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Full coverage: Democratic Women's Caucus holds CD 1 candidate forum
"...the essence of affirmative action would be for any one of these candidates that's already checked that box to support a candidate of color, someone who's not represented..."
The Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus held a forum on Monday night in the East Providence Public Library featuring ten of the twelve Democrats running in the Democratic Primary for the special election to replace Representative David Cicilline, who stepped down earlier this year. The forum featured candidates Gabe Amo, Stephanie Beauté, Walter Berbrick, Sandra Cano, Don Carlson, Spencer Dickinson, John Goncalves, Sabina Matos, Ana Quezada, and Aaron Regunberg. [Links are to interviews I conducted. Interviews with John Goncalves and Sabina Matos are forthcoming and this post will be updated.]
Candidate Allen Waters declined the invitation to participate because he objected to the event being moderated by Reverend Dr. Donnie Anderson, a transgender woman. Candidate Stephen Casey did not respond to the invitation to participate said organizers.
The transcript has been edited for clarity, but not brevity.
See my other Congressional District One race interviews here:
See my other articles on the Congressional District One race interviews here:
Candidates provided opening statements:
John Goncalves: I'm a two-term city councilman representing the East Side and downtown in the city of Providence. I'm also a teacher. That's what differentiates me from the rest of the people on this stage. I've spent nearly the last decade as an elementary school teacher. The reason I'm in this fight is because so many people in Rhode Island are struggling. People are worried about the cost of living, they're worried about housing, they're worried about reproductive rights, they're worried about our climate crisis. We need a bold champion in Washington who can fight for these issues and values. What's important is that this work isn't theoretical for me.
I grew up in poverty to a single-parent mother in the City of Providence and being a person of color, my lived experience is exactly why I'm in this fight. Some so many people need folks like me to be a part of these fights and that's exactly what I've done at the local level. I'm proud of the work that we've done. I've been a lead sponsor on dozens of pieces of legislation in the Providence City Council and what I look to do in Washington is to be a fierce advocate for the people of Rhode Island. We're going to fight like hell to make sure that we are standing up to the pharmaceutical industry. We're going to fight to make sure that we're working for our children.
Sandra Cano: I'm a state senator from the city of Pawtucket. This forum is healthy for our democracy. We want to have a candidate that is going to represent Congressional District One, and I believe that I'm the only candidate on this stage that has experience, from the local level to the state level, from every level of legislative government. I started on the school committee then to city councilwomen and now State Senator and the Chair of the Senate Education Committee. We must have someone that not only has the experience but is passionate and knows the struggles of working families districtwide. I do that.
I have passed effective legislation at the State House, the city council, and the school committee that reflects the needs of our working families here in Rhode Island. Legislation such as the right for a woman to choose, gun safety laws, and making sure that everyone, regardless of zip code has the opportunity to have healthcare for their needs, especially after the pandemic. Also making sure that we have environmental policies that work during this [climate] crisis currently in the United States.
Sabina Matos: I have been in local government. I have been elected to office for the past 12 years. I started in the Providence City Council where I served as a councilperson for the neighborhoods of Olneyille, Silver Lake, and Valley. I had different roles in the Providence City Council - was President Pro Temporam and President of Providence City Council. I have been serving as lieutenant governor for the past two years, and I have the honor of my lifetime to be running for the office of Congress. As a new immigrant, I came to this country when I was 20 years old. I came from the Dominican Republic and when I arrived here, I didn't speak the language. I was able to first work in the jewelry factories here in Rhode Island and after working in the factories, learned to speak English after work because education is very important for my family. I graduated from Rhode Island College. These are the things that are only possible in this country. If my family had decided to immigrate to a different country I don't believe my story would be possible. I believe that the American Dream is alive, but we have to protect it because right now we're losing rights and we need to send someone in Congress that's going to fight for our rights.
Walter Berbrick: I kicked off my campaign a little over three months ago and I've had the opportunity to travel across our state, across our first district, and I'm just in awe of the grit and generosity of Rhode Islanders, the same grit and generosity that I've come to appreciate growing up in my family's restaurant and serving Rhode Islanders with American Red Cross. But I've also been struck by the frustration and fear that so many folks have - the same frustration and fear that I have as a working father, an educator, and as a veteran.
This past week I met an older woman in East Providence who told me that she had to decide between eating, putting food on the table, and getting medicine. Folks are frustrated - not only because of high cost and low wages but because of how divisive and divided our politics are today and how extremist ideologies are ripping away the very freedoms that I spent the last two decades defending, both as an officer and as a civil servant. This election provides us, the people of Rhode Island, an opportunity to change that and to channel our frustration and fear for a better future. I'm running to make sure that your voices are heard loud in the Halls of Congress.
Stephanie Beauté: I'm running for Congress primarily because I'm tired of seeing people like me, people like my mom, who worked two to three jobs, working as a Certified Nursing Assistant [CNA], not being able to get healthcare. We will not fix things in Congress by sending another politician. Nothing is going to change by doing the same things. In fact, it will continue. We will continue to have the same rhetoric. We will blame the other party for why we can't get things done. We will not focus on the working class who need our help and in fact, are demanding our help. I want to work for you the same way that my mom has worked for many of the people that she's taking care of as a CNA, the same way that I've worked as a support coordinator for folks with developmental disabilities and making sure that they had funding so they wouldn't lose their services.
