From HKS to Elected Office: The Hows and Whys of People Who Serve

By: Tom O’Neill 

Last week, in the Massachusetts room of the Harvard Club of Boston, surrounded by the names and faces of great politicians and fellow alum, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” The panel consisted of New Hampshire State Representative Marilinda Garcia (R), Massachusetts State Representative and Chair of the Ways & Means Committee Jeffrey Sanchez (D), Massachusetts State Representative Marjorie Decker (D), New Hampshire State Representative David Hess (R) and myself with moderator Harvard Professor David King.

The conversation began with each panelist describing their path to running for office. I could not help but notice a recurring theme in our journeys: we never intended to run.  Many of us got involved in an attempt to help our local communities through the support of a candidate we believed in or the promotion of an issue we found important. The desire to give back that is so deeply rooted in all of us led to discussion around a need for humanity in politics. On a national level this is a concept that seems to be lost under the current administration and today we have too many individuals seeking office for all the wrong reasons. We need to step out from behind the screens and away from the social media platforms that shield those who currently perpetuate hatred and division. Representative Decker backed this idea claiming, “right now, the most important thing we can do is connect [on a personal level].” Twitter, Facebook and other social media provide a means of communication but there is not substitution for a face to face conversation.

As the night came to a close, moderator David King, in true professor form, left us all with some homework, “talk to your neighbors.”  It is not enough to simply be friends on Facebook. When you know your neighbors on a deeper, more personal level, it makes for a safer, happier community. With so much division in our country, it is more important now than ever to get involved by backing the candidates looking to better the community and not just themselves, to get out and vote, and to ask what you can do for your country.