Salvatore “Sal” Caiozzo may not have a simple task ahead of him in his attempt to unseat Jim Langevin from Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District (a seat he has held since 2000), but he knows exactly why he is taking that challenge head-on.
“I have a lot of respect for him [Langevin],” Caiozzo said. “But we need somebody who’s going to fight back for the people of Rhode Island…You have to be there for the community and the people that need you, and that’s me.”
Caiozzo is running on the platform of a political outsider – someone who is running to be a civil servant, not just another politician.
“I’m not doing this for myself, I’m doing it for my country,” he said. “I love my country and I love my state.”
Caiozzo, born in Taunton, Mass. and now a resident of West Greenwich, enlisted in the Army in 1982 and was sent to Fort McClellan for military police training. He was eventually medically discharged after collapsing due to what he described as “some kind of fibrous mass.”
He now suffers from a slew of health complications, and recently had his thyroid removed to prevent the growth of cancerous cells in 2014. He traces his health problems back to toxic conditions he endured at McClellan.
Residents of Anniston Ala., the town that was also the site of McClellan, were awarded a $700 million settlement back in the early 2000s when it was revealed agrochemical giant Monsanto had been knowingly dumping toxic chemicals, including mercury, into the local creeks for over 40 years. However the soldiers who were stationed and similarly exposed to these contaminants were not included in that settlement.
As a result, one of the most important elements of Caiozzo’s platform is advocating for better healthcare for veterans. He said that the current Veterans Affairs (VA) system is dysfunctional, and that veterans should have better choices available to them for care.
Caiozzo also started a nonprofit organization and an advocacy site, PoisonedVeterans.org, on behalf of soldiers who were stationed at McClellan and are experiencing similar health complications as him, in order to bring more attention to the issue and show how the VA is not providing adequate services to soldiers who were poisoned without their knowledge.
Although Caiozzo will be running as a moderate Republican, and will announce his bid for Congress today at 6 p.m. at the American Legion Post on West Shore Road in Warwick, he refuses to regurgitate established political lines of the modern Republican Party. In fact, he is of the mindset that partisan politics is causing many problems for all Americans, and that career politicians stunt the growth of the real people who make a state run and function.
“I don’t really believe in the parties,” he said, adding that he is a firm believer in term limits for legislators. “Breaking party ties to serve the people, that’s what I truly believe in.”
Caiozzo said that he believes in lessening the grip of government control over individuals and businesses and allowing for the kind of sovereignty that was a pillar of the founding of the United States.
“America is supposed to be a system of free enterprise, and it’s not there anymore,” he said. “You have all sorts of regulations to stop you. Safety regulations are, of course, understandable, but [licensing and fees] to conduct businesses gets ridiculous. It basically stops people dead in their tracks.”
Specific to Rhode Island, Caiozzo believes that commercial fishermen are getting a raw deal due to outdated conservation laws that limit the number of fish that can be hauled ashore.
“Conservancy has worked but now it needs to be alleviated a little bit, let these people make some money,” he said, adding that he had personally sailed with fishing crews to hear our their concerns. “I’ve seen them throw dead fish overboard because they can’t take them in. It’s ludicrous.”
Caiozzo said he was proud to have helped in the campaign to make free bus passes accessible once again to Rhode Islanders with disabilities through the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. He also hopes to put homeless and impoverished individuals to work restoring abandoned or rundown properties, creating more low-income housing opportunities at the same time.
Caiozzo ran last election cycle as an independent, and hopes to be able to deliver on promises made back then, and improve what he feels to be an under performing state of Rhode Island.
“We’re the smallest state of them all, we should be an example for the rest of the country,” he said. “We should be a model, we really should. Unfortunately it’s not being done the right way.”
In terms of the long odds of an outsider Republican unseating an established Democrat in a state dominated by Democrats, Caiozzo said that he has lived by an optimistic mantra his whole life, from being a young child to immigrant parents to the present day.
“It only takes one candle to light up the darkness,” he said. “All you have to do is put yourself out there, tell people about something and let it go from there. I bet a bunch of other candles will light up from it.”