New lawmakers attend boot camp at UMass

  • John Solem—Submitted photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/16/2018 10:17:26 PM

AMHERST — New state legislators won their races, but they’re still gearing up to start their jobs before they are sworn in next month. Freshman lawmakers from around the state attended an educational boot camp last week, the Academy for New Legislators.

From Wednesday through Friday, the Academy for New Legislators was held at the University of Massachusetts. The program started in 1994 and is held after state elections with the goal of educating and preparing newly elected and mid-term state legislators. Almost 350 state senators and representatives have attended the academy since its inception, according to a UMass spokesperson Jeff Cournoyer.

This year, legislators participated in simulations of sessions and committee hearings and learned about ethics and the budgeting process from panelists including state Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, Rep. Christopher Markey, D-Dartmouth, and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport.

Rookie western Massachusetts legislators said the program was worthwhile preparation and emphasized the opportunity to connect with other lawmakers around the state — both veterans and freshmen alike.

“By far the biggest thrill,” Sen.-elect Jo Comerford said, “was getting to meet new members of the legislature and returning members.” Other legislators agreed.

“Besides those in western Massachusetts, most of the people I hadn’t met before,” Rep.-elect Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, said. “It’ll be nice to step in January 2, and see some similar faces,” he added.

In meeting with lawmakers, Carey said he heard about issues facing districts across the state and he found overlap on concerns about public education and transportation, for example. “Those are also big issues for other folks,” he said.

Connecting with her colleagues was also valuable for incoming Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “The best part was networking with the new class,” she said, though she noted the freshman class had already connected digitally through text chains and even a Facebook page. She talked to other legislators about supporting Medicare for all in the House, and said there was also a lot of discussion about climate change. “That’s an issue that everyone is concerned about,” she said.

Another highlight for Sabadosa was meeting with students. A group of UMass students requested to meet with new legislators from across the state during a break in the academy to discuss concerns over tuition increases and student debt, Sabadosa said. “I thought it was a beautiful moment of the power of organizing colliding with the New Legislators Academy,” she said.

Sabadosa noted that she would have liked to see a session on how to file a bill.

Comerford found a mock Senate day useful. “I’ve been to hearings, I’ve gone to the legislature at the federal and state level. I know how these things operate. It’s different knowing how they operate and it’s another thing to envision myself as a senator. That was really quite fun.”

The program also included a question-and-answer session with experienced legislators about what to expect as a freshman. Lawmakers covered how to take constituent requests and how to design their schedules, and even the nuts and bolts of setting up an office in the building, Comerford said.

One of the best tips Carey got was a message from veteran legislators about collaboration: “The main theme I kept hearing was, once we’re elected, we’re all equal in there.”

“Folks are willing to help us out if we have questions … people have an open door policy,” he said.

Similarly, Rep.-elect Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, said some useful tips she heard were to ask questions, and an important reminder: “that everyone is there to fight for their district (even when we may come at it from different perspectives),” she said in an email.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com




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