Congressman Jim Langevin has moved fast and accomplished much as an elected public servant for his home state of Rhode Island. At the age of 22, he was State Delegate to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention, serving as its secretary. At 24, while still an undergraduate in college, he was elected to the State House of Representatives. At 30, while completing his master’s degree in public administration, he was elected Rhode Island Secretary of State, defeating the Republican incumbent and becoming the youngest state secretary in the nation. He held this position from 1994 until 2000, when he was chosen by the voters to represent them in the U.S. Congress.
A cornerstones of Langevin’s administration as Secretary of State included transforming that office “from being an ‘old records-keeping office’ to being a vibrant office of public information. He founded Rhode Island’s Public Information Center, and lived up to his campaign promise of making the office “the people’s partner in government.” Langevin also made it his priority to do away with what was the oldest voting equipment in the country and implemented a new modern voting system.
Langevin has now served Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for three consecutive terms; being re-elected in 2004 with an overwhelming 75 percent of the vote. Since joining Congress, he has worked on issues that affect the lives of all of his constituents, including healthcare, education, national security and economic policy. He has played an instrumental role in creating election reform legislation, an area of keen interest and concern in his life. He is currently seeking re-election to the U.S. Congress.
Jim Langevin grew up in Warwick, Rhode Island. He was born in 1964, and like other young men of his generation, his dream was to become a police officer. That path would lead him to serve not only his community, but his country.
A catastrophic injury at the age of 16 left Langevin a C5 – 6 quadriplegic and with only partial use of his arms and hands. As a Boy Scout participating in the Explorer program he worked for the Warwick Police Department to gain experience in law enforcement. A chance discharge from a policeman’s revolver (thought to be empty) sent a bullet into his throat, permanently damaging his spinal cord; permanently ending his police force aspirations.
This would not direct Langevin into self-pity. Through an outpouring of support from his family, friends, and the community, he was inspired to give of himself in public service.
“I saw what positive things would come when a group of people came together for a common purpose, experiencing it firsthand,” recalls Langevin. He graduated from high school in 1983, and in ’86, ran for and was elected to serve as a State Delegate to Rhode Island’s Constitutional Convention. Having been exposed to politics as an early teen by his mother, he found his passion in public service as an elected official.
“I had to think about what I was going to do with my life [now that law enforcement was no longer an option]. I thought about it, and became more and more interested in government and public service in the political field. My parents were very insistent that I finish my education and go on to college – again, failure was not an option. They were bound and determined that I was going to make something of my life, and with their support and the support of the community, it all tied together and I found a new passion in life.”
Reflecting on his early political appointment at the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention in 1986, Langevin recalls, “Not only did I feel that I was giving something back, but I found something that I really enjoyed.”
His passion was recognized and ignited and his political career has taken him to Congress, serving Rhode Island and the U.S. from 2000 to the present. He has served on Armed Services and Small Business Committees as well as the Homeland Security Committee; sponsored bills to increase gun safety; and pursued his desire to improve government for the people. Langevin’s youthful injury polarized his concerns about the lack of universal healthcare, and affordable prescription drugs for most Americans. This issue has become a continued focus and priority of his work in Congress.
Langevin’s key for successfully running for public office: “I have always tried to be as honest and straightforward as I can possibly be. But I also have a passion for public service. I believe there is no higher calling than public service, and working hard to represent your neighbors, your community, your state and nation. I think we all have a desire within us to make a difference in the world, to make it better than when we found it and through public service in elected office I have been given the opportunity to touch people’s lives in a positive way.”
Langevin’s key for a successful life: “It’s important for any individual to follow their passion, no matter what it is. If you have an interest, especially in public service, I encourage you to pursue it. We can all make a difference if we chose to try.”
Langevin on his disability: “I hope my involvement in public service has inspired all people with challenges. I also hope it has raised awareness of the challenges of those with disabilities but also our capabilities. Despite my limitations, I had a goal and a dream – something I had a passion for. I pursued that passion and I have given back to my community. I believe I have made a difference.”
Jim Langevin is the first person with quadriplegia to serve in the U.S. Congress.