Will Democrats Regain Control of Congress in 2018?

Thomas P. O’Neill III, CEO of O’Neill and Associates, was a Sunday guest on NECN‘s DC Dialogue with Eileen Curran and James T. Brett, President and CEO of the New England Council, to review the current state of politics from Boston to Capitol Hill. Tom discussed Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate race, Democratic victories in the recent Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections, and partisanship and the upcoming Congressional midterms.

 

TPO NECN

Link to full interview: here!

 

Faneuil Hall Marketplace Announced Holiday Blink! Show and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” for Charity

Faneuil Hall Marketplace announced that it will be launching a new Holiday Blink! Show that will light up the Marketplace for five weeks beginning on November 29, 2017 and a new series of weekly events called “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” for charity. Faneuil Hall is continuing the annual tradition of having the largest tree in the northeast, with an 85-foot fir tree adorned with decorations, sparkling lights and synchronized to music to provide entertainment for visitors who want an authentic New England holiday experience.

A special preview of the all new Holiday Blink! show will be on Tuesday, November 28th at 7:30 p.m. for a live broadcast. The preview show will be hosted by WBZ-TV news anchors Lisa Hughes and David Wade, featuring holiday entertainment and the New England Patriots Holiday Toy Drive.

This year Blink! has been redesigned to feature more lights throughout the Marketplace that can morph into all colors of the spectrum and a variety of holiday songs that will be piped throughout the property with animation. Every day from November 29th to January 1st the tree will light up at 4:30 p.m. and every half hour will transform the Marketplace into a glittering spectacle of light and sound until 10 p.m. In addition, the new Holiday Blink! show will feature holiday tunes for sing-a-longs, dancing and outdoor entertainment both during the day and at night. The new “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” events for charity will be held on four Saturdays in December in partnership with CBS Radio in Boston and local charitable organizations.

“The Arc Tank” Competition Attacks Barriers to Improve the Lives of the People with Disabilities

When Steven Rosenthal decided to donate $1 million to Northeast Arc, he wanted the funding to be used in an innovative way to go beyond providing direct care services and to spur creative thinking for people with intellectual disabilities and autism.  So, Rosenthal and Northeast Arc  created “The Arc Tank” competition inviting inventors, engineers, human service providers, parents, college students, and the disabled to participate in  an initiative that is designed to positively disrupt the conventional methods of providing services. Northeast Arc is a human services organization that annually serves 9,000 children and adults from 190 Massachusetts cities and towns who have a broad range of disabilities including intellectual disabilities and autism.

More than 100 proposals were submitted for review from across the globe with seven teams making it to the final round of “The Arc Tank.” The seven finalists will pitch their proposals in front of a panel of judges on November 15, 2017 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

“The Arc Tank project is shaping up to do exactly what we had hoped for, to disrupt the system of services and programs and to improve the lives of persons with disabilities,” said  Jo Ann Simons, CEO of Northeast Arc, recently named as one of the top women-led businesses by The Commonwealth Institute in partnership with the Boston Globe Magazine. “The seven proposals that are advancing to the finals are all tremendously worthy ideas that show creativity and they are the kind of innovative ideas that can help many nonprofit human service providers. It will be exciting to hear their pitches in person at the event on Nov. 15.”

The finalists are vying for first round funding of up to $200,000 provided by the Changing Lives Fund, established through the generous donation of Rosenthal, founder of West Shore LLC.

“The Arc Tank” Seven Finalists:

Autism Training Videos for Health Care Providers – Submitted by Boston Medical Center to develop patient-centric training videos for healthcare professionals on how to interact with patients who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD patients require extra attention at disproportionately higher levels than their typically developing peers and there are significant gaps in information needed to help care for them.

Disrupting the Guardianship Pipeline – Submitted by the Center for Public Representation of Northampton, Mass., to create a “Massachusetts Supported Decision-Making Incubator: to provide an effective alternative to guardianship which is often the only option for people with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities.

