Discover more from Steve Ahlquist
Tech professional Stephanie Beauté is running for Congress
"Reproductive decisions are a conversation between a woman and her private doctor... I find it hypocritical to say that there's a right to life, but that life has no right to live humanely."
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 fourth interview is with Democrat Stephanie Beauté, who ran for Secretary of State last year. Beauté works in the tech industry, is a mother, and is actively involved in various communities, even when she isn’t running for office.
I conducted the interview in Beauté’s North Smithfield home. 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:
Steve Ahlquist: Why you and why this job?
Stephanie Beauté: I'm the only candidate that's lived throughout CD1. I grew up in the West End of Providence. After college, my first apartment was in East Providence. I worked in Bristol, moved to Newport, then wanted to purchase a home but couldn't afford that in Newport. I moved back to Bristol to save some money, then moved to Coventry, then to North Smithfield, where we are sitting in my living room. I understand and have seen the issues in CD1, from folks who live on the island, along the East Bay, the West End - which is one of the poorest - and in North Smithfield.
I have a holistic perspective of my district and of people within those communities, which I think is refreshing. I know that it's not the sexiest thing for someone to say, but I have no desire to be a career politician. When I looked at the folks that were running and what their intentions were, I was genuinely frustrated. I felt it was going to be the same recycled issues. Going from low-income to middle class and then being pushed back into low-income and fighting to stay out of that is disheartening. I don't think anything is going to change by electing the same people, and the same platform. I think Rhode Islanders deserve better.
During my last race, everyone kept telling me, "You're way too smart to be Secretary of State. You should do something else. You'd be better at something else." That was complimentary and dismissive at the same time
Having a woman in this job would not just bring a diversity of perspectives, but diversity to Congress. Electing someone with a tech background, who understands cybersecurity, machine learning, and AI development, is a huge thing. But I'm also a single mom. I couldn't afford daycare. Private school, believe it or not, was cheaper than daycare.
It was about $1,600 a month for daycare, which is more than what I was paying for my mortgage. It made absolutely no sense to me. Laws keep passing and people continue to gaslight these issues to evoke emotion, but not to create solutions. My experience is that people find poverty profitable. It’s an end to a means, a way to say, “Look at me, I'm working for you, give me all of this money.” But your problems are not going to change. There's an opportunity here for that cycle to stop.
When I ran my Secretary of State race, I had to take out a loan from my 401K to cover my medical expenses because I had emergency surgery. And I have a good job, with insurance that didn't cover that surgery. It makes no sense, like the fact that I can't afford daycare and I have to choose between that or paying my mortgage.
It's a struggle and that struggle isn't unique to me. It's not unique to my neighbor Tony, who doesn't get enough support for his needs. It's not unique to John Cianci, who fights for veterans every day and has to panhandle to get money for veterans to buy a bus pass to get them back and forth to appointments. Not to be impolite, but that's fucked up and doesn't make any sense.
We keep getting these same folks with a platform of climate action, but what are they going to also do for the working class? We need to fight these Trumpers, they say, but what about the folks in Woonsocket who are also struggling? They have photos of them and their kids at a Pride parade, but have they learned about LGBTQ+ experiences and what the needs of that community are? I'm tired of the faces they're using to promote themselves while not thinking about the communities that are struggling or the harm they're doing.
Middle and low-income people are suffering. It doesn't matter if you're in North Smithfield or Lincoln or Newport. You hear it every single day. When people think of Newport, they think of wealthy people, but that's not true. Most of the people in Newport are struggling poor people and they're being dismissed. Rogers High School has been struggling. They're shutting that down to replace it with charter schools and that doesn't necessarily solve the problem. There's an opportunity to do more. I'm someone who's been in a failing high school and they took over my high school while I was there. I went back and volunteered at my high school while I was going to college. I didn't do that for the fanfare. People who know me know how I've contributed to my community and my peers and I want to do it on a grander scale for Rhode Islanders and CD1. I'm not forgetting your struggles, I'm struggling too. We're all in it together.
Steve Ahlquist: Even some people who are relatively comfortable right now are only two or three paychecks away from being homeless. We're all working so hard and we're just running in place or falling slowly backwards. Homelessness is rising, evictions are rising. It's a difficult time.
What do you see as the biggest two or three problems or opportunities facing Rhode Island and CD1 right now?
