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Senator Ana Quezada is running for Congress
"Crime and education go hand in hand because unfortunately, most of the kids who are in jail today are there because we failed them..."
I'll be interviewing as many candidates as I can ahead of the special election to fill the House seat vacated by David Cicilline. My sixth interview is with Senator Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence), who was first elected to the State Senate in 2016.
We conducted the interview on the porch of the Senator’s home in South Providence. The interview has been edited for clarity.
See my other Congressional District One race interviews here:
See my other articles on the Congressional District One race interviews here:
Ana Quezada: Why me and why this job? I've been a senator for the last eight years and to be honest, people in my district know that I fight for them in the State Senate. Our country has many issues. We need somebody in Washington who is going to fight for women’s right to choose. We need somebody in Washington who going to fight against climate change - especially since in Rhode Island, every time we have a little bit of rain we can see was all the flooding. We live in the Ocean State. We need to protect our shoreline. We need somebody who will fight for Medicaid for All. We need somebody who is going to fight for our elderly, Social Security, and Medicare. And that person is me. As somebody who has fought in the State House for the last eight years to pass legislation, like minimum wage, the doula bill, protecting property owners from banks, and many other pieces of legislation that I passed.
Steve Ahlquist: That doula bill was an extraordinary piece of legislation.
If you are elected, what are the top two or three things you want to push for? What are the big, big pieces of legislation you think are important?
Ana Quezada: One of them is raising the minimum wage nationwide. Medicare for All is another one. A third thing is [criminal] justice reform. Most of my legislation in the State Senate has to do with justice reform, trying to give people a second chance in life. The United States not doing that. We have more people incarcerated than any other country.
We waste billions of dollars on incarceration. We need to invest in education. When I became a senator I met with Senate President Theresa Paiva-Weed, who asked me what committee I wanted to be on and I said Education. So many of our students graduate from high school and they don't know how to read. They don't know how to write. When you're making a house, the most important thing is a strong foundation. We don't provide our kids with the foundation they need to prepare them to go to college. How are they going to be able to make it?
Steve Ahlquist: It’s interesting you talk about education and justice reform at the same time because often when we incarcerate somebody, that's the first time we spend money on them. We underfund the programs they could rely on to get through life, but if we put them in prison, we suddenly spend over a hundred thousand dollars a year on them. Maybe if we spent a little bit more when they were younger, we could avoid spending it now.
Ana Quezada: Crime and education go hand in hand because unfortunately, most of the kids who are in jail today are there because we failed them. We didn't provide them with the education they need. I believe in prevention more than looking for solutions after.
Steve Ahlquist: We could certainly do more in the state and I'd love to see some action on this at this federal level as well.
I'm going to go through some specific issues and get your thoughts. Let me start with guns.
Ana Quezada: I've supported every piece of legislation in front of the Senate about gun control. I agree with the Second Amendment, but this is not about Second Amendment. It's not about taking guns from people. We need to know who is getting guns so we can have more mental health checks in place before somebody gets a gun. We need to make sure it's not somebody going through a divorce or going through a situation where maybe it's not the right moment for that person to have a gun in the house. That's why I was so happy that we passed the Red Flag law. That was wonderful legislation.
There are so many things we need to do and we need to take it to the federal level. The United States is out of control. Gun violence, in the last two or three years after the pandemic, is a mental health issue in our country. Unfortunately, because of private interest, money, and greed, gun companies don't care about people, they just want to know how much money they're bringing in. We need to sit down and do something about it, but it has to be in Washington.
Steve Ahlquist: And more specifically, how about an assault weapons ban?
Ana Quezada: Definitely. I would support that legislation 110%.
Steve Ahlquist: We spoke about minimum wage. Right now the federal minimum wage is about $7.25 an hour, which is way too low. I also know you've sponsored the bill against payday loans which sadly didn't pass this year though it felt very close when the House passed it.
Ana Quezada: I think they passed it in the House because they knew it wasn't going to pass in the Senate.