I believe that about 70% of us are aligned on climate, about 60% of us are aligned on a women's right to choose, and about 80% of us are aligned on guns. What makes me different is my unique sense of self. Not only that but the work that I've done in the private sector at General Electric [GE], managing billion-dollar accounts, working on small startups, and being able to scale. I've been able to see the progression and want to ensure that Rhode Island is successful in supporting our small businesses and championing education.
Ana Quezada: I've been a State Senator for the last almost eight years and like many of you, I represent the regular Rhode Islanders. I came from the factory floor to the Senate floor, from the welfare office to the state office. I came to this country when I was 17 years old, to New York City, and came to Providence in 1990. When I came here, it was a bad situation. I had to be a working mom for a little while until I went back to school. I got my GED, I to college and I got my associate's degree. Now I'm a social worker.
I'm a woman who went to the State House to pass the minimum wage. I am somebody who passed the doula bill so women having babies can have support. I passed legislation for women to have the right to choose. I passed for people to have the opportunity to have a driver's license and many other pieces of legislation. I fight, I'm not a yes person. I say what I think. I make people uncomfortable. In the Senate, I've been against leadership when I have to work for the people of Rhode Island. That's what we need in Washington.
Gabe Amo: I'm here because of the hard work of my parents. My dad, an immigrant from Ghana, and my mom, an immigrant from Liberia, are two hardworking people who instilled in me the values that allowed me to serve at the heights of government, both here, for Governor [Gina] Raimondo and in Washington for Presidents [Joe] Biden and [Barrack] Obama. In that last role, just three months ago, I had the opportunity to be there for people across the country, whether it was a mass shooting and communities shattered by violence or extreme weather and needing to aid and coordinate a response.
Rhode Islanders deserve the experience of someone who has been there for people across this country, been there for people across Rhode Island, to impact and drive an agenda that gets us what we need out of the big fights that we have ahead, whether it's on climate, gun violence prevention, and certainly on the challenges to reproductive freedom that we see across the country. I am ready to be in those fights and I would be so honored to have your support.
Aaron Regunberg: I'm running for Congress because I've got a two-year-old at home and I worry about the future. Will our kids be safe at school from guns and mass shootings? Will they be able to afford housing and healthcare in college? Will they have autonomy over their bodies? Will they have clean air to breathe? These are dangers that affect all of our kids and all of our communities and none of them are accidents. The gun industry, fossil fuel corporations, and radical Republicans are creating and feeding these crises and making billions of dollars off of them and meanwhile, they're trying to distract us. They're trying to blame immigrants and queer and trans folks. They're trying to sow division in hate, so we don't notice that it's them who's taking away our fundamental rights.
I know that every person in this room rejects that kind of hate and that gives me hope. I believe that we can come together and take on those entrenched interests and win. And I know it's possible because we've done it here in Rhode Island. I've been a part of working with many of the people in this room to win concrete progressive policy change, helping to lead fights to pass paid sick days and raise wages, create new clean energy programs, expand harm reduction strategies, and start the push to reform solitary confinement. Winning real change is possible, but it doesn't just happen. We need to organize. We need to mobilize things like the Women's Caucus does, things we need our leaders to do. We deserve more than just one more democratic vote in Congress. We need leaders who can organize and bring people together and have a record of winning real progressive policy change. And that's the work I've been doing in Rhode Island for many years and I'd be so honored to do it with and alongside you in Washington.
Spencer Dickinson: I'd like to tell you a little little bit about myself. Before I do, I want to tell you a little bit about when I first knew Donnie. He was Reverend Anderson and he represented the churches of Rhode Island very effectively and he understood all the principles that the Democratic Party stood for. Correct me if I'm wrong, I don't want to make...
Donnie Anderson: If you would use she instead of he, please.
Spencer Dickinson: Okay. She understood all the issues the Democratic Party stood for. Here's an example: One day in the [State House] Rotunda, my memory is not clear on everything that I did in the last 50 years, but, we had a press conference or a speaking event and I think [Reverend Anderson] was a part of it. I was kind of inspired and said a few things I had on my mind. One of the subjects was labor and the rights of labor and the importance of labor. That might have even been the topic. As we were walking back into the chamber, she said, "Your speech sounded a little bit like the Gettysburg Address." And I said, "Donnie, you got me there. That's something that we tend to do. The only speech I know." And she said, "Did you believe everything you just said?" And I said, "Well, yeah, why wouldn't I?" And she said, "Well, I agree with it and I don't usually hear that or something to that effect..."
Don Carlson: I live in Jamestown. I'm a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician [EMT] in Jamestown and I'm running for Congress. I love the state. I grew up here. I was born in Providence and grew up in a two-story tenement house on Seventh Street below Miriam Hospital and above Dunkin’ Donuts, which is why that smell still has such memories for me. I have deep Rhode Island roots. I've lived away for part of my life, but my friends make fun of me for being Mr. Rhode Island because I love the character and the quirkiness and the contrarian nature of this beautiful state in which we live.
I'm grateful to serve Rhode Island and I'd like to serve in Washington. Like my friend John [Goncalves] I'm also an educator. I'm currently a professor at Yale Law School on leave to do this full time, to run for this [office]. I'm also a business person and I've built a lot of businesses in the field of sustainability because I think climate change is one of the main things that we have to fight in this country right now. I've built dozens of businesses either as a CEO or as an investor, director, or founder, to focus on safe lithium mining, electrostatic motors, renewable energy, and improvements to the grid.