Stephanie Beauté: Social Security and Medicare. Our seniors don't have a voice in Congress. We're forgetting about our elders and we're forgetting that we're about to run out of money. I think by 2035, there'll be nothing. We're not spending enough time discussing what we need to do about Social Security so that we have something left for the folks that have already paid into it and need to survive. And I would like to move past the word "survive." Thrive is what we deserve, but we are in survival mode right now and I would like us to be able to thrive.
Another piece of my platform is getting federal dollars for education. One of the biggest setbacks is that we use city taxes to pay for our public schools. It disenfranchises a lot of our communities. Federal dollars can help even the playing field for neighborhoods. There's no reason why Zach, who lives on one side of the street, gets a great education while Kareem, who lives on the other side of the street because his district has been gerrymandered and his school disenfranchised, gets a bad education.
Right now, the civics education program in Portsmouth is completely different than it is in Central Falls High School. I've spoken to students about their experiences. They're very different and there's no need for that. Federal dollars can level the playing field.
We want to resolve poverty. How do you do that? By educating folks. I think education is a fundamental human right that we're taking for granted. We're saying that some people will be low-class and have to struggle, working five or six times harder than the middle class. We have put societal blockers in place, but we level that by making sure that we have federally funded STEM programs. STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] is an amazing opportunity, not just because of my background in technology, but because it instills critical thinking. It also exposes you to people with different ideas.
A lot of my coworkers and colleagues are die-hard conservatives. They're independent. But we get along great and we have a holistic debate about issues and are still able to collaborate at work. That’s being lost. Our students are naturally talented in technology. Why not use that as an opportunity and not make college the end-all?
And then housing. I've spent a lot of time privately going to tent communities. Not using that as a means to invite press coverage, because that's dehumanizing for the folks who are experiencing real-life trauma. But I talk to them and try to understand the reasons they are unhoused. Some things are just beyond their control. They might have lost their job and applied for a bunch of different apartments and spent about $600 to $800 applying for these places that keep saying "No." Then you've got nothing left or you run out of your unemployment.
It's scary because that could be me. It could genuinely be me or anyone else. We are dehumanizing people when we say it's just a drug or mental health issue. They're trying to get by and get back on their feet, but they can't. It's an issue of humanity and we're desensitized to it. We're not doing enough to solve the root cause of the problem, or intervening when it's preventable.
Any company that uses federal dollars to build shelters and homes in Rhode Island should make sure that the buildings are eco-friendly. A third or half or two-thirds of any building built with federal dollars should be allocated toward low and affordable incomes. That creates an opportunity for cultures to cross-communicate. That forms relationships and an opportunity for people to see how other people live. That is a huge undertaking, but it's the right way to make sure that taxpayer money is being used the right way for taxpayer benefits and not just for property owners.
Steve Ahlquist: The federal minimum wage right now is $7.25. In Rhode Island, we're on a path to $15, which is still way too low. What are your thoughts on the minimum wage?
Stephanie Beauté: You've got to bring the issue to the floor for discussion and make a strong case for it. Raising the minimum wage would not destroy small businesses. But at the same time, I understand that the cost of living in Mississippi is different than the cost of living in Rhode Island or Massachusetts. The minimum wage needs to be based on livable wages. Folks in Mississippi should be able to live off one paycheck, not two or three jobs. The same thing for folks in Rhode Island. $7.25 is atrocious and appalling. I would love to see it go up to $17 and even $20 bucks across the country. But in the State of Mississippi, $20 might be, I don't know, too high. I'm trying to be mindful here and respectful of the things I don't know.
What's unsettling is that when I was in college, the federal minimum wage was $6.75 and here we still are. The minimum wage should be reflective of inflation. Continuously having these debates is not to anyone's benefit. People say that the government works slow. It doesn't have to. It doesn't need to.
Steve Ahlquist: One of the ways to help solve the Social Security "problem" would be to remove the cap, which I believe sits at $160,200. Meaning you pay around 15% of your income into Social Security until you hit that cap, and then you don't pay any more. What are your thoughts?
Stephanie Beauté: That's an interesting question. I think all options should be on the table. The Republican perspective, because I like to look at all options, is that they want to privatize Social Security. They want to put all of that money into the stock market. I don't want to play the stock market. I've seen the stock market crash a couple of times. But what if half of Social Security was privatized and half of it was in something safer, like bonds or something like that?
