Matthew Calise, 18, is out to prove that age is just a number as he makes an independent bid for state representative in District 43.
“For me, the idea about running is about bridging the partisan gap and showing that even if I have ideas that lean one way or another, there’s still a compromise that can be found,” he said. “If you make a policy, you should have an appeal for both sides of the aisle.”
A graduate of La Salle Academy’s 2016 class, Calise didn’t serve in student council but did serve in the Debate Club and on the school’s Ethnic and Racial Diversity Committee. He has enrolled in Suffolk University in Boston, where he’ll major in politics, philosophy, and economics with a possible minor in pre-law or government. But those plans may be postponed depending on the outcome of the race.
“If this were to really take off and go well and I were to win, I would probably put school on hold for a little bit and focus solely on representing because that’s what the people have asked me to do,” he said. “I would want that to be my sole priority, and then after my term is up I’d pursue school.”
A Johnston resident living near the North Providence line, Calise said he’s been interested in politics and presidents since childhood and took special interest in this year’s presidential cycle. Like many millennials, he was drawn to the Bernie Sanders campaign, and took inspiration from the Vermont senator.
“I’ve liked the idea of being young and running for state office, and it didn’t seem possible,” he said. “But then wait, here’s this oddball [Sanders] and he’s older and his politics are way outside the normal range, and if he can do it, why can’t I?”
Calise said people of his generation are deeply interested in this year’s election.
“I don’t feel my ideas are outside of the norm, per se, just because I’m young. I have my ideas and I feel that a lot of people that run or are in office are older, and the decisions they make they won’t necessarily end up having to live with the consequences,” he said. “Say with the environment, or pollution, my generation and the one after me are the ones who are going to have to deal with the choices they make.”
Part of Calise’s agenda includes targeting the food and fishing industries in an effort to promote environmentally friendly practices.
“One of my ideas is to ban commercial fishing in the bay. There are a lot of smaller anglers and fishermen, and I love to fish, but I’ve noticed since they’ve allowed commercial fishing in the bay that the fish populations have gone way down,” he said. “So, I want to have an outright ban on commercial fishing because it’s killing the populations of bluefish, flounder, and all of these different kind of fish. Their populations have gone way down. I want to make sure that from Narragansett to Little Compton, beyond that point, there’s not commercial trolling going on.”
Calise believes there should be a small tax on red meat to disincentivize its consumption, citing the negative environmental impacts associated with the meat industry. He also feels that the state’s modes of public transportation should be focusing on energy efficiency.
“As an 18 year old, I’m going to have to live with the environmental consequences if we don’t take immediate action,” he said. “I feel like I have more of a personal interest to make sure things go well because I’m going to have to live with it if they don’t.”
Calise said he intends to pursue raising the state’s minimum wage to around $11 or $12 per hour, with tax incentives for businesses that are now paying their employees more.
He opposes the plan to institute truck rolls in Rhode Island to help pay for road and bridge repairs.
“I think that the roads are in terrible shape as is, and I don’t believe that tolls were the best way to handle that. There are other ways to increase revenue that aren’t so direct on people,” he said. “If you cut spending in an efficient and responsible manner, and you increase taxes in the same way, you can make up for that toll revenue and repair the roads.”
Calise favors the decriminalization of marijuana, but does not support full legalization, citing the dangers of its use while driving and difficulties associated with testing for its use after traffic stops.
In his bid for the District 43 seat, Calise faces Democratic incumbent Rep. Deborah Fellela, along with independent Karin Gorman, who previously ran for the seat in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
While his campaign is currently small, with family and friends providing assistance, he soon plans to start a website and become active via social media. He hopes his candidacy will transcend traditional party lines.
“The point of this campaign is that, there’s a lot of divide with Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, and I feel that’s not the only two ways to do things. I feel if you can, with ideas, create a bridge between the two or have some common ground,” he said. “I feel that you need to give and take and compromise. This campaign is not just about sticking to one hard side or the other, it’s about finding a middle way.”