Pledging to bring government back to the people, Abel Collins, a 33-year-old child of Matunuck, environmental activist, poet and political newcomer announced he is challenging Congressman James Langevin for Rhode Island’s second congressional district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This campaign is going to be about more than just making a point,” Collins said last week from the podium of the State House’s state room at a press conference where he announced his candidacy. “I am in this race to win.”
Collins is a graduate of Brown University and a program director for the Sierra Club. He lives in Matunuck with his wife and four children.
Collins, running as an independent, has four major platform issues that will be the focus of his campaign: financial industry accountability, campaign finance reform, a Green Works program and a grassroots effort to reengage the public into the political process.
“Over the years I’ve talked to thousands of Rhode Islanders on doorsteps, at meetings, rallies, public hearings, even here in this State House,” Collins said. "There is a general sense the public is becoming less and less powerful. We’re losing our voice.
“We need to take it back.”
Collins said he would start by holding big banks accountable, regulating them to make sure they’re not betting with derivatives in opaque markets that cannot be controlled. He said, "The Federal Reserve needs to be held more accountable so they’re not “simply representing the interest of the large banks.”
The financial crisis that led to the ongoing economic malaise was the result “of a massive amount of fraud,” the trail leading to the highest levels of those financial organizations, Collins said.
Financial industry accountability is critical to getting our economy running again, Collins said.
“The big banks have only grown bigger since the financial disaster of 2008,” Collins said. “Right now we need to make sure there is no too big to fail. Too big to fail is too big to exist.”
“We need to prosecute,” he said. “The people at the tops of those organization who think they’re doing God's work – our regulatory agencies have the authority to do that right now but our politicians in Washington just aren’t making them do it. So when I go to Washington, I’ll make sure that job gets done.”
Next is campaign finance reform. Collins said one of the biggest problems facing our country is “the amount of money that influences our public corporations,” which “right now are considered people and have the ability to make unlimited campaign donations."
“That is hurting our democracy,” Collins said, calling for sweeping changes, including requiring all elections to be publicly funded to reduce the influence of corporate money on the political system.
To grow as a country, Collins said he believes a Green Works program is a solution to a host of issues, including unemployment, pollution, crumbling infrastructure and a bleak economic landscape for most people.
“That means investing in commuter rails, making sure that mass transit is available,” Collins said. “Rhode Island has a lot of advantages that I’d emphasize in Washington. We have a beautiful state with a wind resource that can be captured and turned into renewable energy. We can do a lot to invest in creating a greener transportation system. These are things that will save Rhode Islanders money — and will provide good, high-paying jobs for Americans.”
The state already has a small, sustainable farming community that keeps growing “but can be encouraged” to grow more, Collins said.
He also would take a tough stance on international trade issues — a major priority for him. Fair trade instead of free trade to make sure “we’re bringing back jobs lost to other nations because they engage in unfair trade practices.”
“They are abusing their workers,” he said. “They’re abusing their environment and gaining an unfair advantage over America. We can build those goods safely and cleanly in America but we have to make sure our government isn’t giving an advantage to those factories overseas.”
Collins noted that he has a lot of respect and admiration for Langevin, but believes in many ways the congressman has served as a rubber stamp and failed to fight for the types of changes that need to take place in Washington.
The broken political system has discouraged the public, which feels “apathetic, disenfranchised, disaffected,” Collins said.
“I have become increasingly alarmed by how little faith people have left in their government to do the right thing.” Collins cited the dismal voter turnout in the last election and the Tea Party and Occupy populist movements that have sprung up in the past three years as evidence of the disaffection of the public.
Collins said he will prove that a grassroots campaign surrounding an independent candidate such as himself can demonstrate that the two-party system can be challenged.
“Half of my campaign is really about getting people involved, making sure the grassroots are represented in Washington,” Collins said. “I think people will be surprised by how well this campaign does.”
Though facing a financial disadvantage, Collins said he knows that voters can be reached and energized in new ways. Using social media websites could prove to be more effective at getting younger voters than TV advertisements.
“We live in a new world where social media and new media communications can get our message out to tens of thousands on a limited budget. There are ways to run a campaign that I don’t have to spend as much as Langevin,” Collins said. “To be honest, some of the old media won’t be as important in this election. People are paying attention to what their friends are doing on these social media sites than watching advertisements on television. Many are just fast forwarding over them.”
Collins has never held an elected office before and said he wishes he had the time to start small and run for Town Council and spend years building up his reputation to “assure me victory, but that time does not exist.”
“These issues need to be addressed now,” Collins said.
His decision to run came only recently, after a groundswell of support from friends, family and people he's met over the last few years.
Collins will tap into a large network of volunteers who will fan out across the state for the campaign. Many of those workers are people he connected with as part of his involvement with the RIPTA Riders Group, which aggressively lobbied the General Assembly in protest of cuts to the state transit system’s budget and to promote mass transit.
Collins was the point man for the group and takes credit for helping coordinate a group of frustrated and politically unconnected people into a lobbying force to be reckoned with on Smith Hill.
At the Occupy Providence movement, Collins served as a moderate voice in the crowd, he said in the hopes of encouraging dialog and encouraging protesters to turn their frustration into action. He did not camp overnight, but tried to serve as an intermediary in the hopes of finding common ground.
He indicated the same skills would come into play in Washington. Here at home, he’ll be confronting “a perception there’s left and right, Democrats and Republicans, “but it’s more complex than that,” Collins said.
“Both parties have populist elements to them and I’m more of a populist,” Collins said, citing Ron Paul’s ability to garner support from both liberal and conservative-minded people.
Though socially liberal, Collins said his focus on financial industry accountability and getting jobs back to America will transcend the left vs. right fight.
“I consider myself frugal and conservatively run my household budget,” he said. “And that’s the way I want Washington run. We need to be spending money efficiently, but we also need to be spending money sufficiently, investing in the right areas, making sure our infrastructure is adequate for what we need to do economically.”
You can check out Collins' campaign website by clicking here.