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. She still teaches English to new immigrants in our city today.
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. My fiancée, Samantha, and I live on Academy Ave in Mount Pleasant. I’m a geologist, and she works at Hasbro. We’re getting married, and we plan to have children. We want them to be able to bike down decent roads on their way to a good public school. We want them to be able to depend on Medicaid if they need it. We want them to be safe from gun violence. We want them to live in a city and state that aren’t in a constant state of budget crisis. That’s why I ran for 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. 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.
When the PawSox owners asked for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to move McCoy Stadium to the planned downtown Providence waterfront park, I knew we had to fight this bad deal. I went back to the State House, but I learned from my work on the NRA that the real fight was on the streets. If our elected officials wouldn’t do the right thing because they believed in it, maybe they’d do it if they felt they’d lose their jobs. So I organized volunteers, and we worked hard. We knocked doors, made calls, and worked day in and day out to make our voices heard. And we won.
But it shouldn’t be this hard. We shouldn’t have to fight this hard for our elected officials to put our needs before millionaires, and we shouldn’t have to fight this hard for our senators to listen. 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.
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. Rhode Island’s leaders should have never cut taxes for the rich, and we cannot continue to watch our neighborhoods suffer.
Where our state legislature has cut the deepest has been Medicaid--year after year, budget after budget. Healthcare is personal for us. I have a foot condition, and I used to have to wear leg braces to walk. My fiancée 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.
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.