That's been a big part of my life and I think I can take that expertise to Washington to look at the Inflation Reduction Act, which is the most important environmental legislation of the last 20 years, and try to get a lot of those funds into Rhode Island, using that expertise to try to build companies and make Rhode Island the renewable energy hub of the Northeast. Wouldn't it be great for Rhode Island to be a net energy exporter and bring down the cost of electricity, which will lower the cost of living for all of you?
Donnie Anderson: What specific legislation would best address climate change and why?
Ana Quezada: There are many but one of them is the [Green New Deal]. That's legislation that can help Rhode Island because that's going to bring good paying jobs to the state and put money into the state and provide wind and solar farms. We need to invest in new energy for Rhode Island because of all the issues that we've been having in Rhode Island with gas prices.
Stephanie Beauté: AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] has already put in this legislation, many times, and it hasn't passed. I was quite disappointed that Biden didn't implement it, which is the Green New Deal. One of the big proponents is how it services disenfranchised communities, especially Black and brown communities where you don't see a lot of greenery. One of the big things, even after when I ran for Secretary of State, was talking to team members and people in Pawtucket who have continued to fight for the Morley Field that's been locked and chained and people have not been able to access that green space. The [Green New Deal] helps impact the communities that mean the most, that don’t get as much attention. Also for job creation.
Walter Berbrick: I fundamentally believe that climate change is an existential threat to our economy, our environment, our national security, and the future of our planet. I've seen the impacts firsthand through my travels and my work in Alaska and right here at home in Rhode Island. It's one of the reasons why, over the last 15 years as a federal civil servant, I've pushed hard for education and research programs at the Naval War College. It's why I spent time with the State Department advising the [United States] Secretary of State and others on climate programs It’s why I went to the Pentagon and led to programs [on climate change]. In Congress, my focus is going to be on increasing awareness, bolstering investments in clean energy jobs, and protecting our air, water, and our public lands.
Sabina Matos: We need to make sure that we pass the Act on Climate and that it is implemented everywhere. But we also have to make sure that we don't forget the communities that have been most affected by the challenges of climate change. More and more we see the flooding that is happening in communities like my community, in neighborhoods like mine, and we have to make sure that when we're talking about climate, we recognize that communities of color have been suffering the consequences for a long time and not leave them behind - [providing] jobs and making sure that their communities receive support.
Sandra Cano: I'm a mom of two children and the Earth is very important, climate change is real, and it's here today. Two things are important, not only to support policies that prevent climate change effects but also to make sure that we do infrastructure investments that tackle the effects on our communities. It's important for us to not only [implement] the Green New Deal, but also the Inflation Reduction Act, to make sure that the person that goes [to Washington] understands [how to bring] infrastructure dollars to Rhode Island and to make sure that we do prevention. That is the most important thing. [We need to] not only transition to the blue economy and [create] jobs, but also make sure we save our planet.
John Goncalves: I want to make sure that the fourth-grade kids I teach in my classroom have a clean future. The policy I support at the federal level is the Green New Deal. We need the most aggressive legislative policy to address our climate crisis because it's an existential crisis, not tomorrow, but now. We will not have a planet if we don't address our climate issues right now. It's why, at the local level, I've been the sponsor and the lead sponsor on the right-to-charge law, to bring funding back to our municipality through the bipartisan infrastructure law. It's why I've been the lead sponsor on expanding composting citywide. We can't be on the sideline. We have to address the climate.
Don Carlson: This might be a good moment to talk about how Congress works. I'm the only one on this panel who's worked in the House of Representatives, which is the job we're interviewing with you for today. And the way Congress works is that the majority party rules right now. We don't have a majority, so yes, a high priority is for Democrats to take back the majority and maybe we can implement some of these dreamy ideas. For now, though, the first job is to hit the ground running and to take the Inflation Reduction Act and all the separate policies that are in there and figure out how to use expertise to deliver those funds to Rhode Island so that we can start working. That's what an individual congressman can accomplish in this Congress, even though we are in the minority party. So yes, take back the house, but first get to work, bringing money into Rhode Island to build resiliency, build infrastructure, and build the renewable energy jobs of the future.
Spencer Dickinson: I guess I have a little catching up to do, and Donnie, thank you for correcting me. I think that when serving in Congress, or anywhere else in politics, the number one thing is communication and the soul of communication is respect. We don't get that from the Republicans because they call us the Democrat Party and every time they do, it goes up my back. It's a term that somebody like Rush Limbaugh invented. We're not the Democrat Party, we are the Democratic Party, and our legal term is the Democratic National Committee. On the environment, probably the best environmental legislation around so far is the Inflation Reduction Act. My problem with that is that that's the wrong name for that bill…
Aaron Regunberg: I'm proud to be the only candidate in this race who's been endorsed by any environmental and climate organizations, from Climate Action Rhode Island to Climate Hawks Vote to the Jane Fonda Climate PAC. They've endorsed me because they know I'm the candidate in this race that has the strongest record of actually taking on big oil to fight for climate action. Whether that was as a community organizer working to block fracked gas power plants in our state or as a state legislator creating new clean energy programs for working families, or most recently as a new lawyer supporting litigation to hold big oil accountable for their decades of deception and fraud. The fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold on our political system, and the number one priority needs to be building a consensus among that we need to take them on. We need to win a Green New Deal, which is something that I've been talking about since 2016, 2017 before it was cool.
