Following the announcement that longtime Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) will not be seeking re-election in the 2022 midterms, several candidates have entered the race for Rhode Island’s second congressional district, which encompasses western Rhode Island and parts of Providence.
Democrats Seth Magaziner ’06, Omar Bah and Ed Pacheco all declared their candidacies in the days following Langevin’s Jan. 19 announcement. Republican Robert Lancia is competing against State Senator Jessica de la Cruz in the Republican primary race.
In press releases and communications with The Herald, the three Democratic candidates framed the race as part of a crucial fight for democracy across the country in light of recent events such as former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and current efforts by Republicans in states across the country to make voting requirements more restrictive.
“I believe the most sacred fight of our generation is in Washington,” Magaziner, the current general treasurer of Rhode Island, wrote in an email to The Herald. Magaziner suspended his bid for governor in order to declare his candidacy for the second district seat following Langevin’s announcement.
“It is so critical we keep this seat blue and Rhode Island does its part to stop national Republicans … from further efforts to undermine democracy and roll back progress,” he wrote.
Other candidates similarly emphasize the importance of preserving democracy. “We live in a very dangerous time,” Bah said in an interview with The Herald. Bah is the founder of the Refugee Dream Center, a nonprofit organization that offers extensive aid and services to refugees in the Ocean State, according to the center’s website. Bah, who escaped repression and torture as a journalist in The Gambia before arriving in Rhode Island, is also a member of the advisory board at the Watson Institute’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies.
“We cannot be oblivious of the fact that democracy is under threat,” Bah said. “I have seen the danger of dictatorships … and what (they) can do to the very existence of a nation and its people. And because I’ve done it before, I will fight to protect the democracy of this country.”
Pacheco, a former member of the state House of Representatives and former Rhode Island Democratic Party chairman, told The Herald that the first weeks of the race have been “kind of a blur.”
“The announcement by Congressman Langevin obviously took everybody by surprise, including myself,” he said.
Republican candidate Robert Lancia, a former member of the state House of Representatives, concurred, writing in an email to The Herald that “Jim Langevin’s retirement announcement came as a shock not only to myself, as his only competitor at the time, but also the entire state of Rhode Island.”
De la Cruz did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Herald.
All four candidates interviewed by The Herald listed education as one of their most important policy focuses.
“Education is a right for all Americans, and … all Americans deserve access to high-quality education regardless of their zip code,” said Pacheco. He emphasized the importance of ensuring universal access to pre-kindergarten education, expanding access to postsecondary and trade education and forgiving student loans as key policy measures that could help improve the state’s education system. “We have to have a serious conversation in this country about the crushing financial debt that’s being placed upon younger generations,” he said.
Magaziner also emphasized the need for universal pre-kindergarten and improved access to higher education, while Bah referenced overcrowdedness and underfunding in Providence Public Schools while advocating for improvements to public K-12 education.
Lancia’s education policy goals echoed Republican party values surrounding educational curricula in recent months. “We must protect our children at all costs,” he wrote in an email to The Herald, noting that he believes in “the right for parents to have their children educated in relation with their religious and/or political views.”
“With an overwhelming number of property taxes going towards the public education system, (parents’) taxes come with opinions and their voices need to be heard,” he wrote.
In response to his Democratic opponents’ promises to act on the federal level to protect voting rights, Lancia wrote, “simply put, we should not be federalizing elections.”
“While Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Jim Langevin have supported this federal takeover of elections, even members of their own party have dismissed the efforts,” he wrote, referencing conservative Democratic senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
Both Bah and Pacheco pointed to formative experiences from their personal lives and in Rhode Island that inspired their policy positions and decisions to run.
“I was raised by a single mother who taught me the importance of a good education and the value of hard work,” said Pacheco, who grew up in Burrillville. He referenced the support his family received from food stamps and federal housing assistance as reasons for his commitment to education and support for working families.
Bah, meanwhile, said that his own experiences as a refugee and his work helping other refugees at the Refugee Dream Center have led him to a greater understanding of the challenges facing working-class Americans.
These hardships “are lived experiences that I see every day,” he said. “The reason I’m running is that I have lived it and experienced it.”