Politics & Elections

Ed Pacheco is running for congress: The first interview

In an exclusive conversation UpriseRI and Ed Pacheco talk climate change, education, military spending, Medicare for All, reproductive rights, guns, jobs, economy, the local Democratic Party and the shape of Congress after the mid-terms.
Photo for Ed Pacheco is running for congress: The first interview

Published on January 30, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Ed Pacheco ran for the Burrillville School Committee at the age of 19, becoming the the youngest elected official in Rhode Island history. He later represented the towns of Burrillville and Glocester as State Representative and served as the chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. He has devoted his non-political career to education, “first as executive director of a Rhode Island non-profit and most recently as executive director of the Rhode Island College Foundation and interim executive director of external affairs for the college.”

Pacheco is married and has two young children with his wife Claudia. He announced his candidacy for the open seat in Rhode Island’s second congressional district last week after James Langevin announced his retirement. This interview was conducted before Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner declared his intention to run for the same seat. A statement from Pacheco appends this piece.

UpriseRI: I just watched your video on Facebook.

Ed Pacheco: What did you think?

UpriseRI: As far as making an initial overture to the public, it’s pretty good. You’ve got to get your message out there. Because of the way Representative Langevin stepped down, time and money will be tight. Potential candidates weren’t (as far as I know) collecting money for a run before January. It seems like the election might be underpowered in some ways, because no one was gearing up for a big fight on this seat.

Ed Pacheco: I think what you touched on is that the congressman’s decision caught everybody by surprise – myself included. I think the most important thing right now is to consider who can hit the ground running and put together an apparatus to be successful, not just in the primary, but more importantly, in the general election. For me that’s where the fight needs to be because whoever is elected to the United States Congress, their first vote is what is going to matter the most.

We’ve already put the team together here. We’re hitting the ground running. I’m taking a leave from my job to focus all my time and energy on this campaign and fight on behalf of Rhode Islanders throughout the second congressional district to make sure that their voices are heard in Washington.

UpriseRI: About that apparatus – You’ve got a lot of contacts in the Rhode Island Democratic Party. So in building that apparatus it seems like you have an advantage there.

Ed Pacheco: Well listen, I’ve spent my entire professional and political career in service to the state, and I’m proud of having served on behalf of Rhode Islanders. Public service to me has always come from a sense of duty.

When I first ran for office, as a high school student and as a write-in, by the way, it was a complete out of the sky type of opportunity. I remember standing in line with some friends of mine registering to vote. And someone suggested Eddie Pacheco for town council and shortly after that we had all the news stations reaching out.

I still don’t know for sure, but I think somebody’s parent overheard and called one of the news stations. Next thing I get this phone call and somebody asks, “Hey, are you running for council as a write-in candidate?” I said, “Yeah, absolutely” and we were off to the races. That was my favorite campaign. I wasn’t tied to the political establishment. I didn’t know what that was at that time. But I was a scrappy kid from Burrillville willing to fight on behalf of my classmates, my neighbors, my family, my friends – because they were there for me when I needed them in my most difficult times.

As I mentioned in my announcement yesterday I spent a number of years in need of help from my community and they were there for me. I didn’t even have to ask. I was raised by a single mom who scraped and clawed along with all of us to take care of our family in our most difficult times. We spent time on section eight and food stamps. We were fortunate to have that support then, but social programs are needed in this country now more than ever. It seems like the gaps between the haves and have nots get worse and worse by the day.

If we want to make sure the American dream is within reach for everybody, these programs have to be in place. I’m very committed to strengthening social programs in the United States and on behalf of Rhode Islanders in particular. My mother taught me the value of a good education and hard work and we certainly had the opportunity to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps – but I want to point something out. I had bootstraps. Not everybody is so fortunate. As someone who has that sense of duty to public service and was one of the youngest elected officials in the state, I know what it is to make a difference.

It’s not a cliche to me. I took that passion with me to the General Assembly fighting on behalf of my community. I went on to chair the Democratic Party and help elect Democrats throughout Rhode Island. No one is ever fully prepared to run for the United States Congress, but I’m ready. I’m ready to stand up, be counted and fight on behalf of my friends and family and neighbors who need a fighter in Washington. I’m ready to be that fighter.

UpriseRI: So let me ask you about two issues that I think Representative Langevin has taken some heat – one from the right and one from the left. From the right, he takes heat on his policies regarding guns. On the left, he takes heat because he was late to come around on the issue of abortion rights. I know you were a friend and supporter of Langevin. Where do you fall on those two issues and how do you see those issues playing out in the coming election?

