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Ready for Reform: The progressives challenging state house leadership — an interview with Senator Tiara Mack

“I think the 2016 presidential election has a lot to do with people getting involved in their communities and learning more about local politics and leaders,” said State Senator Tiara Mack about the progressive wins in 2020. “When the spotlight was on local elected officials who had previously gone under the radar, the voters could finally have a real choice in who they elected.”

Mack represents Senate District 6 in Providence, an area that includes Mt. Hope, Southside, Washington Park, Jewelry District and Downtown. She was one of the seven Democrats who abstained in the vote for Senate President at the start of session in January, declining to support Dominick Ruggerio’s reelection bid. Sen Mack is also a member of the RI Political Cooperative.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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Alex Kithes (Motif): You ran for the first time this year. What inspired you to run?

Tiara Mack: I had been advocating at the State House for a few years. While there I didn’t see many people who looked like me making decisions or testifying for legislation.

AK: I’ve known you for a few years, as an activist in a few different spaces, and an organizer and advocate at Planned Parenthood RI. How did this work shape your decision to run, your platform, and your anticipated work as a state senator?

TM: My activism was a huge reason why I decided to run.

AK: You won your primary with nearly 60% of the vote against a pretty established incumbent. What do you believe are the reasons people came out and supported your campaign?

TM: Change. The pandemic highlighted many of the ways the current system fails us. People in my district and across the state and nation felt the need for bold and sweeping change. I knocked on hundreds of doors for months during the pandemic and listened to people who haven’t been reached out to before by an elected official.

AK: More broadly, this year saw a lot of progressive General Assembly wins around the state. What factors do you think were responsible for that? Do you see it as a sign of a changing political climate in Rhode Island?

TM: I think so. We see a lot of people talking about living wages, healthcare for all and education reforms, and it’s not just a few people anymore. I think the 2016 presidential election has a lot to do with people getting involved in their communities and learning more about local politics and leaders.

The RIPC was a great local grassroots effort to not only recruit candidates, but also to keep the community tapped into what was happening across the state and in their districts. When the spotlight was on local elected officials who had previously gone under the radar the voters could finally have a real choice in who they elected.

AK: You abstained in the vote for Senator Ruggerio at the start of session. What motivated this decision? Where do you see existing leadership has failed, and where would different leadership do better?

TM: I haven’t had enough conversations with Senate President Ruggerio. We spoke on the phone once after the Democratic Caucus. Voting for senate leadership is a big deal, and it’s important to know their priorities and values to see if they align with my own. I didn’t want to vote for someone I didn’t know enough about.

AK: Tell me a little about the swearing-in and vote for Senate President. What helped keep you firm in your decision about the leadership vote? What was the feeling in the room for those who opted not to support Ruggerio?

TM: I think the decision to abstain is understood by many. I personally didn’t feel that I had enough conversations with the current leadership to vote for them. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. We have big decisions to make this year and next that will impact all Rhode Islanders. I don’t take that responsibility lightly and I hope over this session I learn more about my senate colleagues and we pass legislation that keeps all of our communities top of mind.

AK: What are you planning on working on this term in the Senate?

TM: Living wage, green justice zone (environment) and healthcare.

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