Ready to get to work: Five new Valley legislators sworn into office

  • Newly-elected Mass. State Senators Becca Rausch, left, and Diana DiZoglio take the oath of office in the Senate Chamber at the Massachusetts Statehouse, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, in Boston, where 40 senators were sworn in to new two-year terms on Beacon Hill. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • Newly elected state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, middle, takes the oath of office in the Senate Chamber at the Statehouse, Wednesday, in Boston, where 40 senators were sworn in to new two-year terms on Beacon Hill. AP PHOTO

  • Newly-elected Mass. State Senator Jo Comerford recites the pledge of allegiance in the Senate Chamber at the Massachusetts Statehouse, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, in Boston, where 40 senators were sworn in to new two-year terms on Beacon Hill. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

Staff writer
Published: 1/2/2019 11:15:07 PM

BOSTON — Five new lawmakers representing Hampshire County were sworn in to the Massachusetts Legislature on Wednesday, bringing with them aspirations for change and bold leadership for the region.

“I am beyond ready to get to work,” said state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

Comerford is now the senator for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District. Her neighbor Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, now represents the 1st Hampshire District in the House of Representatives, while Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, represents the 2nd Hampshire District; Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, the 3rd Hampshire District; and Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, the 1st Franklin District.

“It’s a combination of all the emotions,” Sabadosa said. “I’m definitely glad that today is over and that we are moving forward, and we’re getting to work.”

Other veteran lawmakers sworn into office for another two-year term were state senators Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, and Donald Humason, R-Westfield, and Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, whose districts cover areas of Hampshire County.  

Among those in attendance at the Statehouse ceremony was Northampton City Councilor Dennis Bidwell, who showed up to support Comerford. “It does feel like it’s a really transformative moment,” he said.

“This era is four new women in the Legislature, which is huge,” added Pamela Schwartz, who chaired Comerford’s campaign.

Eighteen guests

The inaugural session of the 191st Massachusetts General Court was filled with pomp and circumstance, although it was only in the Senate that journalists were allowed on the floor.

In attendance were U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who recently announced that she is exploring a run for the presidency, and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey. Both received standing ovations.

Seeing Comerford sworn in were 18 guests, a number equal to the the maximum number of tickets she could give out.

“I could have had so many more people,” Comerford said.

Among Comerford’s invitees were her wife, their two children and her sister and father, as well as supporters who worked on her campaign. Her guests filled up a noticeable chunk of the Senate’s viewing gallery.

Asked why she came out on a weekday, Schwartz said, “The short answer is how could we not? There was nothing that was going to keep us away.”

Comerford was selected as part of the committee that ceremonially invites the governor to join the Senate in its chambers, an honor she was not expecting.

“I caught the Senate president’s eye,” Comerford said of Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “She’s been incredibly generous to me.”

Comerford assumes the seat most recently filled by former senator Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, a former Senate president who resigned following a finding by the Senate Ethics Committee that he did not do enough to protect the body from the actions of his husband, Bryon Hefner. Hefner is currently facing criminal charges, including sexual assault.

While the Senate’s current president, Spilka, is not from western Massachusetts, both Comerford and Hinds expressed enthusiasm for her leadership.

“We’re forming a good partnership,” Comerford said.

She also noted that Spilka visited the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District and talked about regional equity at every stop.

Hinds observed that Spilka campaigned for the Senate presidency on a platform of regional equity.

“She’s been very clear about that,” Hinds said. “She’s very well-versed in the issues that we care about.”

In terms of legislation that Comerford is eager to tackle, she prioritizes fully funding public education.

“What we’ve seen is a great and growing people’s movement,” said Comerford. “That’s what it’s going to take.”

Comerford also noted that Spilka, in her speech before the inaugural session, committed to fully funding public education.

Special seats

Long before Dan Carey stepped foot into the State House, his grandfather, William Carey, represented the 2nd Hampshire District, from 1974 to 1986. On Wednesday, Dan Carey got to sit in one of the seats that his late grandfather once occupied, something that he requested.

“It really is an absolute honor,” Carey said, adding that he’s excited to work with his newly minted fellow legislators.

“We’ve lost some institutional knowledge, but we’re bringing a lot of new fresh energy and fresh ideas,” he said.

In terms of his priorities, Carey cited tackling both the education funding formula and the opioid epidemic, particularly recovery treatment.

Carey wasn’t the only incoming member who found special seating. Blais was given seat 53, which was held by her predecessor, Stephen Kulik, and before him, representatives Jonathan Healey and Winston Healey.

“It was really emotional for me,” said Blais. “They were all extraordinary representatives for this district.”

Blais also found a note that Kulik had left for her in his old desk, which was discovered by one of her sons.

“Steve was so thoughtful,” she said.

Day one

Sabadosa succeeds the late state Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, who died in February. Kocot had a strong relationship with House leadership, and when asked about how the new delegation would work with leadership and make itself heard, Sabadosa said that it is really about coalitions. She is excited to partner with some veteran legislators, she added.

“Nobody has been dismissive as of yet,” said Sabadosa. “Of course, this is day one.”

Blais said that a meeting with House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, was among her first after winning the Democratic primary.

DeLeo’s first question to Blais at that meeting: “What did you hear on the campaign trail?”

Blais said that she and the speaker ended up talking about issues including broadband, infrastructure, health care, climate change and funding for public education.

“It wasn’t about him,” said Blais, saying that he made the conversation about the constituents. “That spoke volumes for me.”

Comerford and Sabadosa serve as Senate and House of Representative co-chairs, respectively, of the newly formed Medicare for All Caucus, with Sabadosa also taking on the role of lead sponsor of the single-payer health care legislation in the House.

“We have to go and take bold measures toward single-payer,” Comerford said separately.

“It’s gaining steam,” said Hinds. “I hope that we can create a large coalition.”

Sabadosa said that she’s already begun lobbying people to join the caucus, and that there’s more lobbying to come.

Blais also campaigned on supporting single-payer, and she said that she would be joining the caucus co-chaired by Sabadosa: “I stand willing to support her.”

Blais added that her top issue will be to ensure that all of the communities in her district get broadband internet.

“That has to get done,” she said.

Sabadosa said that she’s going to be filing around 10 different piece of legislation. In addition to the Medicare for All bill, Sabadosa plans to file legislation on workers’ rights, abortion access and changing the state’s seal and flag. She inherited the flag legislation from Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston.

“It’s a really exciting array of things that kind of go all over the place,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.This story was updated at Thursday at 9:20 a.m. 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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