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Doing What’s Right and Getting it Done: Senator Raptakis Applies a Common Sense Approach to Government
Rhode Island State Senator Lou (Leonidas) Raptakis has a motto Lou of “no one’s voice but ours”, earning him popularity as an outspoken advocate for being a man of his word when it comes to effective government. A resident of Coventry, Rhode Island, he’s never been afraid to stand up for what’s right and get things done in the communities he serves. In 1996 he became the first Greek-American State Representative to be elected in Rhode Island, defeating a six-term incumbent by a 2-1 margin. Prior to that, he served two terms in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, where he brought forth into law several key elements of legislation. In his tenure as Rhode Island State Senator, which started in 2002, followed by a run for Rhode Island Secretary of State, which he lost in the primary election in 2010, he continued to remain active in state politics, spearheading a successful initiative to help restaurants in a struggling economy be spared an unfavorable meal tax that would hurt businesses. In 2012, he earned a great victory in the Democratic Party and general election, with 62% of the vote to get him back into the State Senate in 2014, and again in 2016.
Having a reputation as a no-nonsense senator, he has been tough on crime. Among his accomplishments were the creation of a crime bill that increased the time served for murderers before they could be eligible for parole, the first anti-car jacking law that would impose mandatory prison sentences, and a bill that would ensure no child was left alone in a car. He also pushed for tougher state drunk-driving laws, which would hone in on repeat offenders, fought for government reforms on business regulations, and introduced Rhode Island’s “Patients’ Bill of Rights”. He is a strong advocate for freedom of choice to reduce prescription costs and for Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Elderly (RIPAE) that would increase Medicare reimbursement for seniors who are on HMO plans. His work to advocate for economic security prompted him to promote a Minimum Wage Bill that would allow for steady increases each year and gave businesses more planning time for gradual increases. His support of the “phase-out auto tax plan” was an effort to put money back into taxpayer pockets.
Apart from his commitment to the constituency he serves in his home state, Senator Raptakis continuously strives to be the voice of the Hellenic-American community. As a Greek-American, and the son of Greek immigrants from the island of Andros, he has been a strong advocate and supporter of Greece and Cyprus. In December 1998, along with other elected officials, he formed the “Hellenic American Coalition of New England” to be a united voice for congress on issues that affect Greece and Cyprus. A long-standing member of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association, Senator Raptakis is involved in a number of causes that affect and benefit Hellenic-Americans and Hellenes worldwide. He actively supported an agreement signed between the State University of New York and the National Marine Merchant Academy of Hydra that would promote student exchange between both institutions and the planning of a NY Memorial that honors Greek sailors for their contributions to the victory of WWII.
He continues to be a strong proponent for economic growth in Greece and opportunity for Greek citizens. He also played a pivotal role in helping Greeks with Greek citizenship living abroad vote in the Greek elections. In his dedication to Hellenism, he continues to be a strong proponent for economic growth in Greece and increased opportunity for Greek citizens. Most importantly, and opportunely at this time, he has been proactively involved in creating dialogue between the United States and Greece to enforce stronger sanctions on Turkey’s current regime for acts of continuous aggression and provocation toward Greece. While understanding the US and Greece’s history of opening its doors to immigrants and refugees, he also understands that regulations must be put in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all citizens. As tensions escalate with the refugee crisis and Turkey’s violation of its agreement with the EU to control illegal immigration, his voice and that of other elected officials is needed now more than ever. In NEO’s interview with him, Senator Raptakis shares his thoughts in his own words:
What made you decide to go into politics? Is that something you always wanted to do?
As a small business owner, I felt it was important to have someone representing our community and being a voice in the State House who understood the challenges of meeting a payroll and trying to deal with the complex web of local, state and federal taxes and regulations that businesses have to deal with. I just thought someone had to help bring that perspective to the legislature, and waiting for someone else to do it didn’t seem like a good option.
What are some of the issues affecting your state that you would like to see effectively change?
Over the years, I’ve tried to be a voice for good government, to fight for public access to information and to battle the perception that Rhode Island is a place where “you’ve gotta know a guy” to get things done. Government should be open and accessible to the people it serves—they shouldn’t feel isolated or feel like roadblocks are in their way to be heard.
You have a very strong stance on Turkey and imposing tougher sanctions. What does the issue with Turkey mean to you, firstly as an American, and secondly as a Greek-American?
As a Greek-American elected official, I’ve always felt it was important to be a voice n these issues. Because of where I came from, I had an understanding of what Turkey did in regard to Cyprus and how some of the Turkish government’s policies are directly opposed to the United States’ commitment to promote freedom and democracy around the globe. The Turkish government spends a great deal of money trying to influence American opinion, whether through lobbying efforts or efforts to endow academic chairs that promote their viewpoint. How do you counter that? As a Greek-American, I feel an obligation to speak out, to counter those efforts by sharing what I know and speaking up for the Greek community. Greece and America have always had a strong relationship, and we need to work to maintain that and let our voices be heard.
What are your thoughts on the economic crisis in Greece and the current administration?
As Greece begins the process of slowly exiting the economic crisis, which devastated many Greek families across the country, American companies are investing in Greece such as the LNG terminal in Alexandroupolis, Onex on the island of Syros and Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment at Hellenikon. The current Administration and the Hellenic Parliament have work together to continue and encourage foreign investment in Greece while reducing years of bureaucratic impediments.
Where do you see the US five years from now? Are we headed towards a decline economically or a resurgence of economic strength that will benefit both the US and its power in a global economy?
I think we’re seeing a global attempt by Russia to promote chaos and undermine America as a means of strengthening their own position. Supporting various nationalist movements has been an effective power play for Vladimir Putin, undermining the strength of Western governments, disrupting the NATO alliance and essentially telling the world that democracy is not an effective way to govern. The United States needs to aggressively counter that by defending the integrity of our election and not falling into the trap of engaging in isolationism and withdrawing from our role as an honest broker when it comes to promoting democracy.
What are your long-term plans? Any chance you’ll make a run at it for Congress or the US Senate?
Because the State of Rhode Island has two US Senate seats and only two congressional seats with the possibility of losing one of those seats, because of the census and population shifts in the United States, it would become highly competitive to become successful in representing RI in congress. Currently I am honored, and being successful on working with my Federal colleagues in government on issues of concern between Cyprus, Greece and the United States.