Independent Living Suite –Submitted by Arc of Northern Virginia, Falls Church, VA, to develop a technology-based solution to providing ongoing support for people with cognitive challenges in living their daily lives. The concept would provide support from the moment they wake up, navigating them throughout the day at work, in relationships and out in the community, to allow them to live as independently as possible.

Key 2 Freedom – Submitted by RimPower of Watertown, Mass. to develop a device to attach to wheelchairs, allowing wheelchair users easier access to the items that they need to carry with them on a daily basis.  Key 2 Freedom is a plastic cylinder that attaches to any armrest or support, in front of the user, without the need of tools or extraordinary dexterity. It was developed by a wheelchair user for wheelchair users.

Pathways to Inclusive Health Care – Submitted by Carol Langer, Associate Professor at UMass Medical Center and an instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health, to develop a pipeline of healthcare professionals equipped to provide quality healthcare to people with intellectual disabilities and autism.  The project would focus on the precipitous transition from pediatrics to adult medicine care for this population.

The Future of Home and Community Based Services – Submitted by MySupport Inc., Silver Springs, Maryland, to expand its new online platform designed to help empower people with disabilities and their families to control their own services. MySupport connects those seeking support with direct support workers using a unique values-based matching algorithm alongside a suite of tools for managing support relationships in line with state regulatory requirements.

Y’s Water Wise – Submitted by the YMCA of the North Shore, Beverly, Mass., to develop “Water Wise”, a water safety program for children with ASD.  According to a 2017 study, children with autism are 160 times as likely to die from drowning as other children.  Children with ASD often feel anxious, and wandering, especially toward water, is one way they seek relief. The high risk of accidental drowning reaffirms the importance of teaching water safety to children with ASD.

Two proposals that demonstrated innovative initiatives from young entrepreneurs but did not make it to the final round will receive “Outside the Tank” gifts to help them further their concepts.  They are:

Shop, Drop and Roll  – submitted by Andrew Holmes, a junior at Olin College in Needham, Mass., who developed a concept for a wheelchair attachment that simplifies the transport and accessibility of goods on the back of a wheelchair, allowing for increased independence and an easier traveling experience.

The BIONIC Hand – submitted by Nathaniel Lorenz Galdamez, a student at Swampscott High School in Swampscott, Mass., who has a physical disability with his hands.  Nathaniel’s idea is to create a device that could be fastened to his wrist, desk or computer to assist with tasks including the common computer command such as CTRL+ALT+DLT which he is currently unable to perform.

“The Arc Tank” panel of judges

  • Matthew Kennedy – Founder, Kennedy Merchant Partners; Board member, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation
  • Shirley Leung – Columnist and former Business Editor for the Boston Globe, Contributor to WGBH and NECN; Former reporter for the Wall Street Journal; Mother of two sons on the autism spectrum
  • Quincy Miller – President, Eastern Bank; Immediate past Board Chair, of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts; Board member, Greater Boston Food Bank, Bottom Line and Zoo New England’ Board of Overseers, Greater Boston YMCA
  • Matthew Millett – Security Officer II, Department of Youth Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Board member, Special Olympics of Massachusetts
  • Mike Roberts – Recently retired Executive Director of the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, Harvard Business School
  • Marylou Sudders – Secretary of Health & Human Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Prior to becoming Secretary, Sudders was an associate professor and chaired the Health/Mental Health program at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work.

The judges will receive support from David Chang, an entrepreneur and active angel investor with product, marketing and software development experience at venture-backed startups and from Rick Rader, MD, Vice President, American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry ; Editor in Chief, Exceptional Parent Magazine.

CEO’s Corner: Inaction On Gun Control Can No Longer Be An Option

220px-thomas_p_oneill_iiiIn the last 35 days our nation has seen two of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history. Political leaders offer their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, their families and friends. I don’t doubt the sincerity of their condolences, but the killings at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs were committed in a house of worship. The victims were there to pray. While we mourn the victims, we’re compelled to point out that our prayers won’t return the dead, our prayers won’t erase the memories of the survivors, churchgoers who no doubt witnessed horror that will remain with them the rest of their lives. This small, close-knit town lost almost five percent of its residents at Sunday Mass.

