. Since Dec. 22, Raimondo has made one public appearance and has answered no questions from local media.
With her confirmation hearing scheduled for Jan. 26, her office has laid out no clear plans for when she will resign, either. And for local media, it’s impossible to get an answer.
“Do you know how long you’ll be governor for, governor?” one WPRI reporter asked as Raimondo disappeared into a building. Later, when she re-emerged, “Can you stop and talk to us for a second?”
“No,” Raimondo said.
“Have you been told not to, governor, by the Biden administration?” the reporter continued. No response.
Raimondo’s stonewalling has been met with condemnation from first amendment groups, including the New England First Amendment Coalition, who published a letter to the governor.
“While your nomination to President-elect Biden’s Cabinet is a great honor that carries with it certain responsibilities, these must not be prioritized over your duties as governor,” the coalition wrote. “Making yourself available for questioning by journalists — who serve as a proxy to the public — is one of those duties.”
It makes little sense for Raimondo to be avoiding the press. It’s free publicity — the chance to lead for only a few more days while touting her promotion to national politics.
But instead of making the easy, politically smart choice, Raimondo has turned the last few celebratory days of her governorship into a rollicking mess of first amendment mud fights.
Even if this is a directive from the Biden administration, it still makes little sense. Yes, Raimondo could say something that becomes a political liability, and she is likely to face tough questions from local media. But Raimondo has previously held daily coronavirus briefings that proved her ability to deflect questions that could land her in a difficult position.
While the indignation from first amendment groups is justified, it is also exaggerated. It is not the end of the world if a few questions go unanswered, even if they are important — like when Rhode Islanders should expect a new governor.
The real crime here is Raimondo actively turning a golden political layup into a negative press cycle, all on account of her refusing to give reporters the time of day to do their jobs. It will end Raimondo’s time in Rhode Island on sour note when it could’ve been a celebration of her elevation to national politics.
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