Local Politicians speak on engaging in politics

April 12, 2019

Local politicians, including Waltham’s mayor, two state representatives and one state senator, spoke on engaging in politics—and their experience in passing legislation to make it easier for victims of sexual abuse to come forward.

State Representative John Lawn spoke about his experience working to pass legislation that expanded the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes, and allowed victims of child sexual abuse to come forward for more years after the abuse occurred.

“We were able finally to get this legislation passed and we were able to extend the civil side of the statute of limitations for another 35 years from the age of 21,” Lawn said. Lawn described the law as giving people “a voice they felt they never had had before.”

Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy chimed in, calling the law “a herculean effort,” as it involved working with multiple interest groups including lawyers, religious groups and others.

“You don’t do that in a generation,” she said.

Lawn got involved because a constituent reached out to him personally, he said. “It was an example of a constituent who reached out who made an appointment to just meet for coffee.” He continued, “And from there, through the help of the whole delegation in raising awareness in working with a lot of the advocate groups that were involved in this issue, we were able to get something done.”

State Representative Tom Stanley also spoke about hearing from constituents—one in particular. Stanley spoke about meeting the father of a transgender son who committed suicide. Stanley said he knew it would be a “lightning rod issue,” but felt compelled to help improve transgender rights after hearing that story.

State Senator Michael Barett said he didn’t need to hear a personal story to feel compelled to act, saying “what I need to know is that the issue is important to you,” and urged listeners to contact their state representatives on key issues.  

State Senator Michael Barrett emphasized that he encourages his constituents to call their representatives to learn how to get involved. “If you care about something passionately it is possible to believe you can engage here in Massachusetts.”

Lawn said that one of the most effective ways to get in touch is to meet a representative for coffee. “We will come meet with you,” he said.

Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy spoke about how, with growing access to communication through social media it can be easier to contact your representatives, but she prefers face to face conversations.

Stanley spoke about the dangers of social media, saying he experienced personal attacks from individuals, including death threats. “It’s easy to say what you want when you’re not doing it face to face.”

All politicians expressed that they expected to be approached about issues, recounting anecdotes of being approached in the grocery store, or when they were mowing the lawn. All strive to listen to their constituents, and Barrett encouraged constituents to visit their local representatives in person in the middle of the week (Tuesday through Thursday), as those days tend to be less busy.

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