CRANSTON – Bob Lancia, a Republican and Cranston native, is running for election to Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District – a seat held by longtime Democratic incumbent Jim Langevin. When asked what separates Lancia from his opponent, the former state representative, U.S. Navy Chaplain and teacher spoke of fiscal responsibility.
“The federal government is a mess and it’s completely out of control financially, the same as the State of Rhode Island,” said Lancia. “There’s been no fiscal sanity. My time in the statehouse was focused on finances, finances, finances. And if I go to Washington, and I suspect I will, my focus will be the same.”
“We’re now $26 trillion in the hole,” he continued. “And neither Democrat nor Republican – except for a very few – are interested in getting our fiscal house in order.”
Long before turning to politics, Lancia, at 32, attended seminary and simultaneously joined the U.S. Navy Chaplaincy Corps, where he received on-the-job training each summer in locations such as San Diego, the Great Lakes, Georgia, Florida, Virginia and finally, Newport, Rhode Island.
“I loved it so much, that at 40 years old, I called Washington and said I’d like to come on active duty as a Navy chaplain,” he said. “They said there was a ship leaving for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and if you can be on it by Memorial Day, you’re in. I reported and off we went.”
For the next six months, Lancia was deployed aboard the USS Normandy in the Adriatic Sea, with the ship and its service members tasked with controlling air traffic in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While serving there, Lancia, whose duties as a Navy chaplain included providing spiritual guidance, counseling and morale for the active duty military men and women stationed on USS Normandy, quickly discovered there was more to his responsibilities than the surface-level expectations for a man of faith aboard a military vessel.
“A lot of people think chaplains only do religious service, but it’s much more than that,” said Lancia. “Aboard my first ship, my captain said to me ‘chaplain, I know you have to do your religious stuff, but you’re also the assistant morale officer and you’re also the assistant tours officer.’”
Faced with a long period in which the ship would remain largely at sea without going into port, Lancia quickly developed the idea to entirely write and produce a Saturday-night sketch comedy show for the service members. Dubbed “Normandy Night Live,” the show was a smash hit among its audience.
“At the beginning of each show, I took a pie in the face,” Lancia laughs. “It became the most popular thing on the ship and it got people coming to my services.”
After his service aboard the USS Normandy, Lancia was off to the Caribbean, this time stationed with a ship and crew tasked with preventing at-sea drug transportation in the area. From there, he attended Newport’s Chapel of Hope for three years and eventually went on to become the first U.S. exchange Naval Chaplain for the Canadian Military. His first assignment was helping clean up the aftermath of doomed Swissair Flight 111, an international passenger flight that was traveling from New York City to Geneva, Switzerland on Sept. 2, 1998, and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia, killing all 229 passengers and crew aboard.
“Upon arrival they sent me, the American, out,” Lancia recalls. “There had been a crash off Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Swiss Air Flight 111. I opened body bags for two weeks. Disney toys floating on the water. Men, hands, torsos, heads, children.”
Despite insistence from military officers that he did not have to participate in the clean-up process, Lancia stated he stayed on and helped in order to understand what his fellow service members were going through, in order to be more effective should his services be required.
It was perhaps largely this experience that would go on to inform his doctoral thesis, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Spirituality,” which he completed in December of 2000 after an invitation to Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA. He graduated a short-time later, and proceeded to be stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, home to 20,000 Marines, as the base’s head chaplain. There, he assisted military personnel with matters such as family issues, marriage, divorce, etc.
According to Lancia, his service and responsibilities throughout his military tenure did not merely apply to U.S. servicemen and women of faith.
“The charge of a Navy chaplain – number one, you’re broadened for the service to care for your own. Number two, you’re to facilitate for other faith groups – Muslims, Jews, Catholics. But the third and final charge is to care for all, whether they had a religious faith or not. I had so many service members who would come to me and say that they were not religious. I told them that was okay, my duty was to help them.”
“The thing with the Navy was, unlike when you’re a civilian, they had all the infrastructure and the services,” Lancia added, “so you had your social workers, you had your public welfare, you had all those things in place. Not so easy in the civilian sector.”
Shortly into his new post at Camp Lejeune, the World Trade Towers were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S. military was preparing for war. Lancia was ready to be deployed again, but a freak accident shattered his right shoulder, requiring a replacement surgery. The injury proved too much for Lancia to continue his service, and he retired from the military in 2004.
Upon returning home to Rhode Island, Lancia, who also holds a Master’s of Education, did some teaching and ministering before opting to run for public office. Eventually, he ran for state representative in District 16 (Cranston) and was elected in 2014, then re-elected in 2016 before being narrowly defeated by Democratic challenger Christopher Millea in 2018. His first term in the statehouse saw the new lawmaker fighting to recover over $8 million in fraudulent E-911 charges assessed by the State of Rhode Island. The state had been overcharging Rhode Islanders on their monthly land line and cell phone bills for E-911 services and diverting the surplus into the state’s general fund.
“They were putting it into the black hole called the general fund,” said Lancia. “Not a dime of it was going to 9-1-1.”
Also during his time as a lawmaker, Lancia proposed no fees at state beaches and the implementation of full, supervised and all-day programming for a homeless shelter in Cranston, whose clientele included many third-degree sex offenders. The shelter had a standing rule that these individuals would not be allowed within the facility during the day, and Lancia, noting that an elementary, middle and high school were nearby, argued for the inclusion of programming that would provide these individuals a place to go where they would not potentially disturb the nearby schools.