Gabe Amo: I was at the White House when the Inflation Reduction Act [IRA] was passed, and when it was in various forms along the way as the most historic climate legislation we've had in this country. Before I entered this race, in my last job as Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, I was helping communities across the country figure out how to make it work. So that would be my priority, a vigorous defense of the IRA because under Republican leadership there will be continual attacks on that historic legislation. Getting those dollars for everything from urban forestry, which is a program at our Agriculture Department to the climate resilience funds coming out of the Commerce Department and NOAA, and making sure the consumer benefits are well known.
Donnie Anderson: Do you support a person's right to bodily autonomy and the responsibility for Medicaid and Medicare to cover medical procedures such as abortion and transgender healthcare?
Don Carlson: Yes and yes. These are issues of paramount importance, particularly to the people in this room. I have two daughters - there are a lot of women in my life - but those two are pretty special. I want to make sure that I stand up for their right to maintain their bodily autonomy. Women's rights are on the table, they're under attack right now, and we need to stand up and defend those rights, and also beyond women's rights. The attack on women's rights takes the form of Supreme Court decisions, impeding the right to privacy, and that's going to affect even young women. It will affect the rest of us as well, as they roll back the right to birth control, and the right to marry whom you choose, whether across races or sexualities. There’s a lot at stake right now, and I want to stand up for those rights and make sure that those rights are firm and accessible to everyone.
John Goncalves: Yes and yes. As a teacher, this is something I teach my kids, about how we can be kind and inclusive. The fact that the Republican Party and the Supreme Court are trying to undermine people's basic human rights is despicable. The Dobbs radical decision needs to be overturned and that needs to be overturned legislatively. I propose repealing the Hyde Amendment. I also propose making sure that we codify Roe v Wade into federal law. We need to do everything in our power to protect women and reproductive rights. Abortion is healthcare, and I will fight for that tooth and nail at the federal level.
Sandra Cano: My answer is yes and yes, I'm the only candidate here that has spoken with my vote - twice - in the General Assembly. In 2019, we passed and codified Roe versus Wade, but also, just this May, we passed the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act for people who did not have access to abortion because they're on Medicare. I'm the only one that has been vulnerable to tell my story. I face fertility issues and as a Catholic, I face a lot of hatred in my community for the vote I made. I will continue to have a strong voice because I believe it and because my daughter deserves that, right? I want to make sure that she's proud of her mom, as a woman and a mom that is fighting for her rights.
Sabina Matos: Yes and yes to both questions. I can tell you that I'm very concerned right now that we're losing rights, women's rights, and LGBTQ rights and we don't know when this is going to stop. Right now, unfortunately, we're at a place where my daughter could have less rights than I did, and that shouldn't be that way. There were so many women that fought so hard to make the case that we had abortion rights in this country. We have to fight until we codify this at the federal level. There are states right now passing legislation in which a doctor has to call their lawyer before they make a medical decision, and that is wrong.
Walter Berbrick: Yes and yes. When it comes to women's rights, no politician should ever tell a woman what's best for her body. And no insurance company should ever tell a woman what level of care she deserves. That is the choice between a woman and her doctor. And that's why the Dobbs decision is an attack on women's rights. It's an attack on my daughter's rights, and we cannot have true equality in this country until we have reproductive freedom for all. And that's why as your representative, I will fight tirelessly until our daughters and granddaughters have the same rights as their mothers and grandmothers, and I won't rest until Roe v Wade is the law of the land once again.
Stephanie Beauté: So I think 90% of us are going to say yes and yes to this question primarily because we're Democrats. But one of the interesting things is that when it leaked out that Roe v Wade was going to be reversed, Rhode Island had a unique opportunity for our state legislature to call a meeting and have it codified immediately for it to be on the ballot. We had an opportunity that wasn't taken. We need proactive representation. We need representation when it comes to a woman's rights. We have had many men stand and champion for us. I think it's time that a woman be able to speak on their uterus, to speak on the rights they have. We have a lot of representation in other spaces, but I think this is one that a woman should be able to speak on.
Ana Quezada: Like [Stephanie Beauté] said, 99% of us would say yes. I believe, and my record shows, that w fought at the State House to pass abortion and for women to have the choice to choose. It is not easy because my district is very conservative, and [my constituents] were going to the State House to say to me, “You vote a favor of abortion, we’ll vote you out.” I'm still here because I stand by my values. Women have the right to choose and we don't have to wait for politics to be telling us what to do with our bodies. That's between you, the doctor, and your family to make that decision. We have to fight. We need somebody who has a record of fighting for women and that's me.
Gabe Amo: Yes, and yes as well. I want to take this opportunity to thank the lawmakers that are on this panel and the activists and folks who have made sure to act here in Rhode Island. I would hope that if I had the opportunity to serve in Congress, I, on the federal level, can stand firmly for pro-choice values, reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy, and folks to be able to live their authentic lives. I am wholly in unity with folks on this panel and I'm hopeful that I will be able to act in Congress.