Raising that cap could be a plausible solution. I know that Democrats like to say we're going to tax the rich and that's going to solve all our problems but that’s not necessarily true because what the rich will do, honestly, is raise the prices of the things we buy from them. The goods and supplies you purchase may start to astronomically increase in price because [the rich] feel like you've taken something from them and they need to recoup that money somehow. And who ends up suffering? I would love to see legislation that prevents something like that so [taxing the rich] doesn't have a ripple effect.
But honestly, I'm leaning toward lifting the cap. I like to consider all options.
Steve Ahlquist: I don't like the idea that we can't tax the rich or change the economy because they'll hit us back. That’s like having a gun to our heads.
Switching gears entirely, what are your thoughts on abortion rights?
Stephanie Beauté: I think a woman's right to choose is just that. Reproductive decisions are a conversation between a woman and her private doctor. I understand the opposition of folks who are very religious and conservative. I find it hypocritical to say that there's a right to life, but that life has no right to live humanely.
I've had conversations with religious folks who say that they can't support abortion because of their faith and I remind them that in the Bible, God allowed people to choose. He allowed Adam and Eve to choose. All the biblical stories talk about choice. Choice is synonymous with faith. If we say that life is important, then the quality of that life is also important.
I can share this: My aunt was pregnant with twins and she had to have an abortion because her life was at risk. She was going to die without an abortion. She didn't want to have an abortion. I don't think that anyone should be able to police a personal decision like that. Having a child is hard. It is a lot of work. And it mostly falls upon women. I don't think any person should have a say, except the person who's carrying the child and who's going to be stuck with that decision. They should be able to make the decision that's best for them, their financial circumstances, and their real-world life situation.
Having a woman representing Rhode Island and amplifying that message is very much needed in this climate. We have three federal representatives who are all pro-choice. Having a woman in that spot to advocate for women's rights is logical.
Steve Ahlquist: After Roe v Wade fell, I did not see a wave of Republican legislatures passing protections for single parents, increasing childcare opportunities, or expanding pre-natal and post-natal care for babies. I didn't see any of that. Instead, I'm seeing more attempts to cut Medicare, more attacks on Obamacare, and more attempts to cut benefits for people who are poor or experiencing poverty. It's never been about life. It's always been about punishing people.
Stephanie Beauté: It's to create workers, to be honest. I don't want to get morbid, but the labor in this country was from forcing women to give birth to babies, for slaves to give birth to babies. That way they had more workers to do the field work and to do the hard grunt work. That's what it feels like to me because the mistresses of wealthy folks can get abortions. They'll pay for that and still be hardcore conservatives. But the folks who can't afford to pay for abortion produce workers for them.
Steve Ahlquist: The most important jobs in society, like childcare, teaching, elder care, nursing, and social work, are fields dominated by women. And they are some of the lowest-paid jobs. That can't be a coincidence.
Stephanie Beauté: It's not. It's designed to make sure that women are not as competitive as men. Teachers should be making around $60k to $70k. I don't think anyone's going to argue about how important teachers are. When schools shut down during covid and parents had to do homework, they struggled and our kids suffered as a result. There should be no argument about the value of teachers in our society and their place in the world. They need respectable salaries and tax breaks to purchase homes. There's also no reason teachers should have to pay for school supplies. A lot of my good friends are amazing teachers and they have done things like purchase ties to teach young boys how to tie a proper tie or buy books and teach them how to read, even though it's summer. We're not doing our darnedest to support teachers.
For childcare workers, if you want us to go to work, pay childcare workers a livable wage. You would not trust your kid in the hands of someone who is not well equipped, untrained, or not in the right emotional space to handle the needs of a small child. What better way can you make sure you have qualified childcare workers than to have a fair wage?
Steve Ahlquist: Trans rights are under attack, right now, across the country. What are your thoughts?
Stephanie Beauté: It is unfortunate that Republicans stoke fear and energize their base against trans people. I've heard folks use disheartening words to describe the trans community. That's disturbing and it ruins our nation. It brings out the ugliness in us. What I was hoping to see, especially during Pride Month, is a celebration and an understanding of folks.
More than ever, children need to feel protected and that there's a space for them. My mom grew up in a Catholic school and in her upbringing, if you wrote with your left hand, you were punished for that. They would swat your hand with a ruler. And as a result, we saw more kids using their right hand. My mom did the same thing with my brother. She didn't swat him with the ruler, but she kept putting the pen in his right hand. My brother can now write in both his left and his right hand. My daughter is a lefty. Think of your transgender child as a lefty. It's not that farfetched. People have had to hide who they've been all along.
