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Rep. Sheila Harrington, Candidate for Re-Election to 1st Middlesex House Seat Answers Groton Herald Questions

Rep. Sheila Harrington, Incumbent

1. What do you see are the biggest needs in the district right now? What are your legislative priorities?
     If I were to speak to the needs of this District as a whole, I would say the District’s needs largely mirror the needs of every other District in the Commonwealth. Money is presently a big issue for every District in the Commonwealth, including ours. The need for financial assistance to the cities and towns has never been more crucial, or urgent, than it is now, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The need for additional financial resources and additional expenditures for our communities and our school districts has never been greater.
     Covid-19 struck an enormous financial blow to the Commonwealth. Massachusetts had been previously recognized for the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. In July, Massachusetts was touted as having the highest rate of unemployment in the nation. There are predictions that the Massachusetts unemployment insurance trust fund deficit will grow to more than $2.4 billion by the end of the year. This could bring about a nearly 60 percent increase in the contributions that employers will need to pay to keep unemployment benefits payable to those who have lost their jobs. With the unemployment trust fund projected to experience a multibillion- dollar deficit over the next four years, the Massachusetts businesses are set to increase their contributions by nearly 60 percent next year alone. I believe one of my legislative priorities must be to get people working again. The Commonwealth cannot sustain this level of unemployment. Small businesses, especially, cannot shoulder this burden of these increased payroll taxes. Some businesses may close their doors, rather than shouldering that burden, and this will only exacerbate the financial crisis caused by unemployment. I will work hard to bring jobs into the area, as I have done for the last eight years, through the Nashoba Valley Job Fair. I will also work during the budget debate to try to insulate small businesses from catastrophic losses due to increased taxation. Other legislative priorities include establishing appropriate procedures and protocols for our school age children, re-evaluating high stakes testing in our schools, continuing the momentum on bringing clean energy into the Commonwealth and assuring that all citizens in the Commonwealth enjoy the benefit of equal protection under the law.
2. Two years from now, how will you know your term was successful?
     I measure success in increments. Sometimes I may feel successful for bringing money to our towns, such as the funding for a generator at the Groton Center. Sometimes I may feel successful knowing I helped an organization in the District, by cutting through “red tape” in the Commonwealth, to help complete a project like the Squannacook River Rail Trail. I feel successful when I see a project, that I have worked on for a long time, finally come to fruition, such as the Ayer Commuter Parking facility. I feel success at the end of a term when I have been involved in important pieces of legislation, such as the Criminal Justice Reform Bill comes from working with individuals in the District on issues or problems that personally affect them. Constituent work is probably the most important part of my job. For that reason, I have availed myself to my constituents with office hours at my office on Rte. 119 in Groton, whenever it is convenient for the constituent to meet. Under the new normal, these office consults have become “zoom meetings,” but the open-door policy has remained in place. I enjoy working with constituents to obtain smaller “victories,” whether they may be with the RMV, Unemployment, DOR or any other State agency. If I feel that my constituents have received satisfactory answers or resolution of their issues, or that I have given everything I can to help them, I will deem the term successful.
3. How are you different from your opponent?
     Although I am sure that we may share commonalities, I believe our paths, or our backgrounds, and our perspectives are very different.
     I believe my background, both academic and professional, has led me to the position of State Representative. I have been practicing law, and advocating for others, in this community for about 30 years now. I have an academic background in social work and law. My opponent has a background in business and social communication. I am a trained mediator and I serve as a conciliator for the Middlesex Bar Association, to save Middlesex County litigants the high costs of resolving issues through trial.
     Before becoming a legislator, I served in several leadership positions. I served as a Trustee for the Nashoba Valley Hospital, and as a Board member for the “Wish Project.” I served as a founding Board member for the Village Theater Project. I served as the PTA president at Country Day School. I was a Member of the Groton Historic District Commission and the Groton Country Club and Recreation Authority.
     My opponent obviously has a very different academic and professional background. She has worked more in the business world. She has not represented others in a position of advocacy, in either her academic or professional life. Although she may seek to advocate for others, and create meaningful laws for the Commonwealth through legislation, it is neither reflected in her professional nor academic background.
     I believe we not only differ in our backgrounds, both professional and academic, but we differ in our perspectives on several issues facing the Commonwealth and this District. Thus, I would say that our backgrounds make us very different candidates to serve the public as State Representative.
     Secondly, I believe we may have very different fiscal approaches. I have gained a great deal of experience working in the position of State Representative over the last several years. I realize that, although we would love to fund everything people in the Commonwealth want, that comes at a very steep price. I feel that, especially now, we are going to need to tighten our belts in order to meet the fiscal demands based on necessity, rather than desire. I will work to have a budget that is fair, given the economic climate we are in, and does not unfairly overburden our taxpayers. That being said, I also support the Governor’s position that we must level fund our cities and towns this year, and I will work to maintain that funding.
     Third, although we both agree that racial inequality and racial injustice must be eradicated from our society, we view that relationship with our police very differently. I believe we are at a pivotal time to end systemic racism in this country. However, I recognize that all people serving in law enforcement are not the same and should not be treated as such. I believe that those serving us in law enforcement in this District act in an exemplary fashion most of the time with their community policing practices. I do not believe that the concepts of ending racial injustice, and supporting our police, are mutually exclusive. My opponent has indicated that she supported the Police Reform Bill this past July. I stood with over 60 legislators, in a bipartisan fashion, in the House against the passage of this Bill. I feel that the Bill which passed in the House (now in Conference Committee) treated our police unfairly and put them in greater danger. Although I supported many, if not most, of the reforms set forth in the Bill, I could not vote for it in light or its unfair provisions affecting law enforcement.