Ed Pacheco: First off, I support women’s reproductive rights and any effort to codify it into the law of the land. Additionally, I support gun safety measures in this country. Let me give you two examples specific to opportunities to vote within general assembly. Number one is every time there was a proposal here in the state, I was a supporter fo reproductive rights. Two, when I was first elected to the state general assembly you might recall there was legislation introduced to remove firearms from the household in instances of domestic violence. I voted for that legislation, even representing Burriville, one of the more conservative parts of the state. I was proud to stand up for that legislation.

I think what Rhode Islanders are looking for is exactly what my supporters were looking for when I first was elected. Someone who was going to be honest and stand up and have the character to not just listen to their constituents when these issues come up, but to know when it’s time to be a statesman. Elected officials and public officials face difficult decisions and we have to be willing to listen, but we also must take the time to thoughtfully explain our positions. I’ve done that my entire life. That’s a big part of the reason why I’ve had supporters from all different parts of the political spectrum. I’ve always fought on behalf of democratic ideals and I’ll continue to do that in Congress.

UpriseRI: If Roe v. Wade is overturned, there’ll be some efforts, although it’s hard to imagine how successful those efforts might be, for Congress to step in and make it right. But that might be difficult because there’s a good chance that when you go to Congress, it’ll be Republican controlled, right? And you’ll be more or less legislating from the minority. For your first two years there’s a good chance that your legislative agenda, whatever that is, will be hamstrung. What does that look like?

Ed Pacheco: I think you hit the nail in the head. Number one, I’ve had enough experience in public service to know that it’s all about conversations and a willingness to stand up and say what needs to be said. And I’ve never been afraid to do just that. Second, as I mentioned a short time ago, that first vote is critical. I believe that if we’re going to have a chance to hold onto Congress and keep it Democratic, we need to make sure that seats like Rhode Island Congressional District Two stay blue.

But listen, you can be effective on behalf of your state and district even from the minority. I know that by working with folks in Washington and from all over the country about how important it is to make sure that Rhode Islander’s voices are heard, because, I want to reiterate, I will support any effort to codify reproductive rights. Do I think it’s going to be difficult if we’re in the minority? Absolutely. But let’s hope we don’t get there. I’m optimistic. I believe that that we will prevail – not only here in November, but across this country if we put the right candidates on the ballot. Second, in addition to these issues, I think it’s really important to bring Rhode Island issues to Washington.

We all get caught up in the buzz words and what’s easy to put out on a political pamphlet, but when we’re talking about how we ensure that people have access to good public education, good paying jobs and what that really means – we’ve got to stop just talking about these things and start putting action out there. As a Congressman, every voter in the second congressional district deserves a voice and I will make sure they have that voice in Washington.

UpriseRI: Could you give me an example of what kind of Rhode Island issues you would bring to Congress?

Ed Pacheco: Education is going to be my top priority. I am really excited to see Rhode Island operating as a leader right now with a conversation around universal pre-K across the state and some form of childcare support for Rhode Island families. Claudia and I have two beautiful children. We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to figure out how to make things work so we can go to our jobs and provide for our family. Not everyone is so fortunate. We need solutions if we’re going to break the cycle of folks constantly trying to make ends meet, put food on the table, pay the rent and keep the lights on. People are struggling.

One thing President Biden deserves a lot of credit for is the child tax credit. As a Congressman, I will fight on behalf of any effort to ensure we support families around childcare and as the next Congressman I’m going to fight for universal pre-K because every family deserves those opportunities. We can help turn this economy around – not just for Rhode Island – but for the entire United States.

UpriseRI: Let me ask you about something related to both families and healthcare, which is Medicare for All. It’s a popular idea within Democratic circles, but it doesn’t get taken seriously in Washington. I know Langevin has signed on to be in support were it to come up, and I know that’s the same for our other three delegates, but they don’t seem serious about it. Where are you on that issue and what do you think can be done about it?

Ed Pacheco: Number one, I’m a supporter of Medicare for All. I think we made tremendous efforts under President Obama to head in the right direction, but there’s certainly more work to be done. Going back to the point we just discussed about Rhode island issues, people need access to a good, high quality healthcare. People shouldn’t have to struggle with some of the decisions they have to make day in and day out. Healthcare needs to be a right in this country, just like education.

