The hippest guy in state government

By IAN DONNIS  |  September 26, 2007

That essence rare
Asked why there aren’t more young progressives in the General Assembly, Walsh, a veteran of Rhode Island’s Democratic politics, initially wonders aloud on the question himself before pointing to a few different things.
 
“For the most part, districts allow elected representatives to be who they are,” he says. And though there is a mesh between Segal’s outlook and those of his constituents in one of the state’s more liberal districts, “He is very much his own man.”
 
At the same time, Walsh says, the General Assembly “is always about a half-generation back in reflecting where Rhode Island is — and that’s not a criticism, that’s an observation.” As one example, he points to how Rhode Islanders firmly expressed their support for abortion rights with a referendum in the ’80s — a position still at odds with many Democrats on Smith Hill.
 
Segal cites a few reasons for the lack of more like-minded legislative peers in his age group.
 
Part of it is cynicism about the broader faults in the political system, he says, and how a lot of young people don’t know what they want to do with their lives. Others gravitate to the kind of activist groups with which he identifies — including Rhode Island Jobs With Justice and Direct Action for Rights & Equality — rather than seeking elective office.
 
Of course, Segal is not unaware of the happy accident of his own political rise and how different it is from the typical story of legislators who serve until they are in their mid-60s, only to be succeeded by someone in their 40s.
 
His legislative colleagues, like Speaker Murphy, believe that Segal has a bright future in the General Assembly.
 
Yet he shows some signs of changing his approach, considering graduate school and mulling money-making opportunities with the Providence Daily Dose blog and possible grant-funded work with his envisioned regional tax compact.
 
For an uncommon political character like David Segal — who talks of how he has tried hard not to develop deeper political ambitions — it’s no surprise to hear that he intends to remain a Rhode Island-based activist, although not necessarily one operating from an elected office.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@phx.com. Read his politics + media blog at www.thephoenix.com/notfornothing.

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