The stated mission of the Department of Commerce is to “create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity.” That’s a goal that Gina Raimondo, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Commerce, is uniquely unsuited to accomplish.
As governor of Rhode Island, Raimondo, a Democrat, has pursued policies, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, that have devastated the state’s business climate.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Raimondo has ruled by executive fiat. She’s relied heavily on the augmented powers gifted her by emergency powers to issue a series of executive orders, covering everything from mask mandates to limits on gathering sizes (and punishments for violating these) to an ever-changing set of regulations with which businesses must comply in order to operate. State courts and the legislature were in indefinite recess for much of 2020, leaving no one to push back against the bevy of executive orders by which the governor set policy.
Raimondo even went so far as to attempt to short-circuit Rhode Island’s limits on the use of emergency power. State law limits declarations of states of emergency to 30-day periods. By law, executive agencies—which the governor has the power to control—can adopt emergency regulations for 120 days, with an option to extend them for 60 days. But, in September, Raimondo issued an executive order that allowed emergency rules to be extended indefinitely as long as they were related to the coronavirus.
This move doesn’t show the kind of respect for limits on power that one would hope to see exercised by powerful federal regulators-in-waiting. In her coronavirus response, Raimondo has consistently shown contempt for the separation of powers. That shouldn’t be a recommendation for higher office. It’s particularly troubling given the deference federal regulatory agencies are shown by the courts. Per a 1984 Supreme Court ruling, the Chevron Deference establishes, “that when a legislative delegation to an administrative agency on a particular issue or question is not explicit but rather implicit, a court may not substitute its own interpretation of the statute for a reasonable interpretation made by the administrative agency.”
This, obviously, is ripe for abuse and requires that federal administrators operate in good faith and have an ingrained set of principles; they need to be strong proponents of the separation of power and proactively seek to respect that through their actions. They must because, in many cases, the court won’t. And Raimondo clearly doesn’t believe she should defer to limits on the power of her office.
That’s abundantly evident in her coronavirus response. Raimondo’s approach to one-woman rule has been heavy-handed and unequal in its application: just before Christmas, she shuttered gyms and recreation centers for almost a month, claiming this was a necessary measure to stem surging coronavirus cases in the state. At the time, though, the state’s contract tracers were too overwhelmed to analyze all the data they had on hand. This means she had no evidence on which to base her policy: no hard data showing gyms and recreation centers were a significant source of transmission.
Worse, at the same time Raimondo was targeting gyms and rec centers, unfairly impugning the ability of those business owners to run a clean and safe establishment, she was working with other industries, namely restaurants, to ensure they could stay open, but with nonsensical restrictions that severely hampered the ability of business owners to make money. In November, Raimondo ordered a 10 p.m. curfew, requiring restaurants to close their bars and dining rooms at this time. Her justification?
“The later the night goes on, the more people put their guard down.”
Nor has Raimondo given any consideration to the cost businesses pay with complying with her constantly-evolving guidelines. And the toll it’s taken is evident in the numbers.
In March and April of 2020, one in every five workers in Rhode Island lost their job. Unemployment spiked at 18.1% Unsurprisingly, restaurant workers and those who worked in travel-related services were most directly affected. Per the Providence Journal, “The sector lost 34,400 jobs, or two-thirds of all jobs in that area, the highest percentage in New England and well above the national rate.”
Nor was that the only sector devastated by Raimondo’s policies. According to the Rhode Island Economic Indicator Briefing, the state “reported a historic second-quarter contraction of 40.6% of the state’s gross domestic product, more severe than the region or the country.”
Somehow, that’s a job recommendation for Joe Biden.
But it actually gets worse. Rhode Island received roughly $2 billion in federal disaster relief from Washington. Instead of using that money exclusively to help the businesses her policies had destroyed, Raimondo, defiant in the face of desperate business owners, sat on it for months with the goal of using it to bail out the state from its fiscal irresponsibility. In mid-December, the state passed a budget that “plugs a $275 million projected deficit by replacing state dollars with some of the nearly $2 billion in federal coronavirus aid the state has received. All told, nearly half of the budget — $5.8 billion — comes from Washington.”
This alone should disqualify Raimondo from even being considered for the position of Commerce Secretary. Her refusal to prioritize small businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic shows a flagrant disregard for the people she supposedly represents. Nothing she’s done throughout the course of the pandemic has in any way facilitated job creation or economic growth. On the contrary, her actions have made the business climate in the state infinitely worse. This could, perhaps, be excused. The pandemic requires tough policy choices that ultimately have a negative impact on people who want nothing more than to put food on the table for their families. But Raimondo had the opportunity to help those people by using the federal disaster relief money Rhode Island received to issue grants. Instead, she chose political goals over the welfare of Rhode Island residents. None of this should be a job recommendation. If her legacy in Rhode Island is any indication, her tenure as Commerce Secretary will be disastrous for business.