That is scary and upsetting. No one should be forced to live a lie. You should be able to live your truth, whatever that is, as long as you're not causing physical harm to someone else. The fact that folks are not willing to be accepting of the trans community is something they should reckon with in their conscience. Kids are dying. Is that your definition of love toward your child? We talk about the right to life - do they not have the same rights you have to live their truth?
I would love to see more inclusion but I don't think that's where we are. I love that the LGBTQ+ community is doing their darnedest to not go back. They're not accepting that. We need to join them in that fight not by simply showing up in parades and matching outfits, but by genuinely learning about their community so we can advocate and support them in a way that's meaningful to them.
During my daughter's baby shower, I refused pink even though I knew I was having a girl. Everyone was like, "She's going to be a girl. She's going to wear pink." My in-laws kept pushing this pink and I took the pink and threw it out. I didn't want her to be brought in with a label. It wasn't because I was trying to make it gender-neutral. I wanted her to decide for herself and not allow society to decide. Luna loves pink now and some days she prefers black and she loves dinosaurs and she doesn't care for dogs. She loves Spider-Man. It's all of these different layers and aspects of allowing a child their full potential.
As human beings, parents, and caretakers, our responsibility is to create a safe space where children can flourish and we provide guidance, not restrictions. Restricting a child's ability to express themselves is not safe. I understand that parents want to be involved, but involvement shouldn't equate to harm.
Steve Ahlquist: We don't own our children, we're caretakers of our children.
Stephanie Beauté: I one thousand percent agree. I've had that conversation with a few people. I do not own Luna. I'm her caretaker. Some people treat children as property and it's emotionally infuriating.
Steve Ahlquist: What is your position on guns?
Stephanie Beauté: I have family that are active duty military. I have friends that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those folks are trained and have passed the requirements to operate a gun. I'm fine with that. I don't think everyone needs an AK-47. That says to me that you think we're going to war with someone. Not only is that dangerous, but it's also unnecessary. We are becoming gun fanatics and it is to our detriment. I want comprehensive gun reform.
If I want to drive a car, I go to driver's ed and pass the written test. I understand that if I hit someone with my car, I am liable and I will be punished. The Second Amendment says you have the right to own a gun. I get that. That does not mean you should have an AK-47, but if you want to own a pistol or a rifle, you should be able to pass all of the steps. I want to include a caveat - there should be a psych evaluation for folks who are going to operate these guns. That's important.
But if your son takes your gun, he's responsible and so are you. You should be held criminally responsible for that because people need to think, "Do I need this gun?" When people talk about banning guns, remember some women have been in situations of domestic violence where a gun is a protection for them. Being able to feel safe is important.
That's why we should not just take all guns away. That's dangerous because what about someone two or three times my size, who's coming at me and I can't physically defend myself? A gun is protection for me because I'm a law-abiding citizen. I've passed all clearances. I know how to operate it and I store it properly and I know the consequences of using it because when I fire, I understand that there's responsibility for taking that shot.
My kid shouldn't have to do a "fire drill" and learn about gun safety. My daughter had to do that at her preschool. That was scary to me. I got an email saying that there was an active shooter drill at her school because a suspicious man was looking through windows with his hands in his pocket and there were cops all over the place.
My heart sank because I thought it was another Sandy Hook situation. I went to Sandy Hook to pay my respects years ago. That fear is real to me. Getting an email that my daughter was doing an active shooter drill and everyone had to hide in the cubby because of suspicious activity was surreal. That's not healthy. It's not normal. It's going to cause a ripple effect of psychological trauma and damage that we are not prepared for. These are our future leaders. We need to do something about guns yesterday, not now. Yesterday. And I will be the staunchest gun reform activist in Congress.
Steve Ahlquist: Just to be clear, you're talking about an assault weapon then?
Stephanie Beauté: Yes.
Steve Ahlquist: What are your thoughts about America supporting the Ukrainian people against Russia's invasion?
Stephanie Beauté: I think it's necessary. It deters China from wanting to take over Taiwan, and it can also deter other nations from usurping another country's sovereignty. If we don't show our support, we're setting a dangerous precedent. We must continue to have conversations with our allies because there's only so much that one nation can do. We cannot stop all the wars in the world. We need to make sure that our allies are aligned with us because Europe is under threat as well.
