Segal runs unopposed, ambivalent about campaigns

By
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

State Rep. David Segal has mixed feelings about campaigning.

“It’s an opportunity to re-educate people, reconnect with voters and learn more about their concerns,” Segal said about his rigorous canvassing in District 2 during last month’s Democratic primary, which he won by a wide margin. “But it can be pretty distancing, pretty superficial.”

Luckily, Segal, 28, is running unopposed in the general election race to fill the seat for District 2, which includes the Fox Point neighborhood and parts of College Hill.

Segal has been on the East Side political scene since he was 22, when he ran for and won a city council seat as a member of the Green Party – a first-ever win for the party in Rhode Island. Since then, Segal has joined the Democratic Party and moved up to state legislator. But he has kept his progressive politics and push for statewide reform that has defined his tenure in Ocean State government, he said.

“I believe in a participatory democracy, a participatory economy and a participatory society,” Segal said, touting what he calls his progressive leanings. “It is pretty evident that (being a state legislator) is an effective way of changing society and actualizing one’s ideals.”

One of Segal’s signature issues is advancing renewable energy – a goal he said is made easier by the increasing public awareness of environmental issues and the prospect of creating a wind-power based energy industry.

“There’s a reason Rhode Island is called the Ocean State: because we have the highest ratio of ocean coastline to land area,” Segal said. “That gives us a comparative advantage in wind power.”

Segal said promoting alternative energy would create much-needed jobs in the state, which recorded an 8.8 percent unemployment rate in September, the nation’s highest.

A bill to incentivize wind energy production by requiring National Grid – Rhode Island’s largest power company – to make long-term contracts with wind energy providers in exchange for a rebate was vetoed this year by Gov. Donald Carcieri ’65. Segal said he will vote to override the veto in a special meeting of the state legislature this fall, which he predicts will be successful.

Segal also said he will support increased funding for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which he calls “an economic development tool” and a good environmental investment.

Segal spoke passionately about a range of issues beyond the environment – including prison reform, increased support for housing and utilities and better education funding. He said he is a strong advocate for changing the way taxes are collected and distributed at the state and local levels.

“People think of Rhode Island as a high-tax state … but it is only property taxes that are so high,” Segal said, adding that he favored a system that increases state-level taxes, such as the income tax.

Amid talk of helping his constituents’ economic situations, Segal is cavalier about his own. Living on his meager salary as a state representative, Segal said he relies on odd jobs like tutoring and “living frugally” to support himself.

Along with his legislative work, he is a founder of the blog Providence Daily Dose and a frequent contributor to the progressive blog Rhode Island’s Future, though he isn’t paid by either site. He also works with FairVote Rhode Island, a group seeking to reform the Electoral College system. He is waiting for an Ethics Committee decision about whether he can receive payment from the group without it being a conflict of interest.

As for the future, Segal said he has no ambition for higher office in state or national government, and doesn’t see himself working as a state legislator forever.

“No matter what my job or title is, I plan on being an activist throughout my life,” he said. “Right now, I am in a good spot to do that while adhering to my ideals.”