Aaron Regunberg: Absolutely on both fronts. Reproductive rights are human rights and for the right to abortion to be meaningful, you need to have material access to it. I'm incredibly grateful to everyone in this room who came together and fought to pass the EACA [Equality in Abortion Coverage Act] this year. We need to pass that at the federal level, but we need to be clear-eyed about what that's going to take. We didn't get to the point we are now overnight. The far-right has spent decades building a comprehensive strategy to take over the courts and to use other minor structures, gerrymandering, et cetera, to take away these rights. And if we're going to fight back, the Democratic party needs to be just as focused, just as urgent, just as, to be frank, ruthless, about the importance of this. This is a life and death battle and we need to act like it.
Spencer Dickinson: Somebody said it would be 90%. I will say this: Every abortion is a tragedy. I saw what we were discussing in 1973 when Roe v Wade was enacted and we haven't even taken up the subject, let alone resolved it. I agree with Ruth Bader Ginsburg who said the Roe v Wade decision was a terrible mistake for our country. It put off an issue that needed to be talked about. It does need to be talked about. I don't think you want any bills out of Washington. If I'm in Washington, my thinking is we probably don't need any new legislation. Think long and hard before you advocate for new legislation. It might not be what you want.
Donnie Anderson: Who is your favorite fictional character?
Spencer Dickinson: Mickey Mouse. He’s the guy who prints all our money.
Ana Quezada: Mulan. She fought for women to have the right to be in their army.
Stephanie Beauté: Bellle. Because she liked books, and she didn’t need a boy to be happy.
Walter Berbrick: I am going to say Moana since it's at the top of my head and we watched it last night,
Sabina Matos: The character in the Barbie movie who gave a monologue about women's issues and what we face in society. I think we're going to be quoting that for years. [Editor: The character’s name is Gloria, played by actor America Ferrara.]1
Sandra Cano: Wonder Woman because I believe that women have a voice at the table and can do everything. As a working mom, I feel like moms can do everything, but women especially can get things done and we need representation at the table.
John Goncalves: I have to say Harry Potter otherwise my fourth graders will kill me.
Don Carlson: I’ll go with Tom Sawyer because he was clever enough to let other people have things his way.
Donnie Anderson: What approach do you support to achieve universal, comprehensive, and affordable healthcare?
Walter Berbrick: I'll start by saying no Rhode Islander, no American, regardless of how much money you make, regardless of what gender you identify with, regardless of where you live, should ever be denied any medical service or any reproductive healthcare. In a place like Texas, a woman is denied an abortion, despite a fetus being not viable or her life being in danger, all because a doctor can detect a heartbeat. This is a real story that happened in Texas to a young woman who developed an infection…
Stephanie Beauté: When the Affordable Care Act passed, it was a benefit. I was in college at the time and I was kicked off of my mom's health insurance. But to be honest, Medicare for All would be the thing I champion. I can speak about that personally because while spending a semester abroad in France, I got ill and the family that I was staying with got me to their private doctor, and it cost me one euro. One euro and that was 2010. [In the United States] I had to have emergency surgery because of a lump that was caught in my breast. I had to take out a 401K loan to pay for the surgery. So Medicare for All.
Ana Quezada: I will do Medicare for All. I'm very surprised that we are the most powerful country in the world, and there are so many people still dying because they don't have insurance. It's unbelievable. A young man died not that long ago because he didn't have health insurance. He was 20 years old when he had a car accident. He refused to go to the doctor because he was afraid to get that bill in the mail and for the parents to have to pay for it. It's unbelievable that somebody has to stay in a marriage because they're afraid that if they leave their husband or their wife, they're not going to have health insurance. We should have health insurance for everybody and we should have dental for everybody because Obamacare was good, but not good enough.
Gabe Amo: One of my proudest achievements in public service was working on the team to help to implement the Affordable Care Act. I got down to the community level and worked with local elected officials to help enroll people to work in states to expand Medicaid and to do all that we could to expand access as much as possible. Now, under President Biden, we were able to benefit from this. During the American Rescue Plan, we expanded access but also lowered costs. I want to dramatically expand Medicaid, take away some of the state's role in controlling that, and do it as fast as possible.
Aaron Regunberg: Healthcare is a right for everyone, not a privilege for those who can afford it. That's not how it's treated in this country right now. It's treated as an opportunity for corporations to make money off of our injuries and illness. I'm proud to be the only candidate in this race that has a long record of fighting for Medicare for All. Every year I was in the state legislature, I introduced legislation to create a single-payer system at the state level. I was attacked for that in 2018 when I ran statewide, but I'm always going to be fighting to take on Big Pharma and health insurance executives to create healthcare for everyone. Pragmatically, our best path to make that happen is by lowering the Medicare eligibility age. As soon as we have congressional control again, Democrats need to fight to lower the eligibility age to 55, then to 45. We will build a constituency of folks who are bought into Medicare and that's going to help us continue to move it down and down until it covers every American.
Spencer Dickinson: It's important for us here to understand why we're Democrats. There are going to be people that are going to say, “Why are you a Democrat?” We've got Social Security to protect. We believe in it. We believe in universal healthcare. We believe that climate change is a real issue and we're not going to duck it. A lot of legislators that I know, and by the way, I need to say this and this is the time to say it: I spent 12 years in the legislature, a group of eight years and four years. I was the deputy majority leader for four of those years. But if you look at some of the bills that certain legislators have put in, there might be 30 pages but there’s nothing in those 30 pages. Those bills cannot be passed. The deficiency is that we don't focus and solve the problems.