Steve Ahlquist: I heard that from other people as well.
Ana Quezada: They wanted to make us look bad. I requested that the payday lending bill have a committee hearing and was told by Senator Susan Sosnowski that leadership didn't think this was the right time to do it. I was very upset about it because in previous sessions we did have payday lending hearings.
Steve Ahlquist: I know this isn't a federal issue, but I want to touch on the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) because you were pushing a reform of that in the Senate though nothing happened. There were at least three different bills in the House and maybe two or three different bills on the Senate side. Why couldn't something happen on this issue? Do you have any insights into that?
Ana Quezada: I know the Senate President being wanted to pass LEOBOR reform for the last three years, maybe more even before the covid crisis. Simply, the House is not on the same page as the Senate President.
Police should not supervise or investigate police. I think there should be outside people on the [three-person review] board. One member of that review board is chosen by the chief, one by the union, and a third is chosen by alternating parties, but they are all connected to the police. That's why I voted against the LEOBOR reform bill on the Senate floor.
Steve Ahlquist: We touched on reproductive rights. In Rhode Island, we seem pretty safe for the time being, but nationally we're not. There's a big battle coming up. How do you see your role in Congress affecting that?
Ana Quezada: We need to advocate for women's rights. We need people in Congress to reverse the court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade. I represent a very conservative district because even though Latinos are Democrats, they're very conservative when talking about the right to choose. They were going to the State House every day to let me know that if I voted in favor of choice, they would vote me out. And I said, "You do what you have to do. I'm going to do what I have to."
I grew up in a very religious house. But my belief is my belief and I don't have to show it to anybody else. This should not be a political issue. This is about a woman, with her doctor, making her decision to have a baby or not. It's sad to see think that my granddaughter will not have the same rights and opportunities that I had when I was growing up.
Steve Ahlquist: You mentioned the community here being conservative, but you still won reelection after voting for the Reproductive Privacy Act.
Ana Quezada: That's true. I'm very honest and very vocal. When I believe in something I'm not afraid. I always said that I went to the Senate to represent the people in my district, but I'm going to do what I think I have to do. I've never been afraid to lose. I wasn't a senator before and I was alive. They looked for somebody to run against me but didn't find anyone and I'm still here.
Steve Ahlquist: Maybe people need to be public in their opposition, but when they get into a voting booth and cast a vote, they think, "I like having a choice even if other people make different choices from me."
Ana Quezada: I didn't only vote for abortion. I voted for undocumented licenses. I voted to regulate traffic cameras in Rhode Island. I voted for legislation to raise the minimum wage, for people to be able to do natural braiding. I was able to get more people of color in the judiciary branch because we need people of color to be representing us when we go to court. I protected the right to have interpreters in court, I provided interpreters for people when they go to get their driver's license. I've passed legislation that impacts my community.
Steve Ahlquist: I want to talk about the housing situation, which is also a national issue. The housing shortage, homelessness, rising rents, and eviction rates - we did some things during the last legislative session to affect that, but there's a lot more that needs to be done locally and nationally.
Ana Quezada: We have a crisis in housing, but we only hear about affordable housing. That concerns me because affordable housing is for people who are making $50k to $100k and a little bit more. I'm not saying that we don't need affordable housing, we do. But we also need low-income housing for people who make less than $30k a year. That's what I don't hear and that concerns me. We need to bring more resources to Rhode Island Housing and the Providence Housing Authority to create more affordable and low-income housing for people who, for instance, work in factories.
I was a factory worker for many years - most of my life. I know how it is. My family was working in factories and my mom was a nursing assistant. I know from my own experience how hard it is to be living check-by-check. I was a working mom and when I moved to Rhode Island in the nineties I wasn't able to find a job. I know how hard it is to pay your rent. When I moved to Rhode Island the rent was $450. That was a lot of money for us. Now a three-bedroom apartment in this neighborhood is $2,000 and $3,000. For people moving here from New York, that rate is okay, but for people from Rhode Island who have been living here most of their lives, it's unbelievable.
