Public Service Innovators

January 18, 2002
Aine Cryts

U.S. Congressman James Langevin (MPA2, '94) considers Franklin D. Roosevelt his hero and role model. While many prize Roosevelt for his fireside chats and moving speeches during the Depression and World War II, Langevin looks to Roosevelt as a source of strength and perseverance despite his physical disability. Roosevelt never let his disability define him and neither does Langevin.

A stray bullet changed his life forever, but it never took Langevin off course. A cadet in the Boy Scout Explorer program with his sights on a career in law enforcement, Langevin was cut down by a policeman's bullet that ricocheted off a locker in the Warwick, Rhode Island police station and left him paralyzed from the waist down. With his career in law enforcement cut short, sixteen-year old Langevin decided to give something back by being a lawmaker.

While working towards his bachelor's degree, Langevin was also making a name for himself as an elected member of Rhode Island's General Assembly. He proposed a ten-point plan calling for voting reform, which would allow Rhode Islanders to register to vote up to seven days before an election at their neighborhood polling place or local registry of motor vehicles and provide more money to pay poll workers.

Not content to remain rooted in one place for long, however, Langevin decided to make his first bid for statewide office. Launching his run for secretary of state in Rhode Island while a student at the Kennedy School, Langevin beat out three other Democrats in a heated primary race. As the country's youngest-ever secretary of state at the age of 30, he worked to modernize the state's elections by putting new optical scan equipment - one of the most reliable means for counting votes -- in all the polling booths. Langevin knows from personal experience that the new machines are faster and easier to use and is confident they will end long lines at the polls while encouraging more people to vote.

"We made [voting] 100% accessible to people with disabilities. They can do it on their own now, and I hope to bring that model and spread it across the nation," says Langevin. Now in his first term representing Rhode Island's second district in Congress, Langevin is working hard to secure passage of the VOTE Act, which will ensure accessibility and easy-to-use standards in polling places for all Americans.

Langevin says his work on election reform is his way of empowering the public. "I've always believed that government should work for the people, and people should have access to information to make informed decisions."

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