We’re honestly spoiled here in Rhode Island. All four of our federal office holders have been supporters and certainly have fought on behalf of Rhode Island, but we have to continue that. If we lose one of the four voices we’re giving in to what could be a really poor agenda that will not support the American people or Rhode Islanders in particular – especially those in the middle class and those who are aspiring to be in the middle class. Again, that will not just be something on a pamphlet, that’ll be something I stand up and vocalize on behalf of Rhode Island families, because whether you’re from Burrillville or Narragansett or Cranston or Johnston these issues matters to everyone.

UpriseRI: Let me ask you about military spending. It’s important to Rhode Island for economic reasons that we maintain military based industry, especially in the southern part of the state you’ll be representing, but it’s also true that our congressional delegation supported a military budget in excess of the one the Trump administration had asked for. Also, large military spending negatively impacts spending on social programs. We also know that if the United States military were a country, it would be something like the eighth largest contributor to climate change in the world. Curbing military spending has many positive impacts yet it seems to be politically untenable for any of our congresspeople or senators to say or do anything about this. What are your thoughts?

Ed Pacheco: It’s a good question. Look, I think in light of current events – This conversation deserves a lot more than a quick conversation. I’m not afraid to say that I need to spend more time on an issue and this is one of them. I support our military and I want to make sure that we do everything to make sure they have the proper support to be the most effective they can be on behalf of this country, but I certainly appreciate the question. It’s something I’m definitely going to look at long and hard. It deserves more attention in light of current circumstances.

UpriseRI: Moving on. Another gigantic issue in our universe is climate change. Rhode Island is warming faster than almost any other continental state. What are we doing about climate change and what should Congress be doing about climate change?

Ed Pacheco: Number one, as I mentioned in my announcement, one of the things I definitely intend to do when I get to Congress is support every and all efforts to build the blue and green economy here in Rhode Island. I want to want to celebrate for a second the work of the University of Rhode Island and in particular, the new president, Marc Parlange, for putting the blue economy back on the front burner with both the business community and the community at large. If we’re going to help address the issues our climate faces, we have to start looking at clean energy, as well as the opportunity to invest in things like turbine energy and offshore wind.

This is also an opportunity to put people to work, right? Those are jobs. We have to focus on a number of different fronts. Number one is we have to focus on good paying jobs. We have to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to combat climate change. But simultaneously, we have to think about things like tourism and recreation. This is the ocean state. We need to be doing everything we can in Washington to support the ocean state. We need to make sure that we’re bringing funding to places like URI to invest in the good work they’re doing in research on the environmental side – as well as the opportunities I mentioned that contribute to good jobs. To me that’s a given for my work as a Congressman because Rhode Island not only needs to be a part of the effort around climate change but we should be a leader given where we are geographically speaking.

UpriseRI: Where we are is pretty precarious. It’s scary.

Ed Pacheco: There are still people in Washington who have the audacity to stand up and say they don’t believe in climate change. I would ask them to turn on the news and see what’s happened over the last six months to a year. More importantly, look at the data. Data tells the story and I deal in facts. Those facts tell us that this is not something we can take lightly anymore. We need to do everything we can to support policies that are going to help not only this generation, but future generations, have a better future.

UpriseRI: I appreciate that but I’d counter that even people who acknowledge climate change in Congress aren’t doing anything about it. Big pieces of legislation are stalled in Congress. There are people who give a lot of lip service to it, but still don’t do anything.

Ed Pacheco: I’ll say it again : We’re spoiled here in Rhode Island. Because we have a delegation that fights on our behalf each and every day. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of politicians that have been elected to Congress that are more interested in the political gamesmanship than they are in actually getting the work done. I will be one of those people that will be rolling up my sleeves and getting the work done, whether it’s focused on drafting policy for folks to consider or using my soapbox to stand up voice what needs to happen on the frontline to combat climate change. I’ll join Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and his effort to make this a top priority.

UpriseRI: All right. I might be the only reporter who’s going to ask a question like this, so pardon me, if it seems untoward. In Burrillville where you were born there was an attempt to build a fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant. The battle against the plant went on for four and a half years and was ultimately successful. As this was happening in Burrillville, the town switched from basically Democrat to Republican for its representation at the State House and for its presidential votes. It’s easy to say that the change was because of Trump, but I was up there a lot during this time and talked to a lot of people. The people of Burrillville did not feel that the Rhode Island Democratic Party had their back. They felt abandoned by then-Governor Gina Raimondo and by Senator Whitehouse both of whom never took a stand against the power plant, despite their claims to care about the climate. In fact, they fully supported the power plant and never stopped advocating for it behind the scenes. So, do you think the Democratic Party in Rhode Island has truly been serving communities like Burrillville?

