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A New Voice For Us at the State House

 
 
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From our state to your town to your street - let's work together to make them the best they can be!

 
 
 
 

Meet Justine

I’m writing this as a mom with two young kids. My son Escher is 6, and my daughter Luna is 3 -- so, if you’ve been a parent, you know what’s dominated my life for the past six years. I love being a mom and having kids has informed my thinking about almost everything about the world -- that’s what becoming a parent does to you. When I think about my run for office, almost everything I think about is influenced by the things that will affect my kids and their future.

But -- even though sometimes it feels hard to remember -- there was a time before I had kids. I grew up right here, in Rhode Island. I went to Pilgrim High School in Warwick, along with my younger brother (and campaign treasurer!) Nicholas. He and his wife Kristen live nearby. My parents moved to South County around the time we finished high school, and they still live there. This is my state -- and when my husband David and I found out we were going to have a baby, we immediately decided to return here. This is my home -- and now theirs.

Every week Luna and I have lunch with her great-grandparents, who also live in South County, at the same house where I used to play when I was my kids’ age. It’s full of memories for me, and I’m happy to be giving my kids the same memories, three decades later.

When I think about being their age, and growing up, I think about reading books. I loved reading, and I loved school, and it led me to URI after high school, where I decided to major in English, and went on to get a masters’ degree. After that, I decided to pursue a doctorate in American Studies, which took me to small-town Ohio, at Bowling Green State University.
In American Studies programs, we study things like culture, and who has power and who doesn’t and why, and what societal and historical trends have led to the America we inhabit today. I was able to sharpen my thinking about the challenges our society faces.
I was also a teacher -- and at high-quality state schools like URI and BGSU, I taught a broad cross-section of each state’s students, who had a wide variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and circumstances. I learned so much about the world around us.
I had prepared myself for a career of writing about the state of America in academic journals. But while I was in Bowling Green, its City Council passed a law extending non-discrimination protections (in housing, employment, and so forth) to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community there -- and then opponents gathered signatures to force a referendum to try to take those protections away. The whole town was going to vote on the law. I heard about the opposition campaign, was asked to volunteer for the pro-LGBT campaign, and swiftly found myself a leader in our side’s campaign. As the campaign went on, and then wrapped up (we won!), I became inspired by the difference I made dealing with the whole community, outside the world of academia, and wondered whether that would be a more effective way to impact the issues I’d thought and written so much about during my studies.
So I took a job as a paid organizer working to pass a law guaranteeing same-sex Maine couples the right to marry -- this was before the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. We had to win an election. One vote at a time.
That taught me valuable skills, too -- because in Maine, we’d already lost an election, and we had to get people who had voted against us to change their minds. So I learned to have conversations with opponents, and then taught people to have conversations with opponents. People feel very strongly about same-sex marriage. So I taught volunteers to do more listening than talking. I taught them to be generous in spirit toward opponents and to meet voters where they were. And I taught them to find common ground on the issues where we all agreed -- that marriage is important, to everyone, and that the gay people these voters knew and loved deserved marriage as much as they did, and wanted to get married for the same reasons they did.
That’s when my husband David and I found out we were going to have Escher -- and when I knew it was time to come back to my home, here in Rhode Island. I’m working on making David a Rhode Islander. He has slowly but surely stopped complaining about sand in his food at the beach. He still pokes fun at us for complaining about driving “so far” when we have to go anywhere, but he enthusiastically admits that he likes clear clam chowder better than the white and red chowders he had before he came. We came back in time for Benny’s to be his favorite store, and the store where he and my son bought his first bike. David’s a small business owner -- so he moved his small software development business here.
When we decided to come back to Rhode Island, we had to choose a community in which to settle, and we chose East Greenwich. I grew up right over in Warwick, so I already knew EG well. I remember buying my junior prom dress at a shop on Main Street, and the wrap I wore on my wedding day at Zuzu’s Petals. Many of my friends had waited tables at The Grille on Main, so I ended up spending a lot of time there. But what attracted us most of all were the people who lived here, the small-town feel, and the excellent school system that would be available to our growing family.
I worked hard raising our kids, and David worked hard financially supporting our family, and then the election in November of 2016 happened.
In Bowling Green and Maine, I’d taken a big role working in politics, and the morning after the election, the results made me feel as though I hadn’t done enough in 2016. I knew I had to think about how to do more -- to step up and do something to make a difference.
I’ve spent every day since working on that difference. I decided to run for a seat in the State House of Representatives because I felt I could make a difference on the issues I cared about, and that I know that the people of our community care about, too. I knew I’d bring a very different perspective to the legislature -- that of a young parent, and a woman. These are perspectives that aren’t well-represented at the State House now.
Our whole family loves it here in East Greenwich: you can catch all of us at the Swift playground, David and I on date night at one of our great restaurants, or me trying to keep Escher and Luna to a loud whisper at the East Greenwich Free Library. In the summertime, some part of our family can be found almost every day at the Greenwich Club.
So our family’s future is here in East Greenwich! I want to make sure our community’s concerns are represented at the State House, and I’m ready to do the work to make sure that happens.
 
