Rep. Jim Langevin (D)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: April 22, 1964, Warwick .
Education: RI Col., B.A. 1990, Harvard U., M.P.A. 1994.
Elected office: RI House of Reps., 1988-94; RI sec. of state, 1994-2000.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Jim Langevin, a Democrat first elected in 2000. He grew up in Warwick and as a boy hoped to become an FBI agent. But in 1980, at age 16, when he was a police cadet in the Boy Scout Explorer program, he was shot by a police officer when a gun accidentally discharged. The bullet went through his upper back and throat and damaged the upper part of his spinal column; ever since, he has been a quadriplegic. Today, he is the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress. After the accident, Langevin received $2.2 million in a settlement with the city of Warwick, and although he disliked the attention it brought him, he says he became determined to do something meaningful with his life. He worked as an intern in the state House and for Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell. In 1988, while still a student at Rhode Island College, he was elected to the state House of Representatives, where he styled himself as a reformer. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he went on to get a master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. (Langevin’s 1st District colleague, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, was also elected to the state House that year as a college student.) In 1994, Langevin was elected Rhode Island’s secretary of state.
|Jim Langevin (D)||158,416||(70%)||($679,026)|
|Mark Zaccaria (R)||67,433||(30%)||($52,545)|
|Jim Langevin (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (73%), 2004 (75%), 2002 (76%), 2000 (62%)
When Democratic Rep. Bob Weygand ran for the Senate in 2000, Langevin ran for his seat in the U.S. House. In a four-way contest for the Democratic nomination, Langevin’s most strenuous opposition came from Kate Coyne-McCoy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of Social Workers who made an issue of Langevin’s opposition to abortion rights. Although Langevin had support from many Democratic Party leaders and some unions, and won the party’s endorsement at the April convention, Coyne-McCoy waged an aggressive campaign financed by unions, health care workers, and EMILY’s List. “There’s no such thing as being too liberal,” Coyne-McCoy said. Langevin called her positions “unrealistic and extreme.” He favored less stringent forms of gun control and said, “No one has to tell me how dangerous weapons can be.” When Coyne-McCoy attacked him for opposing abortion rights, a position out of step with his party, Langevin responded, “Because of what happened to me, I became aware of how precious life is.” He spoke often about the accident that paralyzed him. “Certainly, being disabled is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me.” Langevin won the primary. His chief opposition in the general election came from Rodney Driver, nominee of the Conscience for Congress Party and a retired mathematics professor who spent $300,000 of his retirement savings on his campaign. Langevin won 62%-21%.
The House chamber in the U.S. Capitol was made wheelchair accessible for Langevin, with two of the fixed seats in the front removed to give him space to maneuver and to talk to colleagues. Later, at his urging, Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to more far-reaching structural changes to make all parts of the chamber, including the speaker’s rostrum, accessible to the disabled.
Langevin has been liberal on economic issues and more centrist on cultural and foreign-policy issues, an apt reflection of his district’s ethnic communities. In 2005, he was one of only three House Democrats from New England to join conservatives in the controversial case of Terri Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged Florida woman at the center of a court battle over removing her life-sustaining feeding tube. But he was back in the liberal fold on the issue of embryonic-stem-cell research, opposed by anti-abortion groups because it relies on surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization. Langevin took the view that the research might alleviate suffering from certain diseases and injuries. He protested President Bush’s opposition to federal funding for such research by inviting Dana Reeve, the widow of actor and spinal repair research activist Christopher Reeve, to Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address. In 2007, he opposed Bush’s veto of the stem-cell-research bill and was criticized by the Roman Catholic bishop of Providence.
Langevin has sponsored several gun control bills, and he has called universal health care coverage his overriding priority. In 2008, he co-sponsored with Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a plan for national health care coverage for all Americans that would resemble the one provided to federal employees. An increase in the payroll tax would finance the program. “The reality is we can’t wait another day” to overhaul the existing system, he said. In 2006, Langevin won passage of a law that established a respite program that aids caregivers of individuals with special needs. He introduced the bill in 2002 but had difficultly advancing it in the GOP-controlled Congress until he asked a Republican, Rep. Michael Ferguson of New Jersey, to become a co-sponsor.
In the 110th Congress (2007-08), Langevin chaired the Homeland Security subcommittee on emerging threats and cyber security, where he took a special interest in biological warfare and prepared a report to assist the next president in assessing the threat of cyber-terrorism. The House passed his resolution calling for greater awareness of computer security. On the Intelligence Committee, Langevin took a more conservative approach than many other Democrats by supporting the Bush administration’s electronic surveillance program.
Langevin had the opportunity to run for Senate in 2006. One statewide poll in early 2005 showed him leading Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, and both state and national Democrats urged him to consider challenging Chafee. But abortion-rights groups objected to Langevin’s candidacy. In March 2005, Langevin announced that he would not run for the Senate, though he did not rule out a later run for statewide office. Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, the former state attorney general, challenged Chafee and won. Langevin decided to run again for his House seat in 2006. But it was not a clear shot at re-election.
Brown University political scientist Jennifer Lawless challenged Langevin in the primary. Lawless, who had recently moved to Rhode Island, drew support from national abortion-rights groups and ran an aggressive and negative campaign that hit Langevin hard on his abortion stance and the war in Iraq. Lawless and Langevin ran dueling television ads on abortion. Lawless’s spot featured a doctor talking about rape, and cited 27 votes that Langevin cast “against a woman’s right to choose.” Langevin countered that he supported abortion rights in sexual assault cases. Lawless also accused Langevin of not mounting stronger opposition to the Iraq war and compared Langevin with Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who lost his Democratic primary in August 2006 because of his support for the war. Langevin in December 2005 voted against a proposed timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, but said he supported the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq. “The big difference between me and Joe Lieberman is that Joe Lieberman voted for the war and continued to defend it, and I voted against the war and have been a constant critic,” Langevin told the Providence Journal. Langevin raised more than double what Lawless did, and wound up defeating her 62%-38% in the September primary. In the general election, Republicans failed to field a candidate in the district for the first time in 149 years.