Don Carlson: Healthcare is and should be a universal human right, but the biggest problem in our country is that people fall through the cracks. What Democrats are good at is helping people who fall through the cracks. That's what social security and Medicare and Medicaid are all about. What we need to do is to protect those folks. My own experience is that my wife had a pre-existing condition. We couldn't get health insurance and the ACA passed just in the nick of time to keep us from falling through the cracks. What we need to do is have Medicare extended to all who need it and all who want it unit regardless of age so that no one is left without the kind of protection they need.
John Goncalves: Healthcare is absolutely a right, a right, and not a privilege. That's why we need to pass Medicare for All. We also need to protect Social Security tooth and nail. The price gouging that's occurring in our pharmaceutical industry needs to be held to account. It's why our campaign isn't accepting any corporate PAC money or any fossil fuel money - because we want to make sure that we are beholden to the people that we represent. There are so many people out there who are a medical catastrophe away from bankruptcy. I have heard so many stories, being on the ground as a councilman and helping people who deal with these healthcare decisions every single day, and that's what I'm going to do if I get to Washington.
Sandra Cano: Medicare for All should be a priority for everyone. For me, it is apparent that protecting Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare is what we need to do right now, under the Republican-led Congress. At the state level, I was able to pass legislation, included in the budget, that covers all kids because everyone should have access to healthcare. Healthcare providers are here, taking care of us, from the day that we are born to the day that we have the most difficult times. Our healthcare workers need that support as well.
Sabina Matos: Medicare for All should be the law. I am someone that has a preexisting condition. I have experienced how tough it is when you have to switch jobs and you have to wonder whether the health insurance that you're going to get is going to cover the condition you have. But more traumatic for me is that whenever I'm getting my treatment, I cannot help but think about those individuals that have the same condition as me and they don't have that.
Donnie Anderson: This is a longer question and it has two parts. Given the recent Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action and the ongoing attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs across the country, please explain to us how you view the role of affirmative action in addressing historical disparities and promoting diversity in education and employment. How will your view of diversity, equity, and inclusion inform your policies, politics, and platform in Congress?
Aaron Regunberg: The recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action is an absolute disgrace and one of the many, many reasons we desperately need court reform. Affirmative action has been a critical program for expanding opportunities, for making everyone stronger and better by creating more diverse college campuses and other spaces. It is incumbent on whoever wins this seat to be full steam ahead in fighting to reform the Supreme Court so that we can overturn decisions like that and create the kinds of policies that will allow us to make sure that folks have the opportunities that we had and a system that is actively working for them.
Spencer Dickinson: You may have noticed that I'm by far the oldest one here and that gives me the insight of having been around when the issue first came up. We thought about it, talked about it. It had its upside, its downside, it was the right thing. We did it and it's had a good history. Where it goes from here, that's another question, but one thing we have to keep in mind is that when we talk about equity, we talk about equality, and we talk about equal opportunity. I'm not going to pretend that that exists in this country because it doesn't. There are some things we can do about that. With some basic democratic values, healthcare, and education, we can work slowly towards solving this problem.
Don Carlson: Affirmative action is a priority for our country and the recent decision is a travesty. The institution where I work, Yale Law School, is we're proud to say that we have 54% people of color and marginalized people in our incoming class. That is needed to make up for the mistakes of the past. We need to level the playing field. The thing that breaks my heart is the lost human potential. You have all these young people who have great talent, great ambition, and great drive who don't get to realize their full potential because they are held back by not being admitted to some of the finer educational institutions in our country. It's that lost potential that's most difficult. We as a society are better off when every single boy and girl achieves their full potential. That's by definition what makes us a richer, better country when everybody achieves what they can achieve.
John Goncalves: The Supreme Court ruling was despicable. And you know what? It's my story growing up in the City of Providence. It was then-Congressman Cicciline who helped me get into the gifted program at Nathaniel Greene Middle School, Providence Public Schools, which allowed me to go to Wheeler, which eventually allowed me to go to Brown for undergrad and grad school. What the Supreme Court is doing to undermine our basic human rights needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed wholeheartedly. There should be no reason why the Supreme Court continues to strip our rights, and it's exactly why we need ethics reform. We need to unpack the court of these Supreme Court justices that are led by MAGA Republicans and we need to do everything that we can to hold them accountable.
Sandra Cano: Affirmative action is something that I hold dear to my heart as the Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Every piece of legislation that comes through my committee I see through the lens of equity. Why? Because I understand what it is to live these experiences. I came from Columbia and education was the equalizer for my life. I want to make sure that other kids and other students have the same opportunity. You need someone that understands firsthand, that has done the work at the state level, and that would speak up to the Supreme Court that is not doing justice for all. At this time and moment, we need to make sure that we send someone that has the experience and has done the work.
Sabina Matos: Affirmative Action has to be protected. This is what I mentioned earlier - that little by little we're losing rights and we're going backward. We have to make sure that we are fighting back against the Republicans that are trying to chip away at our rights when it comes to Affirmative Action. We have to make sure that Ivy League institutions give a fair chance and opportunity to people of color to attend and to have their dreams come true. I have worked with students trying to get into one of those schools and it's not easy.