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Team Justine: How To Help

This campaign, organizing 3,500 voters to come out and vote for Justine, is going to take a big team in order to be successful. We need a lot of people to help talk with voters, organize (and feed!) volunteers, enter data, even babysit!

To learn more:

Message or Like Us on Facebook!

Or e-mail us at hq@justine4ri.com

And we’ll need money to communicate with voters we can’t reach any other way, using mail and other kinds of advertising. Our opponent is very wealthy, and will be very well-funded. We’re going to need to come together as a community to be able to compete financially. We don’t have to match him financially, but we do have to have enough to get the message out, and make sure all of the voters in this district can make a fair and informed decision about what kind of representative they want working for them at the State House. You can help by donating!

To donate by mail:
Friends of Justine Caldwell
8 Aurora Road
East Greenwich, RI 02818

To donate with a credit card:
https://secure.actblue.com/donate/justine4ri

 

THE ISSUES

 
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Guns

I remember when I first heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We were on a family vacation and they announced a moment of silence over a loudspeaker on a cruise ship — my only child at the time was my 9-month-old son. I remember a feeling of relief that I wouldn’t be sending him off to school for a long time. I never imagined that day almost 6 years ago would become a normal day in America.

Gun violence is a public health crisis in our country right now. Here in Rhode Island, I have been working on gun violence prevention by organizing events in our community, helping residents get involved at the state level, and lobbying legislators to vote for bills that would reduce gun violence and keep our kids safe. Sending our kids to school shouldn’t be an act of faith. I support a ban on assault weapons, the Red Flag bill, and the Safe Schools initiative, so that anyone with a concealed carry permit cannot carry a firearm onto any school property.

Because of my advocacy, I was awarded the Moms Demand Action “Gun Sense Candidate” Distinction.

If elected, I would enthusiastically co-sponsor and vote to pass an assault weapons ban in the next session. I would also work hard within the legislature to build support for laws that help reduce the level of gun violence in our state.

Women + Families

For too long, politics here in Rhode Island has been an old boys’ club and we need to restore people’s trust in their elected officials. We don’t need more lawyers, or more businessmen -- we need more women, more moms, more people (including men) from different backgrounds in order to have a legislature that looks more like our state.

But we specifically need more women in our General Assembly. Right now, women hold less than a third of the seats on Smith Hill and that is reflected in the bills and issues that get prioritized.

When I was in the early stages of thinking about running for office, there was a meeting of a local Democratic organization at which one of our Democratic legislators came and spoke. Women have been very energized in the Democratic Party since the election of President Trump, and so this meeting included a lot of energized Democratic women. We had questions about why the legislature wouldn’t act to protect women’s reproductive rights.

