My grandmother came to Providence to go to college at the tail end of the 1940s. My grandfather, meanwhile, was born to immigrant parents in South Providence. As soon as they met, my great-grandparents plotted to break them up. He was Jewish, she was Protestant, and that just wasn’t done in those days. They married anyway. Then, she dropped out of school and became pregnant. She was 19.
It wasn’t easy for them. While my grandfather drifted from job to job, my grandmother stayed home to raise a growing nest of boys. But after my father was born, she went back to school and finished her degree. She got a job teaching English as a second language in the Providence Public Schools. Sadly, she died last year. But she still taught English to new immigrants in our city to the very end.
My grandparents were proud to be Americans. They saw a country that created Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. It was a country that fought for the middle class and the poor, not for the wealthiest and most well-connected. From them, I learned that being an American is about caring for our neighbors and fighting for what’s right.
My name is Sam Bell, and I am the State Senator representing you in District 5. My wife, Samantha, and I live in Mount Pleasant on Gray St., just south of Chalkstone. When I’m not in the senate, I’m a geologist, and Samantha works at Hasbro. We’re new homeowners, and new parents to a wonderful son. We want him to be able to bike down decent roads on his way to a good public school. We want him to be able to depend on Medicaid if he needs it. We want him to be safe from gun violence. We want him to live in a city and state that aren’t in a constant state of budget crisis. That’s what I’m fighting for in the State Senate. I want our family and families like yours to live in a state we can be proud of.
My father, Mike, grew up in the Providence Public Schools. My mother’s father came to America as a Holocaust refugee, and he served our country as a diplomat. As a child, my mother, Diane, moved from country to country as my grandfather’s postings changed. My parents are still happily married today.
They raised me to believe everyone deserves an equal shot, no matter who they are or where they came from. They raised me to care, and they taught me to believe this is what our elected officials are supposed to do, long before I had the honor of becoming one myself. But when I saw what our state politicians in Rhode Island were actually doing, I was horrified.
The breaking point for me was the shooting at Newtown. I remember sitting at home and watching for hours as they read names of children, first graders, who were gunned down in their classroom. I knew we had to do something, anything to make sure this couldn’t happen in our state. I got to work and joined a group of volunteer activists who came together to fight for common-sense gun reforms. Of course, I expected that our elected officials would support bills like this. What I found instead were senators in suits with “gun control doesn’t work” buttons on their lapels. They ignored us. Unsurprisingly, our bills lost.
I realized that at the root of all of our problems was the same thing: money. I got to work. I did an investigation, and I discovered that all the money was coming in illegally from the national level. As a result, we forced the NRA to pay a $63,000 fine, shut down for 6 months, and stop the flow of illegal, out-of-state money. But what shocked me most was how many politicians in our state government had taken illegal money from the NRA.
In 2018 I was elected to the State Senate, making the transition from activist to legislator. I am incredibly thankful to the people of Senate District 5 who have placed their trust in me to make their voices heard on the senate floor.
In my first term in the senate, I’ve worked to bring the values I was raised with and the promises you asked of me to the State House. What I didn’t realize was how much of a fight it would be to change the culture. So many people are afraid to vote no or to stand against leadership. But I stand for you, District 5, and that means I’m not afraid to vote no.
During the campaign, so many of you asked me to commit not to vote for Dominick Ruggerio for Senate President, and I held my word. I thought I would be the only one, but veteran Senator Donna Nesselbush joined me to vote no. We were tired of the broken process and corruption that has been hurting our state for far too long.
Just two people voting no in a room full of yes may seem daunting, but that was just the start. Usually, when a bill makes it to the floor, it’s a done deal. Leadership has already guaranteed it will pass, and no one wants to get in the way. But by the end of the session, we voted down a bad bill on the senate floor, something not seen for years. We can make a difference. We can say no to policies that hurt our communities.
Still, it’s not easy. I was one of only eight senators to vote no on overriding Providence’s control over our local land use on the I-195 land, clearing the way for the heavily subsidized luxury apartments in the Fane Tower. Handouts for politically connected developers are not what our elected officials should be fighting for. And as your senator, I will always be there to listen to you.
I was also one of only eight senators to vote no on the budget. Some of the biggest issues we need to tackle are part of the budget, and year after year, we’ve been cutting assets from our communities instead of investing. This needs to stop.
Where our state legislature has cut the deepest has been Medicaid—year after year, budget after budget, and I could not vote for another one. Healthcare is personal for us. I used to have to wear leg braces to walk. My wife is a type 1 diabetic, and even with insurance, we spend more than a thousand dollars a year on the medicine she needs just to stay alive. Without insurance, we could never afford it. Medicaid is one of our country’s greatest achievements. Cutting Medicaid is the last thing our state should be doing. Instead, we should be making greater investments in education, affordable housing, and the health of our communities.
Here in Rhode Island, our legislature has cut taxes for the rich by more than any state in American history, except for North Dakota. Now, our roads are a disgrace. Our schools are in even worse condition than the roads. Property taxes have shot way up on houses, apartments, and cars. These policies are wrong. We should have never cut taxes for the rich, and we cannot continue to watch our neighborhoods suffer. I will continue to fight to fund our communities and reduce the burden on our neighborhoods.
Of course, you can’t just say no to things—you have to come up with solutions. To read about my legislation, you can visit this page.
Samantha and I want our children to be proud to call themselves Rhode Islanders. We want our children to know that their streets are safe, their schools are successful, their health is insured, and more than anything that their lives are valued. And we want you to feel the same way. That’s what I’m fighting for as your State Senator.