“I didn’t vote for you Mr President,” I confessed to the leader of the free world the first time I got to speak to him. “Not the first time.”
“What changed your mind?” he responded, grinning and emitting a slight chuckle.
“Well, mostly I figured out that the economy is more like calculus than basic arithmetic.” We both laughed. “But really, I’ve come to respect you and the job you’re doing for this country tremendously.”
“We all do stupid things when we’re young. Lord knows I did.”
We hugged each other, and he moved on to the other guests in the room at a White House LGBT Pride reception. President Barrack Obama’s grace was legendary, but now I was its target and the goofy smile on my face was there for days.
When I made the decision to run for office a few months back, I knew there would be some who made an issue of the fact I was a Republican early on in life. That’s OK: it’s fair game. My dad was the person who first got me interested in politics, and he was a Republican. So I was a Republican. I grew up in Western Cranston, not the world’s bastion of diversity. I was one of those insufferable people who went around boasting about how they were socially liberal and fiscally conservative, as if that actually made any sense.
Like anyone who makes the evolution from one set of political beliefs to another, mine was a process. I had a very simplistic understanding of the world, how society functions, and how the economy works. I was 19, so I certainly wasn’t unique in this regard. I spent a lot of time reading, traveling and getting to know all different kinds of people. My worldview gradually changed, and I eventually changed my voter registration from ‘Not Affiliated’ to the Democratic Party.
In doing so, I joined a group of others who had done the same thing: Howard Dean, Leon Panetta, Loretta Sanchez, Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth Warren all started their political lives as Republicans. I said plenty of things then I now vehemently disagree with, as I’m sure they all did. Unlike them, I said some of those things on social media, and some folks have taken issue with that. I could have deleted everything I’ve ever said on Facebook before I announced my campaign, but it’s 2018. The internet finds everything. I don’t have anything to hide.
The truth is I’ve been a loyal Democrat for years. I voted for President Obama in 2012. In 2014, I hosted a fundraiser for Senator Cory Booker. I’ve knocked on doors and made phone calls for Democratic candidates. I even ran phone banks for Democratic candidates from London when I studied there. As a candidate, it is fair for voters to question my past, but not to the exclusion of my present. Unfortunately, an op-ed was published yesterday about me that did just that. It was full of innuendo I found unfair. I wish I had had the opportunity to speak with the person who wrote this before it was published. I value the perspective of all of my constituents and I hope that I am soon able to have an honest discussion with him and anyone else who feels dissuaded to support me based off of the information in the original op-ed.
So, let’s talk about what’s really happening here. The worst kept secret in Rhode Island at the moment is that Sam Bell is going to join me in running against Senator Paul Jabour, despite there already being a more progressive, millennial candidate who’s gaining traction in the district. Despite raising tens of thousands of dollars for a campaign, he hasn’t found it necessary to publicly tell anyone what he’s running for or why he seems to think it’s a good idea to run in a district to which he has no ties.
Four months ago, Sam moved from the East Side to Mount Pleasant, after telling the East Side Monthly in 2016 “I love [the East Side] and want to live here for the rest of my life.” Instead, Sam’s decided to do what he does best: jump into places where nobody wants him and throw bombs. Before the op-ed in question was published yesterday, several people had alerted me to the fact that Sam was shopping around an attack piece he had written about me and looking for someone to put their name on it. What a coincidence.
[Editor: For the record, the piece in question was written by Cristian Wilson Potter, not Sam Bell.]
These things are the kinds of political games and crass opportunism that drive folks crazy. People want to hear about how candidates plan to make their lives better. Too many Rhode Islanders are still underemployed, and inequality is growing by the day. Lilian Calderon is in ICE detention. Too many of our communities don’t have the resources they need to thrive, we’re on the brink of a housing crisis and the financial outlook of many of our cities and towns is scary. And as I’ve been saying to people for the last few months, too many elected officials in Rhode Island have spent years doing nothing about it. So I’m so excited to see how many young people are stepping up to run for office this year: Justine Caldwell in East Greenwich, Sandra Cano in Pawtucket, Kat Kerwin and Nika Lomazzo in Providence, and others. It’s so important to the future of our state that we usher in a new generation of leadership. But what we don’t need is more of the same cynical politics or a cagey candidate who’s more interested in making headlines and tearing others down than lifting our state up.
To anyone who was rightly horrified by the selective and misleading light I was placed under, I hope you reach out to me. I’d love to get to know you.