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Scibak won’t seek reelection in 2018

  • State Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, speaks to a group of about 70 constituents Sunday evening. Scibak announced at the dinner that he would not seek reelection in 2018, retiring after 16 years in the Statehouse. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH ROBERTSON

  • Constituents gathered at Johnny’s Tap Room in South Hadley, where state Rep. John Scibak announced Sunday that he would not seek reelection in 2018, instead retiring after 16 years at the Statehouse. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH ROBERTSON



Staff Writer
Monday, February 12, 2018

SOUTH HADLEY — State Rep. John Scibak announced he would not run for reelection at a constituents dinner Sunday night.

The South Hadley Democrat will retire after 16 years in the Statehouse.

“We had a chance to make history, and I hope that I’ve made a difference,” Scibak told the roughly 70 attendees at Johnny’s Tap Room in South Hadley. “Our efforts in support of equal marriage, access to health care for everyone set the stage for the rest of the country, and that’s something nobody can take away.”

After nearly 30 years in politics, Scibak, 64, said he plans to retire, sell his home in South Hadley and move to Florida, where he and his wife, Pat, have another home. But organizing Democrats in Sarasota isn’t entirely out of the question, he said.

“I’ve spent over a third of my life doing this stuff,” Scibak said. “It’s a lot of missed dinners with my family and weekend commitments.”

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan introduced Scibak before the announcement.

“I think what he did was he made government real for people,” Sullivan said. “That wasn’t some distant state representative in Boston.”

Scibak said he did the math, and drove more than 275,000 miles to and from Boston for his job, adding that he certainly won’t miss the commute.

The announcement came as a surprise, even to Bob Judge, Scibak’s former legislative aide of 10 years.

“I saw how hard he works,” Judge said. “The most important thing is helping citizens connect to their state governments, and he did that.”

Scibak included in his proudest accomplishments mandating health insurance providers in the state cover hearing aids for children, providing better dental coverage for underserved populations and a comprehensive program to prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“He’s been an exemplary public servant,” said state Sen. Stan Rosenberg. “He understands the specific challenges in serving western Mass., and does a good job carrying constituents’ messages to the Statehouse.”

Rosenberg said whoever represents the region next needs to continue Scibak’s commitment to underserved populations, education, economic development and government transparency.

“He’s the reason I got into local politics,” said Leonard Finkowski, the vice president of the South Hadley Democratic Committee.

Above all, Scibak’s colleagues and constituents say they will remember his commitment to accessibility in politics, education and health care.

“John is hearing-impaired and I am too,” said Mary Olberding, the register of deeds for Hampshire County. “To have another person in an elected position who understands and supports people with disabilities is helpful.”

Scibak said that he is making his announcement now to give prospective candidates time to consider running, gather signatures and reach out to voters. Getting on the ballot might be easier than running a write-in campaign, as Scibak did for his 2002 campaign.

“They need to be advocating strongly to educate the other members of the legislature what the differences are in our area and what makes western Massachusetts unique,” Scibak said of whomever seeks to fill his position.

Primary elections for state representatives in Massachusetts will be held on Sept. 4, with the general election on Nov. 6. Candidates have until June 5 to submit their petitions, and all 160 House seats will be up for reelection this year.

“I’m looking forward to a healthy race,” said Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle. “As my race showed, we have a lot of activity in the Valley and I think they will take a good, hard look at this race.”

Former state Rep. Ellen Story, who gave up her seat last year after 25 years serving in the Statehouse, said she hopes Scibak’s successor will remain committed to representing western Massachusetts, which makes up 11 percent of the state’s population. She would also like to see more women run for state office.

“These men are wonderful legislators and they’ve done a phenomenal job,” Story said. “But where are the women?”

In February 2017, Scibak was chosen to serve as chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education and also serves as co-chair of the Oral Health Caucus. He formerly served as chairman of the joint committees handling public service, consumer protection, and workforce development.

“John has been an absolute rock,” said Karen Walsh Pio, director of the South Hadley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition. “He has been such a friend to us in the prevention community and I’m hopeful whoever comes in after him has the same level of understanding.”

With another year left in office, Scibak says he plans to do as much as he can before leaving. In his speech, he said his first priority remains passing legislation that would require insurance companies to cover craniofacial disorders.

“I’m going to finish as strong as I can and represent you until the last day I’m here,” Scibak said.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.