Republican elected officials, in particular, reject immediate calls to action. The talking points have been distributed– it’s too soon to talk about gun control; we need to let these families mourn.

The New York Times November 6, 2017 editorial “It’s Not Too Soon to Debate Gun Control” offers a forceful, graphical rebuttal to this claim. While we are within days of the killings in Texas, we are 36 days removed from the Las Vegas shooting, 513 days removed the Orlando Nightclub Shooting, and 1,789 days removed from the slaughter of children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. If new horrors await us regularly, “it’s too soon” can always apply. The claim is hollow. The memory of the victims should demand that we act.

This Fall, Republicans in Congress are attempting to fast-track a tax plan that rearranges the entire economy and skews cuts to corporations and the wealthy. President Trump, Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan declared that Congress must act before the end of the year, tax cuts are so important. But 40 days after more than 500 were wounded or killed in Las Vegas, and only days after more than two dozen were killed in Sutherland Springs, Texas, there is no urgency—in fact there is no effort at all by President Trump, the Senate Leader, or the House Speaker to address the prevalence of military-grade assault weapons in the United States and the horror for which those tools of death are responsible. Let’s be clear, the time isn’t “right” for gun legislation, it is tragically overdue. To think that partisanship, and fear of the NRA, would be more important than the obligation of elected officials to ensure the basic safety of our citizens is simply unforgivable to me as a former public official.

According to a 2016 study, states with stricter gun laws see fewer gun-related deaths. I am proud to say that Massachusetts is leading the way in gun control—the first state to introduce and pass a law banning the sale of bump stocks, the accessory used by the Las Vegas shooter that allowed him to shoot more than 500 people in a matter of minutes. The effort was introduced by the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre but was met with bi-partisan support and ultimately signed into law by the Baker administration on November 3rd. Fully automatic assault weapons have been banned in the United States since 1935. Many semi-automatic assault rifles, including the the AR-15, were banned from 1994-2004, but in 2004 Congress allowed that law to expire. The AR-15 is manufactured by Colt’s Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. Since 2004, an AR-15 was used by mass murderers in Sutherland Springs, in Las Vegas, in Orlando at the Pulse Nightclub, in San Bernadino, in Sandy Hook, and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. When is it not “too soon”?

Congress should take its lead from the bipartisan approach of effective and thoughtful leadership on gun control in MA. Inaction can no longer be an option.

A few years back I gave a speech in Denver, Colorado where I was asked about my stance on gun control. As a Democrat I feared what reaction the crowd would have to my response. The goal of gun control laws is not to strip individuals of their 2nd Amendment Rights. Individuals are welcome to own and house guns as well as use them for appropriate uses, hunting, skeet and target shooting. No, the goal of gun control is centered on the safety and protection of all. As I finished my statement I braced myself but was pleasantly surprised when I was met with applause. While the 2nd Amendment is a right given to individuals, no one can argue that we also have a right to safety and a feeling of security. By failing to act, Congress leaves the citizens of the United States vulnerable to future attacks. Legislative action is necessary and it must begin today.

 

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

After much secrecy and delays, House Republicans unveiled last week the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The House opted for a more traditional legislative title for the bill instead of calling it the Cut, Cut, Cut Act as President Trump had proposed. This is smart as most of the proposed cuts are directed at corporations. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) aim to fast track and send the bill to the Senate by Thanksgiving. With the passage of the recent budget bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will only require a majority vote in the Senate to pass and Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said previously that he wants to pass a tax overhaul by year’s end. With a 52-seat majority Republicans can only afford to lose two GOP senators. Like the failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, this will be difficult.

