"A coalition of supporters developed, and it wasn't just the chamber of commerce. It was younger teachers, police, heads of social service agencies. . . . Advocates for the disabled really came out."
The eventual reform delayed retirement and suspended cost-of-living increases. It changed a traditional system, in which the state bore all the risk, to a hybrid in which the state guarantees part of each pension ("important to me as a Democrat, because retirement is about security") and a 401(k)-style plan makes up the rest.
Unlike Walker's reforms, which spared police officers and fire fighters, it affected all state employees equally, from judges down.
Unlike most plans, including for instance Gov. Jerry Brown's in California, it applied to existing employees as well as new hires; anything else, Raimondo says, is unfair to the young.
Social Security has an unfunded liability of $8.9 trillion over the next 75 years, according to its trustees. The recipe for putting it on sound footing isn't complicated.
Yet Washington politicians, divided between Democrats who resist any reform and Republicans who periodically champion privatization, do nothing, preferring to use the issue as a club to beat each other with - and making the problem harder to solve year by year.
The Rhode Island approach - face the facts; get everyone to the table; look to solve the problem, not demonize - would seem to offer some obvious lessons.
But when I tried to draw an analogy, Raimondo wasn't entirely encouraging.
"Rhode Island's pension system was in crisis today. You would have seen other cities going bankrupt, devastating cuts to social services," she said.
"I do think that that enabled what we did here."
The all-too-real effects of crisis generated support for reform.
"People don't really want to hear about the $3 trillion," Raimondo said.
"They want to hear, your property taxes are going up, the bus you take to work is going to be cut, your kid's school is going to be underfunded. That got people calling the statehouse."
Today Raimondo is a defendant in five lawsuits, all brought by public employee unions. She's also the most popular politician in Rhode Island, a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2014.
"The next big thing we have to focus on is growth," she told me. "It's great we did the pensions, but when you have 11.5 percent unemployment, you gotta grow."