After Harvard (where she played rugby), Oxford (she was a Rhodes scholar) and Yale Law School, she was an early recruit to a venture capital company whose premise was, she says, that “you could find talent all over the country,” not just in hotbeds such as Austin and Silicon Valley. Then she founded an affiliated fund specializing in health care. “My mother actually started crying” when, in 2010, Raimondo ran to be treasurer of the state with the nation’s highest per capita unfunded pension debt.
Pensions, which soon would have swallowed 20 percent of state revenue, were threatening to starve social services — including the Providence Public Library, where Raimondo’s grandfather, who, arriving from Italy at 14 with little education and less English, studied to improve his chances. As state treasurer, she told “crowded, angry union halls” that cities and towns might go bankrupt and that promised pensions would disappear. Her reforms — pausing cost-of-living increases, raising the retirement age and the ratio of defined-contribution to defined-benefit plans — passed Rhode Island’s House 57 to 15 and the Senate 35 to 2.
When she ran for governor, Rhode Island had the nation’s highest unemployment rate. The state had been the nation’s — arguably, the world’s — jewelry workshop, until much of the manufacturing decamped to China. The exodus included the Bulova watch company, which had employed 1,000, including her father, who became unemployed at 56. She wears a Bulova on her wrist but says the main reason she ran for governor was that previous administrations had not repositioned Rhode Island for a changed world. She has done this by entrepreneurial federalism — making the state attractive to business, including the nation’s first offshore wind farm.
Raimondo has cut taxes every year and removed 8,000 pages of regulations — 30 percent of the state’s regulations. Economic dynamism has enabled her to raise the state minimum wage to $11.50, create a sick-leave entitlement and finance the largest infrastructure program in the state’s history. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, her father, the son of a meat cutter, became the first in the family to go to college, and his daughter has delivered tuition-free community college.
Partnering with CVS, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, headquartered in Woonsocket, her state has achieved one of the nation’s highest per capita levels of testing for covid-19. Her approval rating has soared during the pandemic. An anxious nation longing for competence in the national government might turn its lonely eyes to her, if it knew of her.
There often is, however, a disproportion in the allocation of media attention to political figures: an inverse relationship between a political person’s substantive achievements and the froth of publicity surrounding her or him. The Senate, the incubator of presidential aspirations, is an arena for the gesture politics of virtue signaling. It encourages the misapprehension that striking poses solves problems, and it develops no skills germane to the executive tasks of managing vast organizations and applying aspirational statutes to recalcitrant reality.
Joe Biden’s choice of a running mate will matter to the electorate’s large moderate majority more than such choices usually do, for two reasons. Biden will be 78 on Jan. 20, 2021. And his choice will indicate whether the trajectory of the world’s oldest party will be determined by its left-wing minority that strenuously opposed his nomination, or by the party’s temperate majority, which produced the Democrats’ 2018 success.
The Democratic left, with its addiction to indignation and its aversion to practical politics, might recoil from Raimondo because she understands the enormous financial sector of a nation now chin-deep in red ink. And because she had the impertinence to persuade crucial Democratic constituencies — public employees unions, including those of teachers — to support difficult choices. After defeating a left-wing primary challenger by 24 points, she was resoundingly reelected in one of the nation’s bluest states, and then became chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
A Biden-Raimondo ticket would achieve the left’s primary goal, the removal of President Trump. And the resulting administration would restore adult supervision in Washington.
An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is the nation’s shortest governor. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is 4 feet 11 inches tall. This version has been updated.