Rep. Christopher Blazejewski ‘privileged’ to serve in R.I. House

7/25/2011, Randal Edgar-

He entered the General Assembly with impressive credentials — class salutatorian at Cumberland High School, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

Six months later, Christopher R. Blazejewski looks back on some notable successes from his first session as a state lawmaker.

Among them: Several of the causes he supported, such as energy assistance for people on low incomes, a fully funded state education formula and bills that help the City of Providence with its financial struggles, won passage.

Also, 5 of the 14 bills he introduced were passed and signed into law by Governor Chafee, putting him second among 29 freshmen representatives and senators.

But this self-described progressive Democrat from Providence says his first legislative session wasn’t all roses. From his left-of center stance, Blazejewski, 31, sees a mix of successes and disappointments.

Chief among the disappointments, he says, was the failure to pass a bill that brought “full marriage equality.”

Blazejewski participated at close quarters in the same-sex marriage debate. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he sat through long hearings — first on a same-sex marriage bill, and later on the civil-unions bill that was ultimately passed. In light of the same-sex marriage legislation that passed in New York last month, he calls it a “lost opportunity in Rhode Island.”

He also points to a reduction in funding for the Neighborhood Opportunities Program’s efforts to create subsidized housing for low-income renters. The agency had been receiving as much as $7.5 million annually; its funding was cut to $1.5 million.

And he notes passage of a controversial voter-ID bill that will require people to bring identification to the polls next year and require photo IDs starting in 2014. Backers say the bill will help prevent voter fraud, but opponents such as Blazejewski say there is no hard evidence to show that the measure is needed.

“The voter-ID proposal will disenfranchise American citizens who have a legal, equal right to freely vote,” he said. “Our country has a history of having roadblocks to American citizens voting, and I think our job is to make it as easy as possible for American citizens to vote.”

No stranger to public speaking — he drew laughs from his fellow Cumberland graduates in 1998 when he joked that his “lifetime goal” was “to become the emperor of Guam” — Blazejewski appeared poised and confident as he spoke on the House floor and in committee hearings.

What were his impressions after the six-month session ended? He said he was “struck by how hard legislators work” and felt “privileged to have been given the opportunity to represent” the people of Rhode Island’s 2nd House District, which covers Fox Point, Wayland Square and downtown Providence as well as a portion of East Providence.

“I appreciate the trust that voters in my district put in me to do that in their behalf,” he said.

Asked about the politics and horse-trading that take place as lawmakers seek support for their causes and bills, Blazejewski said the bills that pass are usually “an outcome of deliberation and compromise.”

“It’s rare to see a bill that reflects just one political frame of reference and, oftentimes, there are many different voices that go into a piece of legislation,” he said. “There are real differences of political ideology in the State House, that’s for sure, but that’s not to say that there can’t be compromise, the kind of compromise that’s necessary to get things done.”

A lawyer with Sherin and Lodgen, based in Boston, Blazejewski takes pride in the bills he introduced and shepherded to passage.

They include measures that promote renewable energy, require judicial review before changes are made to conservation easements and allow for-profit, limited-liability companies to seek investments from charitable organizations, as well as private investors. The latter is aimed at social-venture companies that seek to promote social or environmental values as well as make a profit.

After some 10-hour days during the final weeks of the session, Blazejewski and his wife, Ami Gada, a history teacher at Johnston High School, escaped last week to Washington, D.C., and then Rehoboth Beach, in Delaware.

In Washington, he said, they toured the White House and the Capitol and visited his brother-in-law, a doctor in the Navy. At the beach, they enjoyed the sunshine and some “rest and relaxation.”