Speaking in front of almost 60 fourth grade students and their teachers on Tuesday, Congressman Jim Langevin discussed the politics and government, and the role he plays in each. Serving the Rhode Island second Congressional district for the past 12 years, Langevin told the students he feels privileged to represent them and their families in Washington. In order to make the children feel at ease with his wheelchair, Langevin explained how the chair works; it is balanced on a series of gyroscopes similar to a Segway. When Langevin was 16 years old and working as a police cadet, he was accidentally shot in the locker room and became paralyzed.
"I didn't know what I was going to do with my life," he said.
Prior to that, Langevin had planned on being a police officer. "That is why education is so very important. It is something no one can take away from you; you will always have it," he said. Langevin discussed the three separate branches of government: judicial, legislative and executive, detailing what each branch does, how they work and what they do. He explained that all the decisions made in government are based on the Constitution. "Our forefathers laid out a map for us, and it is our responsibility to follow it," he said. Langevin told the room that being able to vote is a privilege, and he encouraged everyone to vote.
"Voting is a very powerful responsibility, and I wish more young people voted," he said.
Langevin explained how population determines the number of U.S. representatives. Every half million people in a state gets one representative. For the Senate, every state gets two senators regardless of population. Congress is responsible for making laws for the entire country. The congressman asked the students what some of the rules are in their school, and they told him "no running, no sharing food at lunch and to be nice."
Langevin clarified how important it is for people to understand the actual lawmaking process. A representative introduces a bill in a specific committee. If the committee gives it a majority vote, it will go to the full House of Representatives for debate. After the debate, they vote, and if it's another majority, they pass the bill to the Senate to vote on.
"It is so important for constituents to be aware of the laws and issues that we discuss in Washington," he said.
Langevin conceded that sometimes he gets it right, sometimes he doesn't. When he opened the floor to questions from the students, at first there were very few, tentative hands. Quickly, the students overcame their shyness. One student asked if there was a special school he needed to attend in order to serve in Congress. Langevin said there was no school, but certain requirements, such as being at least 25 years old and a registered voter in the state they want to represent. One question that was asked several times in as many different ways, was how long did he work, or how many hours did he put in. Langevin said some days are not as long as others, but sometimes he gets up very early and does not arrive home until very early the next day.
"The message I want to leave with you today is you can do anything you want to do in life,” he said. “Study hard, work hard and the world can be yours.”