Walter Berbrick: The Supreme Court is a tragedy. It's a tragedy for our youth and for those who are historically living in underserved communities. As a career educator, I fundamentally believe that equal access to high-quality public education is fundamental to a strong democracy. I can't tell you how many parents, students, and teachers have shared their stories with me across our district, especially in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] education where there's a significant lack of funding and a significant lack of critical opportunities for women and folks of color who don't have the same opportunities.
Stephanie Beauté: Donnie, could you please repeat the question?
Donnie Anderson: Sure, I'd be glad to. It is long. Given the recent Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action and the ongoing attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs across the country, please explain to us how you view the role of affirmative action in addressing historical disparities and promoting diversity in education and employment. How will your view of diversity, equity, and inclusion inform your policies, politics, and platform in Congress?
Stephanie Beauté: Thank you. I just wanted to make sure I captured that because it talks about employment. I've heard a lot about education and talk about equity and inclusion. I've heard some blaming the Republican side, but this is a person issue, not a party issue. We need to be honest about that. It's evident in the space that we're in here and for the seat that we're seeking. I like to be candid: We don't have equity and inclusion in this seat currently. For the folks who've answered this question on how their views would be formed, the essence of affirmative action would be for any one of these candidates that's already checked that box to support a candidate of color, someone who's not represented and provide them with their resources and backing. That would be a sign of equity.
Ana Quezada: As a woman of color, it's very hard for me to talk about this because we are discriminated against in many ways and we discriminate against so many thousands of children in Rhode Island who didn't get the education that they deserve. Rhode Island never sent somebody of color to Washington to talk about the issue we're talking about now. We need somebody of color to represent Rhode Island, especially women. I agree with my colleagues. You want equity, yet some people sitting here come from connected communities, are connected to political money, and should be supporting other people.
Gabe Amo: Like others, I’m heartbroken by the Supreme Court's ruling. This is my story. The reason I've been able to serve at the heights of government is because the government was active and reached the high ideals that have been put forward for our country. I'm disheartened, but I want to fight these fights in government. I help build diverse teams, teams that reflect this country, and it would be a big priority to legislatively fight against this reversal of what was a big part of America's progress over the last few decades.
Donnie Anderson: Do you support term limits for Congress, yes or no? And if yes, how many terms?
Gabe Amo: Yes. I'm not certain about the number, but I would be in the three to five terms window in the House and two to four terms in the Senate.
Ana Quezada: Yes, I do. And I think six terms would be it.
Stephanie Beauté: Yes. Three terms. That's six years in the House, two terms in the Senate. 12 years.
Walter Berbrick: Yes, 12 and 12.
Sabina Matos: Yes, but it depends on how it's implemented because I went through that on the Providence City Council and learned some lessons.
Sandra Cano: Yes. I'm not sure how many terms, but I support it.
John Goncalves: Yes. 12 and 18 years. Six terms in the House and three terms in the Senate.
Don Carlson: Yes, and 12 years sounds about right to me.
Spencer Dickinson: We've got to talk about it, but I want to caution you. Sometimes people throw out ideas as a smoke screen. This is not going to solve any of your problems. We have procedural problems in the Rhode Island House and Senate and at the congressional level too.
Aaron Regunberg: Yes, I'd be supportive and open to different proposals. 20 years sounds about right. I think [taking on] corporate money and politics get at more of the problems than term limits are trying to address though.
Donnie Anderson: Last question. Please give us a summary of the reasons why you think we should support you for Congress in CD 1.
Sabina Matos: I want to ask all of you that are watching this at home and those who are here to support my campaign for Congress. We have to make sure we send someone to Congress that's going to fight for the rights of the people, that's going to fight to protect a woman's right to choose, to be sure that our children and our daughters don't have less rights than we did. This is the time to make sure that we send someone that's going to fight for gun safety legislation, that's going to protect our children so we don't have to be worried about whether today is when I'm going to get the call that something happened at their school or while playing outside in the park. This is the time we have to make sure that we're fighting until we can pass legislation that's going to ban assault weapons from our streets and it has to pass at the federal level.
Sandra Cano: Thank you for the opportunity. I'm running for Congress because I deeply care about helping people through policy. I have experience through all levels of government, from the school committee to the city council, to the state senate. I'm the current chair of the education committee and my financial background and my public service make me the most qualified candidate here today.
Making policy and advocating for working families is my passion. Coming from Columbia to the healthiest economy and healthy democratic values in the United States has been the honor of my life. I want to transfer my passion to make sure that I make all the values that I have from the Democratic Party work for the people of Rhode Island in Congress. I hope you give me your trust and the opportunity to represent you because you will have someone fierce, bold, and that knows the struggles of the working families of Rhode Island and wants to make sure that they change and bring infrastructure to our state.
John Goncalves: Thank you so much for being here, and thank you so much for taking the time to listen and to engage in this forum, I want to thank my fellow candidates for also being here. I'm a two-term city councilman and I've been effective, responsive, and reliable at the local level. I've been the lead sponsor on dozens and dozens of pieces of legislation. I know how to get things done, and that's exactly what I'm going to do if you send me to Washington. We need bold leadership to go up there and fight for the values we believe in. It's why our campaign isn't accepting any corporate PAC money. It's why we're not accepting any fossil fuel money because we want to put people first and we want to put people over politics. We have been in this race. We are building a multi-generational and multi-racial coalition, and I hope that you'll join us at johngforcongress.com so we can fight for our children, families, and seniors in Washington.
