With 18 new members in the 113-seat General Assembly, On Politics is offering a periodic look at the latest additions to the House and Senate. We continue with Representative Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence), who used his activist background to catapult into the seat previously held by former Speaker Gordon Fox.
Occupation: organizer with the Providence Student Union.
Twitter: Two -- count 'em -- two, although he hasn't tweeted in months -->> @AaronRegunberg; @RegunbergforRep
Favorite Food: I love La Arepa in Pawtucket. The arepas there are incredible.
Favorite TV Show: I grew up on Monty Python's Flying Circus. I don't think there's anything that's as effective as teaching that it's okay to question authority as the irreverence of Monty Python, so that served me well.
Why did you run to be a state rep? My background is sort of as an organizer helping community members come together to make change and have a voice in the decisions affecting them. I ran because I've seen the difference it can make when community members are able to have a say, and I think we need a lot more of that up here. I came to Rhode Island originally for school [at Brown University] and sort of fell in love with the state and particularly the city, and just the diversity and culture and character that we've got here. And so I wanted to make a contribution to the community as best I could.
What living political figure do you most admire, and why? It's tough to find someone in politics more inspiring than [Georgia] Congressman John Lewis. Here's a man who has seen the change-making process at every level: he was an organizer during the civil rights movement, he was on the street getting the hell beaten out of him, fought his way into Congress, continued the battle for racial and economic justice from the inside, sort of took it full circle -- he's still out in the streets consistently as a congressman to this day, so that's really inspiring. I've also been incredibly impressed with Senator Elizabeth Warren .... I think she's been really effective at articulating some of the core problems behind our economic and political woes, speaking truth to power and just a wonderful example of how to take on a broken system without being co-opted by it.
What are your top goals for this session? I have students who go to school every day in buildings that are leaking, that have mold and asbestos, that are literally crumbling around. So I think that is unacceptable; it's a moral outrage, and my hope is that the General Assembly will be able to find some resources to begin addressing that crisis. I also think our state needs to be doing a lot more to support low-income workers and families. I think until we're doing that we're not going to see the broad-based economic resurgence that we all want. So I was very excited we raised the minimum wage. I've been disappointed that we again left an important group of Rhode Islanders from that. In Rhode Island we have a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers that's $2.89 per hour -- hasn't been raised in almost 20 years, since 1996. This is a diverse group of people we're talking about: 70 percent of Rhode Island's tipped workers are women, half of those are mothers, half of those are single mothers for whom that's their families' sole income, and they're getting paid 2.89 an hour .... It's time for folks to get a raise.
The best thing about Rhode Island is _____? Just the density of our sort of beauty and diversity and character -- all these amazing things crammed into this very little space. In my experience, I've never been in a space like it.
The worst thing about Rhode Island is _____? As a Democrat, I do find it a little disconcerting that we don't have sort of an up to date clear platform of anything, this is what it means to be a Democrat in Rhode Island.
Fun Fact: Regunberg is the youngest and tallest (6'4") among the freshman class of lawmakers. "As an undergrad, not so many years ago, I applied for and was rejected from internships with Providence City Hall and the offices of most of our federal delegation. I think that's funny."