What was striking was that our representative said he wanted to stick to discussing “important” issues, like the car tax. The car tax is important to a lot of Rhode Islanders -- but our representative couldn’t understand why reproductive health care was a much more important issue to the women in the room. Representation matters -- and I’ll help provide an additional, strong voice that can help to represent the people who ordinarily aren’t in the room when decisions are made at the State House.
When women run, they win at a slightly higher rate than men. When women are elected, they are more likely than their male counterparts to bring money back to their home districts. When women serve, they pass more bills than the men in office. When women run, they change the conversations in the community, at the door, and in the legislature. We need to make progress on issues like paid family leave, bridging the wage gap, access to effective contraception, and quality child care. Without real progress on these issues, women are at a disadvantage in our economy and in the workforce and all of our families suffer.
When I was in high school, my mom went back to school to get her nursing degree after working for years as a medical assistant while my brother and I were young. I saw firsthand what that was like for her to go to work, try to get dinner on the table, go off to school to night, and still work hard to be a great mom. She is a great mom (and now a wonderful grandma) and I got to see how much women sacrifice when they have kids -- she put her career on hold for us, then to make our lives even better -- to send us to college, to make sure we always had a car -- she started up again after 16 years. I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom was providing important insight for me into the additional challenges that women and mothers face, and the sort of public policy solutions that could help make it easier for them to be providers and parents at the same time.
 
 
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Education

I have two young kids so education is a primary concern for me. So many people move to East Greenwich for our public schools and we need to make sure they are not only safe, warm, and dry but innovative in teaching and learning and preparing our kids for a successful life in our rapidly changing world. I was a teacher and a student for a long time, so I know how valuable a good teacher can be in a student’s life and want to make sure East Greenwich is a school district that attracts high quality educators and administrators. I want to make sure all of our schools across Rhode Island have what they need to provide a first-rate education to our kids.

Right now, East Greenwich High School doesn’t even have a library that its students can access. It is unacceptable that our political environment has become so fraught with division that our kids are suffering as a result. We need to work together to solve these problems. I’ve helped to organize residents to raise awareness and lobby our government on this issue. I am committed to working with our Town Council and School Committee, because our kids deserve the very best effort on all of our parts.

While in graduate school at URI, I taught Composition, but also spent a year working in Enrollment Services, processing financial aid applications and shepherding families through the often labyrinthine process of figuring out how to pay for college. I saw firsthand there how much debt students sign on to at 18 years old, not realizing the full implications of that decision. I saw how many kids were not really prepared for college, but applied and took out loans because it seemed like the only next step. We need to do better in terms of preparing and educating kids on what a college degree entails. We need to both provide better choices and provide more tools to students and parents to help them make the right choices for their families.

The bottom line is that every child in Rhode Island deserves a first class education. I know how important a good education is to getting a good job or going to graduate school. I also know how important it is in helping people become lifelong readers and thoughtful citizens capable of navigating the technology and critically evaluating the information coming at us -- being able to separate fact from fiction -- in the world we live in now.

Health Care

Health care is a concern for almost everyone I talk to in East Greenwich. It is expensive. It is difficult to navigate. The system is oftentimes capricious. My mom is a nurse and my brother is a nursing home administrator so I see firsthand the difficulties that both patients and providers suffer as a result.

I believe health care is a right, not a privilege. Everyone should have easy access to quality care regardless of their ability to pay. We must provide better preventative care, to save health care costs for patients and taxpayers down the road. We must provide women’s health care services like effective contraception and reproductive health. We must make sure that people can afford their prescription medications.

I wrote my dissertation on the stigma surrounding mental illness. Access to mental health care is particularly important to me. I hear it from so many voters as well, and I’ll be looking for health care initiatives that treat mental health issues with the same care as physical issues.

Our 3-year-old daughter Luna has a severe nut allergy. She was tested at the allergist about a week after the controversy over the EpiPen price surge. When I learned we would need to have at least two at all times, I panicked. Yet when I got to the pharmacy, the cost for two EpiPens was $0. When we needed to refill our prescription after the pens expired a year later, we got two more at $0 plus two more epinephrine injectors from a new company who sent them to us for free because of our health insurance. So over the course of 13 months, we received 6 life-saving devices at no extra cost to us beyond our monthly premiums.
Families with so much less than us have to decide whether they can afford $800 for one EpiPen. I feel fortunate, but also angry -- everyone should have the options my family does. I hate thinking about the choices we force people into because of how our health care system works. We can’t settle for this, and I won’t. We have to make sure people have the means to protect their families.

