Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat whose 2000 win made him the first quadriplegic to ever serve in Congress, said Tuesday that he would retire from the 2nd District.
The current version of this seat, which includes part of Providence and western Rhode Island, backed Joe Biden by a 56-43 spread four years after it favored Hillary Clinton by a smaller 51-44 margin. The redrawn 2nd will almost certainly look nearly identical because the state’s redistricting commission recently advanced a map that made only minimal changes to Rhode Island’s two seats, though the Democratic-run legislature still needs to approve new boundaries.
Langevin himself was a 16-year-old Warwick police cadet in 1980 when an officer discharged a gun he didn’t know was loaded, an incident that severed Langevin’s spinal cord and left him permanently paralyzed. The future congressman, who would receive a $2.2 million settlement from the city, never could become an officer afterward, and he turned his attention to politics.
Langevin served as secretary of the state Constitutional Convention in 1986 two years before he won a spot in the state House, and he was elected statewide in 1994 by decisively unseating Secretary of State Barbara Leonard, the last Republican to hold that post. Langevin, who made a name for himself by championing open government, won re-election in a landslide, though his opposition to abortion rights infuriated some progressives.
Langevin was one of four Democrats to seek the 2nd Congressional District in 2000 when incumbent Bob Weygand left to unsuccessfully challenge appointed Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, and he quickly emerged as the favorite. His main foe was Association of Social Workers executive director Kate Coyne-McCoy, a longtime establishment critic who had famously once proclaimed that “there's no such thing as being too liberal.” Coyne-McCoy focused on Langevin’s anti-abortion views and argued he was too close to special interests, but he won 47-29 ahead of an easy general election victory.
Langevin’s conservative stance on abortion eventually earned him a 2006 primary challenge from Brown University political science professor Jennifer Lawless, who raised a notable amount of money with aid from pro-choice groups, but he prevailed 62-38. Langevin’s final notable intra-party challenge came four years later from state Rep. Betsy Dennigan, who focused more on the economy than abortion, a campaign he won 57-34.
Langevin, unlike other Democrats with anti-abortion histories, rarely attracted national attention during the rest of his tenure, and he announced last year that, while he was still “personally opposed to abortion,” he backed a bill to protect abortion rights from an adverse Supreme Court decision.