And you see more people homeless people than in previous years because people cannot afford rent. We need to build more houses. We need to build more affordable housing, but at the same time, we need to build more low-income housing in Rhode Island.
Steve Ahlquist: I have less sympathy for the person making a hundred thousand dollars a year than I have for the person who's living in a tent. I was at an unhoused encampment in Cranston this morning that's being evicted. It's very difficult. After that rainstorm last night, everything they owned was wet and soggy and it's really hard... I mean there's so little I can do...
You spoke about your mother working as a nursing assistant. There are a lot of jobs that we consider to be more traditionally women's work - like nursing, childcare, elder care, teaching, and social work, yet these are also the jobs that are the lowest paid. What do we do to make sure that these jobs are given the financial compensation they deserve?
Ana Quezada: Since I've been in the Senate, I've supported legislation in that area. We did the nursing home safe staffing but now nursing homes are closing their doors. They are getting fined because they don't have the right staffing. But it was something that needed to be done at that time. We have to find a way how we can work on the staffing issue and at the same time work with the nursing homes because I don't think it's their fault they don't have enough staff.
I was a homemaker, my mom was a nursing assistant. My stepmom was a nursing assistant for many years. My stepmom worked at home daycare. How is daycare so expensive yet pays so little to the workers? It doesn't make sense. We need to work on those issues. We need to increase pay. When I passed the minimum wage bill in 2021, a lot of people were like, "You're doing this after the pandemic?" I got a phone call from WPRO and explained to them, that the problem is many small businesses were closing because they weren't finding workers. People didn't want to come back to work after the pandemic and we need to motivate them to come back. How do you motivate them? Raising the minimum wage. Many people thought it was not a good time to raise the minimum wage because we were just getting out of the pandemic.
Steve Ahlquist: They always say it's a bad time to raise the minimum wage. I go to or watch online all the minimum wage hearings and it's never the time. Over the last ten years, I've never heard the business community say now is the time to raise the minimum wage. They are always against it, and the reasons they present don't matter, except to the extent that they can convince legislators that there's a good reason to keep people poor working for nothing.
Ana Quezada: There's always an excuse not to raise the minimum wage, but it was time to do it. That was the first bill passed that year. You mentioned that the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Who can survive on $7.25 today?
My daughter lives in Texas and the rent is as expensive as it is here. It's not cheaper to live in the South or the red states. It's the same everywhere, no matter where you go. We need to raise the minimum wage nationwide and $15 an hour is just the beginning because it has to be more than that.
Steve Ahlquist: Last year because of inflation, even though the minimum wage went up, the purchasing power of everybody on minimum wage went down. Inflation went up faster than the minimum wage. People were worse off than they were the year before, even with the minimum wage increase.
What are your thoughts on trans rights and protecting LGBTQ+ people?
Ana Quezada: I supported every piece of legislation that came before us for that. I saw that in Smithfield they had a controversy about transgender children and bathrooms. We need to treat all our residents the same, no matter what their preference is. We need to pass more legislation to allow them to be who they are and to express themselves. I worked in the John Hope Settlement House for many years in the nineties when I moved to Rhode Island. I had a client whose daughter was seven years old and even at that age, her daughter knew she wasn't a girl.
She always said, "I'm not a girl." She didn't want to wear girl clothes or have her hair to be done as a girl. She wanted her hair to be cut short. I remember the mom crying every time her daughter said "I'm not a girl, I'm a boy." And the mom used to say, "You are a girl. You are a girl." And the daughter would say, when she saw her mom cry, "Okay mom, I'm a girl. Okay, put me the dress." But she knew, at that young age, who she was inside. That case impacted me for many years.
People don't wake up and decide, "I'm transgender or I'm gay or lesbian." It is something you know as a person. Because of society, parents, or religion, they might be afraid to say who they are and sometimes they live terrible lives. It's our responsibility to make their lives easier, to be there for them, to support them, and to bring legislation to make sure they are been treated fair and they have the same rights you and I have.
