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Same Sex Marriage, Environment & Jobs: Lincoln Chafee Should Be Rhode Island's Next Governor

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

lincoln chafee finger twn.jpgOn January 4th, former US Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) will formally announce his candidacy for the governorship of Rhode Island -- as an Independent.

In September 2007, Chafee resigned from the Republican Party. He authored his farewell memoir to the party, Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President. Chafee distanced himself from the pugnacious nationalist wing of Republicans by allying with Center for American Progress CEO and Obama confidante in co-chairing the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests.

As an Independent with Republican credentials, Chafee joined former US Representative Jim Leach and Republican national security and intelligence expert Rita Hauser in launching "Republicans for Obama."

At an event I chaired at the New America Foundation titled "What Does Patriotism Look LIke?", Chafee went into significant detail as to the reasons he was opposed to the direction George W. Bush and Richard Cheney and their followers had taken the party. When asked at the event by Kiki Ryan, who was then working for the Washington Examiner and now is on the fast track at Politico, what Chafee thought of Sarah Palin, the former Senator reported she was "cuckoo." See the short two minute video clip posted further below.

Chafee and his team delivered the decisive blow ending John Bolton's chances of securing a vote confirming his appointment as US Ambassador to the United Nations -- thus ultimately compelling the recess-appointed John Bolton's resignation from the post in December 2006 before the 110th Congress convened in 2007.

From challenges on the environment and climate change to sensible economic policy -- to issues of war and peace -- and presidential appointments that were over the line, Chafee has shown himself to be a thoughtful, deliberative leader. I still enjoy recounting that on an occasion when I stopped in to meet Mark Silverman, Chafee's then foreign policy adviser who now heads government affairs for the International Committee of the Red Cross, I found a bunch of scruffed up "farrier licenses" that Linc Chafee had had over the years mounted and framed in as nearly a scruffed up manner. Chafee was a hard-working, long-haired guy who shoed horses, if that's what they call it.

I knew (in the way any staffer in the Senate rubs elbows and shares trams with Senators) the late and great moderate political Republican icon, John Chafee (R-RI), who served in the US Senate for 23 years. The elder Chafee had a raspy grasp of basic folks but held himself in the posture of a Newport, RI state aristocrat -- and all I could think about was what holidays with the hippie-looking son Lincoln and the elder Senator dad, John Chafee, must have been like.

But despite his leadership and sensible decisionmaking process, I support Lincoln Chafee for another reason -- for his brave and correct view on same sex marriage equality in Rhode Island. Chafee is showing the kind of commitment to American civil rights advancement within his state that I wish Barack Obama could muster at a national level.

In June of this year, Chafee penned a Huffington Post oped that addressed same the sex marriage debate in Rhode Island.

The piece, which should be read in full, starts:

On Wednesday, June 3, 2009, the New Hampshire legislature took another step in our country's ongoing struggle to ensure full equality for gays and lesbians by voting to permit same-sex couples in their state to legally enter into civil marriages. The vote makes New Hampshire the sixth state in the country--along with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine-- to provide equal marriage rights to all its residents, and it now leaves my home state of Rhode Island as the only New England state that does not permit same-sex marriage.

Rhode Islanders are currently facing enormous challenges, particularly with an unacceptably high unemployment rate and a growing state budget deficit. State lawmakers should therefore quickly join our New England neighbors on the right side of history and pass a marriage equality bill, so that their energies can be focused on the priority issues that affect all of us.

To me, the issue of same-sex marriage boils down to a question of basic fairness. We all know someone who is openly gay or lesbian. Gays and lesbians have contributed to the diverse fabric of Rhode Island and the rest of the country for generations, strengthening our communities in innumerable ways. Far too often, same-sex marriage has been used as a wedge issue to divide and distract us from the bigger problems we face as a nation.

But once you acknowledge that homosexuality exists not by choice, the next obvious step is to grant gays and lesbians the same liberties and freedoms as every other American. We all share the same basic aspirations: a safe town and an affordable home to live in; a good job to provide us and our families with economic security; good schools for our children; quality health care; and, perhaps most importantly, someone to love, share experiences and grow old with so we're not alone.

As a proud Rhode Islander who thinks of my state as a leader when it comes to treating others with dignity and respect, it troubles me to think we've fallen behind in granting our gay and lesbian family members, friends and neighbors something as fundamental and important as the right to have their relationships fully recognized by the state. That is not in keeping with the state's proud history of inclusion and progressiveness, which can be traced back to Rhode Island's very foundation.

This is exactly the right tone -- and substance -- that America's political leaders should be setting whether at the federal level or in states.

I had the pleasure of speaking recently to a couple hundred students at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island -- and got a brief but real sense of Rhode Island's people and some of its challenges. Over the years, I have gotten to know many other Rhode Island citizens from other political battles -- and although I 'rarely' endorse any candidates, I am conveying to all of them my strong support of Lincoln Chafee's independent bid for Governor.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. You can follow Clemons' writing and work here via twitter.