But his biggest fight, he said, came in his advocacy for an inspector general for the State of Rhode Island by eliminating the Lieutenant Governor’s position and devoting those resources instead to a new inspector general tasked with uncovering fraud and wasteful spending at the state level.
“I fought like hell for an inspector general,” said Lancia. “They said we didn’t need an inspector general, because we already had an auditor general. With all due respect, it’s not the same thing.”
“I worked very closely with Democrats, progressive Democrats, because that’s how you get things done,” he added.
Though Rhode Island still does not have such a position, the topic was a major point in Cranston Mayor Allan Fung’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
If elected, Lancia, who also serves as vice chair of the Rhode Island Libertarian Republican Party, said he would bring his fierce fight for fiscal responsibility to the federal level.
“Rhode Island’s budget last year was $10 billion,” he said. “Rhode Island has 900,000-plus people. Maine has 1.3 million people and their budget was only $7.1 billion.”
“My hero at the federal level is Rand Paul – he’s a Libertarian Republican,” Lancia continued. “I’m kind of a Rand Paul guy. He focuses on finances, finances, finances.”
When asked what his criticism of the current leadership of the 2nd Rhode Island Congressional District was, Lancia again came back to matters of money, specifically, he said, Langevin’s failure to pressure Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s disbursement of $900 million in federal funds to assist small businesses through the pandemic. Raimondo has stated she wishes to use the monies to fill holes in the state’s budget.
“I’m sorry Mr. Langevin, but if you’re fighting so hard for small businesses, how are you allowing the governor to hold onto nearly $1 billion that was given by the president to Rhode Island for small businesses, first responders and our schools? Sorry, it rings totally hollow.”
Lancia insists that he stands out from other Republicans in his libertarianism and attention to communities of color. The U.S. Congressional candidate has established numerous midnight basketball leagues, and recently founded a basketball clinic, “Ballin’ With Bob,” that attempts to reach out to children and young adults in Providence and Central Falls.
“My wife and I are the only two Republicans that are in the ethnic communities,” he said. “I’m not your typical Republican. The clinics and the leagues aren’t about basketball. This is a conduit providing an avenue to reach out to kids to stay safe from drugs, alcohol and gun violence.”
“I don’t have the answers,” Lancia continued, retelling a story of when he was asked how he would solve the problem of gun violence and drugs in communities of color at one such event. “You have the answers. It’s my job to meet you, work with you, talk to you and find out what your issues are, both kids and adults, and then bring the federal resources in to address them.”
When asked how he would help businesses, both small and international, stay afloat in Rhode Island through the pandemic, he said, “Going forward, I’m certainly in favor of more aid, but when we’re running things so poorly as this state is and other states are, blue states, it seems like a lot of these blue states are running their governments pretty poorly and they’re looking to the federal government for a bailout.”
“Get your fiscal house in order, and then I think it’s totally appropriate to begin to partner up and do things and help people, but people are stressed with overregulation as it is – license fees, high taxes, people are just overburdened.”
When asked his thoughts on the 2nd Amendment, Lancia said, “I am a Second Amendment guy. But I am also a chaplain and have never shot a gun in my life.”
“If there’s anything that has kind of changed the conversation for me, it’s what’s gone on since the pandemic – the rioting, the looting, people being killed, policemen being assassinated. As far as I’m concerned, all bets are kind of off when it comes to people and guns, because people have to protect themselves. And a lot of these cities and governors have not stepped up to protect people, their businesses and their homes. What are people to do?”
When asked if he was pro-life or pro-choice, he said, “I have been asked many times on Roe v. Wade and I’ve said I consider that to be settled law, but when we went to this 40-week bill, they lost me.”
“That’s beyond the pale, that’s gone too far and that’s the problem when you start incrementally [increasing the length of a pregnancy during which an abortion is legal].”
When asked how he would help people stay safe, comfortable and healthy through the pandemic, Lancia said, “I think one thing we’ve learned is the importance of taking care of oneself with things like masks, social distancing, gloves, hand sanitizer. That’s the first thing, a definite.”
“The second thing is our minority communities have been most adversely affected by [the pandemic]. So I would want to make sure that we have extra services in those communities, specifically the communities of color, to make sure that we have proper medical facilities and personnel to treat them.”
When asked if he believed systemic racism was prevalent in America and Rhode Island, he said, “I can’t argue with those that would say there is systemic racism. If this is your lived experience, who am I to tell you it’s not, you know? But one needs to be in these communities, working side by side, going to these clinics, talking to people, breaking bread.”
“I taught in the City of Providence as a day-to-day sub in 2015 before being elected. I saw it all – kids from broken homes…I was one of those assistant principals chasing kids through the hall. There’s so many layers to racism and there has to be an understanding and a participation in combating it.”
On term limits for U.S. Congressmen and women, Lancia said, “You look at the leadership in Washington – Pelosi, Schumer, even on the Republican side – we have people go into office who are regular people like you and me, but for some reason they leave millionaires. There’s something wrong about that. They make unholy alliances with people.”
Lancia’s top three priorities, if elected, would be instituting term limits at the federal level, rightening the finances of problematic school districts within the state and general finances.
Langevin has served the people of Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District since first being elected to the position in 2000.