Don Carlson: I'd be proud to represent Rhode Island in the United States Congress. I'm sorry that tonight we didn't have an opportunity or time to address gun safety or affordable housing because I hear every day in the first district that those are issues high on people's minds. When I worked in Congress as legislative director for Joseph P. Kennedy II, back in the 1990s, we got teeth put into the Community Reinvestment Act to drive a lot more capital and mortgage money into neighborhoods that have been historically discriminated against through redlining. That was a way of tangibly solving the problem of affordable housing in Boston and Massachusetts and across the whole country. We need that kind of decisive action in Rhode Island. I have experience in the House of Representatives. I have experience as a teacher. I've built businesses and I have the right kind of experience to not only do a great job for you in Washington but also to bring resources into Rhode Island to help fight climate change by building sustainable businesses and investing in renewable energy. I humbly ask for your vote.
Spencer Dickinson: I have been advised to differentiate myself from the other candidates because there are so many of them, so I'll tell you a couple of things about me. I've served 12 years in the legislature, eight years in the first district, and four years in the second. I served four years as deputy majority leader. A lot of reforms happened that year. We turned over the Speakership in 1975. I've served under six Speakers. I think I know how they operate and how they work. As far as myself, I'm a home builder. If you want affordable housing, don't elect me because if I get elected, I won't be building. But I've built plenty. I built the first solar house in Rhode Island and I worked with other builders. We built at least a hundred houses and saved millions of gallons of fuel. That was many years ago. I've got skin in the game as far as that goes. I care about it. It's real. One of the complaints I hear from a lot of my friends is that politicians get elected and then they don't do anything. That won't be me.
Aaron Regunberg: Thanks again so much to the Women's Caucus for putting on this great event. We've got big problems in this country. Big problems require big solutions. Those aren't going to be easy to achieve, especially when we're up against the kind of entrenched interests that we know we are. But being in rooms like this with all of you gives me real hope. I know that we can come together and take on Big Pharma and the health insurance executives to pass Medicare for All to make healthcare a right for everyone, not a privilege for those who can afford it. I know that we can take on big oil to win a livable future for our kids. I know that we can build an economy that works for all of us, not just the CEOs and bosses at the very top, but it's not going to be easy. It takes organizing and movement building, the kind of work that groups like the Women's Caucus do every day. It takes work from our congressional leaders too. We need more than just one more democratic vote. We need leaders like David Cicciline who can organize and bring people together and have a record of winning progressive policy change. That's the work I've been doing in Rhode Island for many years and I'd be honored to do it alongside all of you in Washington.
Gabe Amo: I'm so honored to be here and I want to thank everybody for being here this evening. I'm just a poor kid from Pawtucket who had an opportunity to work at the heights of government. I'm running because I want to use the experiences I've built over the last couple of decades to be effective as a Congressperson for people here. From day one, I have had the opportunity to affect major issues around this country, help communities heal, but also invest in the future and take advantage of things like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, the Chips and Science Act, and so many things to help communities get on their feet and move forward. I'm running because I'm an optimist. I truly believe that tomorrow can be better than today. I want to take that passion, that energy, and that commitment to Rhode Island to serve you. I encourage you to go to my website, gabeamo.com. Please sign up. I look forward to election day.
Ana Quezada: I'm running for Congress because I'm a fighter. I'm a regular Rhode Islander. I'm not politically connected. I'm not rich. I am a mom who was a welfare mom who was a factory worker who represents working families in Rhode Island. I will fight for Rhode Island to make sure that we get affordable housing, make sure that we have Medicare for All, make sure that we have our keep Medicaid safe for our elderly, make sure our children are safe when they go to the mall, go to school, or go to the park. I'm a regular Rhode Islander. I will fight for you, I promise. I ask you for the opportunity to represent you on September 5th. I'm asking for your vote. Please allow me to be your representative in Washington.
Stephanie Beauté: Today we have a unique opportunity to shatter a glass ceiling. We have a unique opportunity to do something different, to try something bold, to try something refreshing, to try something that we're not used to - a government that works for you, a government that, when you send an elected official to work, they don't come back with excuses and blame the other party. They deliver results. I'm not here for click-baiting. I'm not here to gaslight you into emotion. That doesn't do anything for your paycheck. It doesn't do anything when someone tells you about jobs, but you need two or three jobs to keep the lights on. It doesn't do anything about you not being able to cover your costs or even the cost of childcare. That doesn't do anything for you and it hasn't worked for me as a working person. I left my job in technology to go to work. That's what I'm good at. I'm good at working. With me by your side, know this: No one works harder than a Beauté. Send a Beauté to [Congress].
Walter Berbrick: Thank you to the Caucus and thank you to everyone who's joining us, both here and virtually. We are in a defining moment in our nation's history. Our economy isn't working for working-class families here in Rhode Island. Women across our country have lost their fundamental right to choose. Rhode Islanders, like so many Americans, have lost trust in government. I made the decision, three and a half months ago, to resign from 15 years of federal service to run for Congress - without a paycheck, without generational wealth, without political connections, and without accepting corporate PAC money because I fundamentally believe that I must continue serving and fighting for you. That's what I'm going to do as your representative in Congress. It would be my greatest honor to earn your vote on September 5th and to serve you in Congress.
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Here’s the video:
Here’s Gloria’s full monologue:
“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.
“You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining.
“You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.
“I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.”