The story behind the Stokes firing
In the news business it is always good to have the inside story. On the Keith Stokes matter, here it is: according to State House sources.
When Linc Chafee became governor, he was looking for a fresh start for the state Economic Development Corporation. After the EDC’s dismal record under Gov. Don Carcieri (who left the directorship vacant for more than a year during one of the worst downturns in state history), Chafee felt it was time for new leadership. And the new governor was not comfortable with Stokes’ incessant cheerleading for the 38 Studios deal that Chafee so strongly opposed when he was a candidate for governor in 2010.
The new governor was poised to appoint Jim Bennett, a well-liked (by everyone but Carcieri, who he unsuccessfully challenged in a GOP gubernatorial primary in 2002) onetime Brown University hockey star and respected small businessman. But Stokes’ supporters in the African-American community and his friend and fellow Newporter, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, kicked up a fuss and prodded the governor to keep Stokes.
Stokes and Bennett are both native-born and bred R.I. success stories, but the resemblance ends there. Stokes strength is that he is a very smart, well-educated gentleman who happens to be a big thinking policy wonk. Bennett is rougher around the edges but he has a crucial qualification that Stokes and many other economic development gurus lack: hands-on experience in the real world of business. Bennett has built businesses and knows the stomach-grinding feeling of having to make a payroll every week. Stokes excels at meetings and conferences and understands the nuances of economic policy. Bennett is a guy whose philosophy is that government can establish conditions for a strong business environment (good infrastructure, good schools) but then should get out of the way and let the market work. Bennett would be more comfortable wooing a business leader to R.I. over a steak dinner and a couple of pints than with a Power Point presentation.
Chafee went with Stokes, but he never got anything from Paiva Weed in exchange. Paiva Weed has been little but a thorn in Chafee’s side on an array of issues from marriage equality to taxes. (Word from House sources is that Speaker Gordon Fox is also having difficulty with Paiva Weed).
One of Stokes’ tasks was to keep the Chafee Administration apprised of the internal finances of the 38 Studios deal. Obviously the governor felt he was Pearl Harbored by the 38 Studios default on a $1.1 million payment that was required under terms of the deal.
Moreover, not that this is Stokes fault, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high. Sometimes one gets hurt in an accident as passenger, not the driver, in a car. So it is no surprise that Chafee chose this time to turn the page at EDC. And Stokes will land on his feet; he is too smart and hard-working not to.