Steve Ahlquist: Switching to some foreign policy stuff. Should we be supporting Ukraine against Russia?
Ana Quezada: I believe so. We fight for democracy. We are the most powerful country in the world. If we let Putin do whatever he wants, what's going to happen? Who will be next?
Steve Ahlquist: What are your thoughts on Israel and Palestine?
Ana Quezada: I grew up in a very religious family and we'd hear about Israel and the land that God promised them. I believe they have a right to their land. But the Palestinians have the right to have their land. It's a unique problem and it's been like that for years and years. When you read the Bible or any history, it's been a problem from the beginning. There's no easy solution.
Steve Ahlquist: I for sure wasn't expecting a solution.
This is the hottest summer on record. What should America be doing about the climate emergency?
Ana Quezada: I come from a third-world country where the climate is not a big deal and they don't teach us about it. When I was a little kid in the Dominican Republic, they used to pull garbage together and burn it. They never taught me to take care of the climate or why it's important. And it's very important. The Dominican Republic is an island.
Climate can be as simple as teaching people how to take care of their house and what not to put down their drain, to big corporations polluting our air.
Many years ago in the Senate, the Senate President had legislation to allow burning garbage. I don't remember the name of the legislation but I voted against it. The Senate President was not happy.
I was part of the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island for many years. I learned how important it is to take care of environmental issues. I remember fighting to not build the Reservoir Avenue School because it was built on top of very bad soil. The lake behind my house where I used to live was contaminated it's fenced up and you can't touch the water. A beautiful lake. Many people in that district used to learn to swim there.
Steve Ahlquist: It used to be a reservoir. Now it's toxic.
Ana Quezada: That's how I learned how important the environment is. There are little things, like what kind of cleaning products you use and what you put down your drain. How many beaches in Rhode Island have been closed? Just the other day on Route 10 everything was closed for a little bit of rain. We are not prepared.
We need to be harder on big corporations. We need to prevent oil companies from destroying our environment. We need to make companies responsible. We live in a state surrounded by water and we see the effects of climate change every day. We live it every day. It's hotter than ever. Congress needs to take the lead on the environment and promote more clean energy.
Steve Ahlquist: You mentioned Medicare for All. What is the path to that?
Ana Quezada: Canada, Japan, Germany, and even Portugal can do it. How can the richest country in the world not provide Medicare for All? That's what we need to ask each other. We can do it, of course. It would be cheaper and better. We don't do it because greedy corporations want to take more money from people. Obamacare is a little bit of a solution, but what you have to pay is unbelievable.
A kid was hurt in a car accident on Route 95 and his parents wanted to take him to the doctor but he refused because he was afraid his family was going to go into debt because of the hospital bills. That kid died the next day. You cannot believe something like that happens in the richest country in the world. We have to convince Congress and the Senate that this is the right thing to do. We pay now or we pay later. I will work hard to make sure that we get Medicare for All.
Steve Ahlquist: Last question. When you're out there meeting people what's your pitch? How do you convince people to vote for you?
Ana Quezada: I've lived in District One most of my life. I've been from Providence to Cumberland to Newport talking to people. A lot of people said I'm the underdog in this campaign. A lot of people think I'm not going to get the money I need to run a campaign or that I'm only well known in Providence and that nobody else will know me.
I'm a mom who was on welfare. I'm a person who worked in a factory. I'm a regular Rhode Islander. I'm somebody who knows how to live check to check. I lost my house while being a senator. I've worked hard most of my life. I've never been handed anything. That's the message I tell people.
It's time to send a woman to Congress, but you have to send a strong woman who is not afraid to say what she thinks and is not afraid to talk to people. I was not afraid to hold Senate leadership accountable. I've done that. I will do it in Washington and I will make sure that people know where Rhode Island is and what we need in Rhode Island.
[As Senator Quezada finished speaking there was a loud thunderclap.]
Steve Ahlquist: That was a well-timed thunderclap. Very dramatic.
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