PROVIDENCE — US Representative James Langevin, a Democrat who has represented Rhode Island’s second congressional district since 2001, announced Tuesday that he won’t seek re-election later this year.
In a phone interview with the Globe, Langevin said he is in “good health,” and “while it’s good, I want to do other things.” He said he’ll finish out his term in US House of Representatives, but he wants to spend more time in Rhode Island.
“I did go back and forth,” Langevin said. “Some days I was like ‘I’m gonna keep going,’ and other days, I’d say, ‘I’m going to retire.’”
Langevin, 57, was the first quadriplegic elected to Congress, having been accidentally shot in a police locker room when he was 16. He previously served as a state representative and Rhode Island’s secretary of state.
Langevin said his proudest moments in 11 terms in Congress have been his effort to bring cyber security issues to the forefront - including a push to name a national cybersecurity director - and his vote to support the Affordable Care Act, which expanded access to health care to millions of Americans.
It’s rare for one of Rhode Island’s two House seats to open up – the last time was 2010, when David Cicilline won the race to replace former congressman Patrick Kennedy – so Langevin’s retirement is sure to set off a flurry of speculation about who run for the job.
The 2nd congressional district includes most of the southern and western parts of Rhode Island, from Westerly to Johnston and parts of Providence. It’s considered more conservative than the 1st district, but Langevin has been safely re-elected every two years since his first victory in 2000.
US Representative David N. Cicilline, a fellow Democrat, issued a statement, saying, ”It has been an honor to serve alongside Jim in the United States House of Representatives for the past 11 years, where he has become one of our nation’s leaders in cybersecurity and expanding access to opportunities for career training and technical education.”
Cicilline said, “The story of Jim Langevin will forever be remembered as one of perseverance and a dedication to public service. It is one that will inspire our colleagues in government today and the future leaders of our state and nation for generations to come.”
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi issued a statement saying this was a day to focus on Langevin’s achievements and not “future political speculation.”
Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, said he met Langevin nearly 40 years ago while working on former Warwick Mayor Frank Flaherty’s campaign.
“After becoming the nation’s youngest Secretary of State, he has been a proven fighter in Congress for more than two decades,” he said. “Jim has been a trailblazer for Americans with disabilities, serving as a national leader on issues of disability rights and inclusion. Jim is a highly respected voice on issues of national security, particularly cybersecurity.”
Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, thanked Langevin for his decades of public service.
“He has been a steady, pragmatic and unifying voice during an era of increasing partisanship, someone who truly puts people over politics,” Ruggerio said. “He has made a tremendous difference on issues such as rights for disabled Americans, cybersecurity, and support for our servicemen and women.”
Rhode Island Republican Party chairwoman Sue Cienki said an open congressional seat is a Rhode Island rarity.
“A multitude of people are interested in running for that seat now,” she said. “Lots of people are calling me, interested.”
Langevin’s announcement immediately changes the dynamics of the 2nd congressional district race, Cienki said. “It certainly levels the playing field,” she said. “CD2 is a winnable seat for Republicans as it stands now.”
Former state Representative Robert B. Lancia, a Cranston Republican, is running for the 2nd congressional seat again this year.
In 2020, Langevin received 58.2 percent of the vote to beat Lancia, who received 41.5 percent.
On Tuesday, Lancia said he has no doubt Republicans will regain control of the House in the midterm elections. “We only need to flip 5 seats and I intend to be one those five,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a red wave.”
Lancia said he believed he had “rattled” Langevin in the last election, and he was not surprised by Tuesday’s announcement. “I think the handwriting was on the wall,” he said. “I’m kind of disappointed actually because there are so many issues to run on with him, as we did in the last election.”
At the end of the last reporting period, Lancia had $31,139 in cash on hand after taking in $57,835, according to the Federal Election Commission.
By contrast, Langevin had $915,860 in cash on hand, according to the latest campaign finance report.
Dylan Conley, an attorney who challenged Langevin in a 2020 Democratic primary and lost with 30 percent of the vote, said he was not considering another run for Congress before Langevin’s announcement.
But, he said, “Every time the facts on the ground change, you have to talk things through with trusted friends and family.”
Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, host of the “Nuestra Salud” webcast and a long-time leader in the Latino community, said Langevin’s announcement came as a surprise. “This changes everything,” he said.
He said he figured that Langevin would run again once the 2020 census figures showed the Rhode Island would defy the odds and hold onto its two seats in the US House of Representatives.
For the last three years, population projections have shown that Rhode Island could go from being the most over-represented state, with one House member for about 530,000 residents, to the most underrepresented, with one representative for more than 1 million people. But Rhode Island ended up being one of 37 states that kept the same number of House seats.
Rodriguez said Langevin’s departure will set off a scramble for a rare open seat in Rhode Island’s four-member congressional delegation.
“This is the ultimate game of musical chairs,” he said. “Because a lot of people have ambition for congressional office. But no one was prepared to do it this year.”
Rodriguez, who is supporting R.I. Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea in the 2022 governor’s race, said it’s “very possible” that some of the candidates now running for governor will decide to run for Congress instead, but he said Gorbea is planning to stay in the gubernatorial race.
“I know for a fact Nellie is not interested in that kind of position,” he said. “She is very committed to being governor of Rhode Island.”
Rodriguez said that if a Democrat wins the seat they could face a difficult task if Republican retake control of the House.
“It’s going to be a difficult and thankless job,” he said. “It’s very difficult to accomplish any of your priorities with Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House.”
But the vacant seat could prompt a high-profile Republican to jump into the race, Rodriguez said.