Ed Pacheco: I think I see what you’re getting at. It’s a good question with respect to how do we reach out to all sections of our state, right? Because the Democratic Party is a big tent. There are liberal leaning, moderate and conservative Democrats. I know as the former chair of Democratic Party chair that one of the conversations we have to be willing to have is, if we operate in absolutes, we’re not going to make any progress. I’m believe that when folks have a difference of opinion you sit down and talk with them and hope to educate and help them evolve.

People do evolve by the way. If you take the time to listen to them, they’ll take the time to listen to you. And that’s one of the things I pride in myself on in serving in the general assembly on behalf of Burrillville and Glocester, one of the more conservative parts of the state, as you mentioned. We still have work to be done and I will be the same person in Congress on behalf of the state that I was when I was in the general assembly and that I was as the head of Democratic Party.

UpriseRI: Not to belabor this point, so forgive me, but when I hear the term “big tent” it’s always used in defense of conservative policies and politicians in the Democratic Party and never in defense of “progressive” policies and politicians. Progressive voices always face an uphill battle and are often directly targeted by the party.

Ed Pacheco: Right. I think I’m going to go back to what I said to you earlier, Steve. If we can’t reach Democrats from all walks of life, Independents, and yes, maybe even some Republicans this November, we’re not going to win this seat. And for me, there’s a way to be a candidate on behalf of the entire district and ensure that all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to succeed. As I just mentioned, part of that is taking the time to listen, sit down with folks, appreciate where they’re coming from, be honest and forthright on the issues and make sure they know they have a fighter in Washington. That’s what you can expect from me as the next Congressman for the second district.

UpriseRI: There’s a lot of tough choices coming up nationally, especially given the situation in the Ukraine. What are your thoughts on that?

Ed Pacheco: What’s playing out on the world stage right now is certainly very concerning. We all need to be paying attention to this issue because it has the potential for a ripple effect, not the least of which is the continued escalation that’s occurring. We hope that every effort is being made to deescalate the situation, and I think over the coming weeks, hopefully days, that that will be the case. We need to be supportive of our country’s effort to ensure that we are being the beacon of democracy in the world and protecting people. It is concerning. I’m paying attention along with everyone else.

UpriseRI: Is there something I should have asked that I didn’t? Is there an issue that I left on a table?

Ed Pacheco: Like I said, education is my top priority going into this race and I just want to hit home again that whether it’s universal pre-K, the child tax credit, all the way to loan forgiveness for young generations to make sure that they have the ability to succeed. When we talk about the economy here in Rhode Island and nationally there’s an entire generation out there that’s struggling to pay their bills and trying to get that job while earning a college degree. We’ve got to be smart about this and make sure that we’re not putting ourselves in a worse circumstance by missing the mark because folks find themselves in,financial difficulty and can’t get out from under that crushing debt.

Student debt is contributing to a vicious cycle that will, long term, be a detriment to our economy. I believe fundamentally that if you succeed, our community succeeds. If I succeed, our community succeeds. When you fall down, we all fall down and and we need to be there to pick one another up to make sure that we do everything we can to ensure that people have a path to prosperity, whatever that means. It’s not a cliche for me. I believe in making a difference and providing people a piece of the American dream. By going to Congress, I hope to make people’s lives just that much better.

UpriseRI: Does that include, as you mentioned, student loan debt forgiveness in a big way, not in small, incremental ways?

Ed Pacheco: I think everything we can do to help younger generations, particularly from an equity standpoint, that’s what we need to focus on.

UpriseRI: I’m hoping that we can talk again, as the election gets closer.

Ed Pacheco: Love to. I appreciate your willingness to spend some time with me this morning. And I’m excited about this campaign and excited to get to work.

Pacheco sent the following statement in response to Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner’s declaration that he is running for the second-congressional seat:

“I welcome anyone and everyone into this race and am looking forward to a spirited debate on the values that matter to every day Rhode Islanders and who is best equipped to represent those values in Washington. As a lifelong resident of the second congressional district, a husband to a frontline healthcare worker, a father to a working family and raised by a single mother, I’ve seen firsthand the struggles Rhode Islanders are facing. I look forward to earning Rhode Islander’s support throughout the second district and ultimately their vote in the primary and going on to win in November. We need to send someone to Washington who is willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work every single day to fight for the values of working families in Rhode Island.

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