Only five percent of state legislators nationwide are born between 1981 and 1997, but one recent URI graduate looked to change that.
Michael Steiner, 31, graduated from URI this summer with an undergraduate degree in applied economics and ran for state representative as a Democrat in Rhode Island’s 41st district this year. The district includes Scituate and parts of western Cranston. He lost to Republican Robert Quattrocchi, receiving 36.5 percent of the vote to Quattrocchi’s 63.6 percent. Steiner ran on a platform promoting opportunities for college graduates, environmental stewardship and accessible senior services.
“When I was growing up in Scituate, I always thought that it was such a small town, and I wanted to leave Rhode Island, explore the world,” Steiner said. “But nothing really makes you realize how big your hometown is like running for office.”
In 2014, one of Steiner’s friends ran for state representative in Scituate, and Steiner volunteered on her campaign. She ran again in 2016, and he once again volunteered, in addition to helping another colleague’s campaign in West Warwick. These experiences helped Steiner get involved in politics.
Although Steiner did not win, he believes it is important for young people to make their voices heard in politics. He said that there are young state legislators and city council members across the state, but rural areas, in particular, are lacking younger representatives. Steiner was questioned about his age while running but did not see it as a problem in his campaign. He thinks that it is imperative for younger people to get involved.
“We are all political beings whether or not you decide to participate, so I think that more people should get involved, certainly when you’re younger and have more time and money and energy to do those sorts of things,” Steiner said.
As a U.S. Navy veteran, Steiner also focused on veterans’ affairs. He said that his experience in the military was part of the reason he chose to run in the first place. “I served in the Navy for six years and I am still a reservist. so I felt compelled to continue my service, and this felt like a good opportunity,” Steiner said.
Steiner also said that his experience in the Navy gave him the skills to run for office. “Being in the Navy really teaches you how to be a team player,” Steiner said. “We all have our different political beliefs, and today it can be tough. It’s almost like a bloodsport. But when you’re in the service, it doesn’t matter if your a Democrat or a Republican. We all wear the same uniform, we all look out for each other’s backs and we get the job done. You need that sort of team mentality going up to the State House, or really any political body, because yes you’re fighting for your own people’s interests, but to advance those interests you have to work with other people.”
Steiner said that the greatest challenge in running for office is making connections with potential voters. He said that people tend to care more about this connection than policy papers. An example Steiner gave was when he noticed if a potential voter had a veteran’s sticker on their car, so he could talk to them about it.
Steiner is currently planning to attend graduate school and is studying for his graduate record examinations. However, he says that it is possible he will run for office again in the future.
“I don’t have any concrete plans right now, but every elected office is important,” Steiner said. “It doesn’t matter, from the governor all the way down to dog catcher if that’s an elected position in your town.”