4. Is there a need for additional gun control on the state or local level? If so, what would you propose?
     I believe that Massachusetts has enacted legislation over the last ten years to bring about appropriate gun control. We passed the Red Flag Law and we made “bumpstocks” illegal. As a legislative body, I feel we have acted responsibly in these two major pieces of legislation. Our standards are not always consistent with our neighboring States, and I feel that leads to some confusion and difficulty for lawful gun owners. However, that is more of a Federal issue in my view. We have seen the fallout over and over when guns get into the wrong hands. This needs to be addressed at the National level. However, I believe that Massachusetts gun laws are sound and reasoned, and I would not advocate for additional gun control laws at this time. I would, however, advocate for stronger mental health support in our communities and our schools. I believe that, time and time again, we realize that the persons pulling the trigger have suffered from mental health issues or bullying. Revenge is the bigger issue, I believe, and we need to explore that as a Commonwealth and a Nation.
5. Where do you stand on abortion rights?
     I am Pro-Life.
     Since last year, I have voiced my opposition for the “Roe Act,” a Bill which was heard by the Judiciary Committee in June of 2019. I oppose the Bill, not only because I am Pro-Life, but more importantly, I believe it was a very poorly written Bill. I believe that is the major reason why the Bill has not been reported out favorably by the Judiciary Committee. I have heard from some constituents that, “You cannot take away our right to have an abortion.” If the Bill does not pass, the right to have an abortion in Massachusetts will simply remain the same. We are not taking anything away by not passing it. What is misleading about the Roe Act is the essence of the Bill cannot be fully understood without knowing about the existing provisions it seeks to remove. It requires a full understanding of MGL Chapter 112, sections 12L to 12U. Without cross referencing the existing law, there understandably would be confusion as to the full impact of the Roe Act.
     The Roe Act provides that late term abortions, 3rd trimester abortions, can be done up until the moment of delivery, based upon the personal reasons or desires of the mother. The Bill seeks to take out language that these late term abortions could only be done if carrying the baby would cause “grave physical or mental injury” to the mother. It is important to note that, under modern medical practices, 3rd trimester babies, are likely to be viable and able to survive outside of the womb. The Bill removes this language and removes the responsibility to report the reasons for the abortion, to the Department of Public Health. The Bill further removes the language that provides that, if a child is born alive despite the abortion, which is far more likely in the 7th, 8th and 9th months, all lifesaving medical resources available should be afforded to that child. Abortion providers would no longer have to provide this medical care to a living child. Further, the Bill removes requirements in place for the safety of the mother, such as the requirement that third term abortions be done in a hospital setting, due to the increased risk to the mother.
     For the above reasons, and several other reasons, I do not support the Roe Act.
6. Do you support the removal of statues, other public memorials or re-naming of any public buildings or programs? If so, which ones or what kinds?
     This issue presents a difficult dilemma.While we recognize that ugly parts of our history exist, we cannot change the past. I believe that statues, that give glory to people who fought against this country to protect slavery, should not be put in a place of honor any more than the Confederate flag should be flown above public buildings!
     However, I do not condone the destruction on historical artwork. Our history, the good and the bad, have a place in our museums and our history books. Several years ago, when my son was in Middle School, an issue came up with some parents who did not feel the reading of “The Diary of Anne Frank” should be part of the curriculum. As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We can’t just pretend bad things did not happen in the history of this Nation or this world. We need to learn from the past.
     Regardless of the historic figure being memorialized by Statue, I would never condone malicious destruction. Each statue is also someone’s artwork and should not be unlawfully destroyed. As I said, these statues represent part of our Nation’s history, and they should be kept in Museums so that we may learn from them without honoring the historical subject or their actions.
7. How does your background make you qualified to be State Representative for First Middlesex State House District?
     As I stated above, when I outlined the differences between my opponent and me, my opponent and I have very different backgrounds, both academically and professionally. My opponent has an undergraduate degree in business. In college, I obtained a degree in Social Work. I was Pre-Law, but I chose Social Work as a major as I wanted to be able to help the more vulnerable members of our society. After doing a 9-month field practicum in the R.I. DCF, in a child abuse emergency response and assessment unit, my desire to go on to get my law degree was stronger than ever. I realized I would have more of an opportunity to advocate for others as an attorney.
     My opponent’s professional background is more in the field of business. For over thirty years, I have practiced law and advocated for the people I serve. As life has had its twists and turns, such as relocating, having children or serving as State Representative, my ability to practice law has shifted from full time to part time to accommodate. However, the desire to serve others has not waned.
     My knowledge of law has certainly been of enormous value in the law-making process, especially in my role as Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee. Serving as State Representative, and on the Judiciary Committee, has given me an even greater platform from which to advocate, and I am humbled and grateful for this opportunity. My role on the Judiciary Committee has put me in an integral position in some complex, and often highly visible, pieces of legislation. I have worked closely, as Ranking Member, with the House Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Claire Cronin, to get laws passed in a bipartisan fashion. I have gained great experience in this position, affording me the opportunity to serve the Commonwealth and this District more effectively.
     It goes without saying that experience matters. I have experience working with these communities for 30 years. I have experience due to my service in the legislature these past ten years. I have experience as a lawyer and a mediator that lay the necessary groundwork for me to be more effective on Beacon Hill. Coupled with this background and this knowledge, I have the passion and the drive to continue to make a difference for the people I serve. More importantly, I have the compassion needed to work with my constituents during difficult times.
     For all the above reasons and more, I feel that I am highly qualified to continue in this position, and I respectfully ask the voters for their vote on November 3.
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