Dan McKee was sworn in Tuesday as the 76th governor of Rhode Island.
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea swore in the 69-year-old McKee, a Democrat who was in his second term as lieutenant governor in the nation’s smallest state.
McKee ascended to the governorship shortly after her predecessor, Gina Raimondo, after her nomination to become President Biden’s secretary of commerce was confirmed by the United States Senate in a vote of 84-15.
“I have the utmost confidence in you. You are a proud Rhode Island, a dedicated public servant, a seasoned executive, and a good man. You will serve our state with honors as its 76th Governor,” Raimondo wrote in a letter of resignation that was delivered. to McKee.
Earlier Tuesday, US Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had suspended Raimondo’s confirmation, saying he believed Raimondo had not taken a tough enough stance against Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
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After being sworn in, McKee signed an executive order that reportedly echoed promises made by his predecessors, which he said held his administration “to the highest ethical standards,” according to reports.
McKee is now tasked with putting together Rhode Island’s state budget and managing the coronavirus pandemic, which according to data from Johns Hopkins University has killed more than 2,500 people in his state, WPRI-TV reported.
Last month, McKee announced the creation of a new panel to guide his incoming administration’s response to the outbreak. After leaving Statehouse, McKee told reporters that his immediate focus will be on vaccine distribution, according to the station.
“I just had some meetings upstairs about vaccinating and vaccinating teachers,” McKee said before getting into a car driven by the Rhode Island State Police.
McKee’s political career began in Cumberland, RI, where he was elected to the city council in 1992. He would later serve as mayor for 11 non-consecutive years beginning in 2000, when he beat incumbent Francis Gaschen, according to WPRI-TV. .
Despite losing his re-election bid in 2004 to David Iwuc, he won the post in 2006 and held it until he was elected lieutenant governor in 2014.
In 2014, McKee beat Ralph Mollis and State Representative Frank Ferri in a Democratic three-way primary before defeating Republican candidate Catherine Taylor in the general election.
Four years later, he faced progressive Democratic Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who got the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. McKee won by approximately 2,500 votes.
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McKee describes himself as less liberal than Raimondo and is likely to fight for the interests of small businesses and charter school education.
“You will see an administration a little more moderate than the Raimondo administration,” said WPRI-TV political analyst Joe Fleming. “At the same time, I don’t think he’s too conservative. He’s looking to 2022 and being the active governor puts him in a good position. If he becomes too conservative, it could hurt him.”
His support for charter schools set him up against the largest public sector unions in the state over the years.
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Fleming said improving his relationship with unions could go a long way toward improving his chances of being elected in 2022, as thousands of members are now part of his workforce, according to the station.
“It gives you something to work on for these two years: trying to patch up some barriers,” Fleming said.
McKee will also be tasked with nominating the next lieutenant governor, who must be approved by the state Senate.
“We are ready to help the people of the state of Rhode Island in this pandemic and beyond,” he said, according to the Providence Journal.
Associated Press contributed to this report.