Good Government

Since we’re all Rhode Islanders here, we can be honest -- Rhode Island isn’t famous for good government. We joke about it. But it’s not funny -- Rhode Island’s reputation for corruption hurts our economic climate, for example. Sometimes it seems like it’s a permanent part of the state, like the coastline, or the Big Blue Bug. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I want to represent the public in the legislature -- and I want the public to be able to participate in the legislature’s work. Legislators don’t have a monopoly on good ideas; far from it. House District 30 has a wide variety of talented residents from all walks of life. I’ll ask all of you to help me represent you, and encourage all of you to represent yourselves in our State’s business. I’ll try to make sure the legislature is ready to hear from you -- for example, I support Rhode Island NOW’s recent effort to provide child care at the State House for citizens who want to speak with legislators about what’s on their mind.

To fix our state’s reputation, we can start with good laws -- our ethics law, for example, is one of the nation’s best. Our state’s Open Meetings Act mandates that citizens be able to participate in their government. Our Access to Public Records Act (APRA) ensures that information about how government works is available to the public.

But some of what it takes is cultural, and political. Legislators have to fight hard against the entrenched interests favoring secrecy. The people have to work hard to hold our leaders accountable for doing their business in an open and ethical way -- and as a former organizer, I’ll help people do that.
But, perhaps most importantly, we as leaders have to put our trust in the public. We have to believe that government is better when people participate -- and we have to act like it. I do believe it, and I’ll act accordingly.
My Town government in East Greenwich has had a dramatic year, in which it has repeatedly violated the Open Meetings Act and lost a lawsuit after it wrongfully fired a first responder from his job. I've spoken out on Town issues over the past year. As a State Representative, I won’t be able to directly impact the choices Town governments in my district make. But you can bet I’ll participate in East Greenwich’s Town government as a citizen. I'll make sure we have the right state laws that require our local government -- and the state government in which I'll serve -- to be responsive to its citizens. The last thing our state needs is more backroom deals -- we need to, in the words of the judge in that lawsuit, "turn the lights on."
We need to be inviting citizens into our work, and I will invite my constituents into mine, and make sure our government is open for participation and does its work in the light of day. We need to get back to a government that is for the people, by the people. We need representatives who are out there actively seeking input from their constituents, who are involved in the community they represent, and who talk to constituents and each other with respect and an open mind even when they disagree.
If I am elected your State Representative, I will hold monthly constituent meetings to hear what’s on your mind. You have a right to be heard, and I will hear you.

Environment

Honestly, I can’t believe that we are still having a debate in this state over whether climate change is real. But since we are, I’ll say it.

Climate change is real.

But the State Representative I’m running against voted against creating the Climate Change Coordinating Council and voted against the Renewable Growth Energy Program. In a direct attack on academic freedom and scientists, he voted against a law that protected university researchers’ working papers, preliminary drafts, and notes from public records requests -- requests that have been used by special-interest groups to pressure and harass researchers before they can even publish their findings.

Rhode Island will be more affected by climate change than any state in the Union because our coastline is so vast, and such an important part of our state’s fabric. Growing up in Rhode Island, I know how important our coastline is to our state’s success. I have so many memories spending my summer days at our beautiful beaches and at my grandparents’ house on Ninigret Pond in Charlestown. Now that we live in East Greenwich, the water is only a 5 minute drive away, so climate change will hit our district hard, too.

Given the importance of this issue to our state, our state ought to be taking the national, even the global, lead on an issue like this.

In one of the states that will be most impacted by climate change, we ought to be taking the national, even the global, lead on this issue. We absolutely must get on the side of science -- on the side of reality -- and begin doing what we can to slow down its progress and protect ourselves against its effects. It’s an inexcusable attack on our children and grandchildren to do otherwise, and we need to stand up to the fossil fuel companies and other climate-change deniers to stand on the side of what’s right and real. If I’m elected, I’ll do everything I can to make that leadership a reality.

 
 

VIDEOS

 
 
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