Steve Ahlquist: What about Israel and Palestine?
Stephanie Beauté: I think we need to have an honest conversation with our allies and some honest conversations are uncomfortable. Palestinians have a right to live and exist in peace. The same with the Israelis - they also have a right to exist in peace. I understand that the conversation is complicated, but Palestinian folks are suffering. There are folks in Palestine who are being used by Hamas, and if they do not cooperate, Hamas will hurt them. Hamas is exploiting them and Israel doesn't do justice by displacing folks and saying, "This is our response because you guys are sided with Hamas."
There's a lot of work that needs to be done. There needs to be firmer conversations. Being honest with folks is the best medicine. By supporting that type of behavior, we're being hypocrites. We don't get to tell China or North Korea about human rights violations if we're allowing human rights violations for our allies. We shouldn't be turning a blind eye. We should be having strong conversations. That doesn't mean we don't love Israel or we don't want a great relationship with Israel. We can have both things.
Steve Ahlquist: Is there anything I should have asked you about that I didn't?
Stephanie Beauté: AI, machine learning, and cybersecurity. I want to make sure that we have legislation in place so that, One, our security isn't as vulnerable as it currently is, and Two, our rights aren't being violated. I don't know if you have facial recognition on your phone, but I don't use it on my phone, because it's collecting data. Can the government use that data against you if you decide to protest against it? We need to be vigilant, not reactive but proactive, in that space. That's imperative.
Another thing is the climate war. Look at how our summer is going. Look at our winter. We have so many folks who are climate deniers in Congress, and now they're being forced to reckon with it. I would love to see us do more here in the United States, but what I find is that when we try to be progressive on these issues, we end up punishing the nations we dump all of our carbon-based equipment on. I want to make sure that as the United States moves towards cleaner and greener energy, we are not disposing of our electric batteries in Uganda, Rwanda, or wherever.
That is not at all clean, green, or right. I don't care how many offshore wind farms you build, we need to be mindful of what we're building and how we plan to decommission it. We should not be shipping our dirt to other nations. That needs to be a part of everyone's platform, regardless of their stance on the climate.
Steve Ahlquist: My last question is, What's your pitch? Why should people vote for you?
Stephanie Beauté: I think it's time that we have a true representative of the people, one of our own, in Washington. Someone who's going through the day-to-day struggle and has seen legislation pass year after year with no clear light on the horizon. We're reactionary, not proactive. because in politics, there's this weird bubble.
I am a solutions-based person. How do we look at a particular issue? There are multiple ways to get to solutions, beyond just legislation. There are so many things we can do to move Rhode Island to the next step, especially since we're such a small state. There's no reason we cannot set the example here in Rhode Island. We have a unique opportunity to do so. But we have folks who don't have vision and folks that are jaded by their experience in politics. Having a fresh perspective in DC sets a different tone. Electing someone who's not an elected official, in my opinion, would have a ripple effect in other states, and bring in folks who don't have money behind them and who don't have all the political connections.
We want someone who is truly one of our own, someone we can hold accountable and going to answer directly to us. Sending that message to Washington DC will resonate in Massachusetts, Texas, and even down to Louisiana.
Our campaign is something completely different. Civic education and civic engagement are important to me. I want to make sure that the young folks are not lost. Just telling them to vote isn't satisfactory. We have a lot of high school students in our campaign. They are helping to design our website, coming up with our palm cards, and doing video and graphics stuff. They are excited about what it’s like to run a campaign. Being involved in politics and having hands-on experience is valuable.
Mine is a community-based campaign. I didn't hire the fancy guy from DC. I'd rather the money we use in our campaign go back into the community. I want to pay the high school students who are coming to my home and eating up my food and running up my electric bills, so they get a couple of extra bucks in their pockets.
My campaign is about uplifting our community. I know people get into the labels of who's the most progressive, moderate, or conservative. My platform isn't about labels. It's about a high quality of life for everyone, from Woonsocket to Newport, from East Providence to Jamestown.
We are all struggling, but we are not in this alone. I know it can feel isolating at times and like no one is listening. But I am listening. I'm struggling with you and I'm telling you that I am in the fight of my life. I'm hoping Rhode Islanders will join me in this fight so that way we can have a better quality of life.
Steve Ahlquist is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.