Major elements of the bill for businesses include:

  • Lowers the corporate tax rate to a flat 20%
  • Reduces tax on pass-through income to 25% for certain small businesses
  • Allows full (100%) depreciation of capital expenditures in Year One
  • Imposes a 1.4 percent excise tax on college endowments at 200 private universities
  • Maintains the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit but eliminates tax-exempt private-activity bonds used to help fund airports, affordable housing developments and hospitals

For individuals the bill would:

  • Reduce the number of income tax brackets to four
  • Make no changes to 401k programs
  • Cap the mortgage interest deduction at $500,000 (down from $1.1 million)
  • Doubles the standard individual tax deduction
  • Eliminate the state and local tax deduction as well as deductions educators use to buy school supplies
  • Repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Phases out the estate tax which currently affects estates of $5.5 million or more
  • Eliminates deductions for medical expenses and student loan interest and the adoption tax credit

The last major tax reform took place in 1986 under President Reagan and had bipartisan support. Reagan initially called for tax reform to pass in time for the 1984 elections. That timeline wasn’t even close to being realistic. After Reagan won 49 states that fall, he had more political capital to leverage. Despite that, House and Senate leaders adhered to regular order knowing that real reform is only possible when there’s true bipartisan support. Fast forward to today and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), the Ranking Member on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Dean of the Massachusetts Delegation, is urging Republicans not to rush legislation with such wide-ranging economic impacts. In a letter Rep. Neal sent last week to Chairman Brady, he noted that during the 1986 tax reform debate, Ways and Means held 30 hearings. Subcommittees held 12 hearings. More than 450 witnesses testified. The Committee took 26 days to mark up the bill. The Senate Finance Committee took a similarly thorough approach.

Now that stakeholders have had a chance to review the bill, many are concerned, especially those in Blue states. The tax on college endowments, for example, disproportionately targets large private universities in the Northeast. The same states also have costly housing markets and homeowners will take a hit with cuts to their mortgage interest deductions as well by the elimination of state and local tax deductions. It also appears that deficit hawks are looking away as the bill could add $1.5 trillion in debt over a decade unless unrealistic assumptions on economic growth come to fruition.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will dominate all Congressional activity for the near future. It’s critical to quickly engage with lawmakers to make sure they realize this bill’s effects on your personal or corporate wallet. Not to get lost in the tax debate is the Dec. 8 deadline for Congress to pass legislation funding the government.

The Sixth Annual Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Awards

By: Tom O’Neill

Shelly and I recently traveled to Northern Ireland for the sixth annual Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award. Every year we look forward to this event and award which celebrates the life of my father and honors his dedication to peace in both the United States and Northern Ireland. The award recognizes the significance of the Diaspora and celebrates the heritage and culture that has promoted such a strong, impressive presence of County Donegal natives abroad. While it has many functions, ultimately, the Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award recognizes the achievements of influential members of the Irish Diaspora community who have found tremendous success in their field of choice while never forgetting their Irish roots.

This year I had the honor of presenting the Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award to four impressive individuals:  President Marty Meehan, University of Massachusetts system; food entrepreneur Frazer Doherty, Founder of SuperJam and member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE); Barbara Koster, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Prudential Financial; Packie Bonner, Former goalkeeper for Celtic and the Republic of Ireland national team.

Each recipient has done much to promote the progression of Northern Ireland locally and on a global scale. The Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Awards recognizes this commitment to the betterment of the community and its’ recipients are a true testament to the incredible influence of Donegal and the importance of the Irish Diaspora.

MLRI and Greater Boston Legal Services lead the Campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids

Approximately 8,900 children living in poverty in the Commonwealth are denied welfare benefits from the state simply because they were born after their family began receiving benefits. This is an effect of the Massachusetts’ “Cap on Kids” policy, which the Campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids – led by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Greater Boston Legal Services – are working to see changed.

The Campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids is raising awareness about the need to Lift the Cap on Kids, supporting legislation, currently pending in the Massachusetts State Legislature. Bills in the House (H.85) and Senate (S.34) have 83 cosponsors, led by State Senator Sal DiDomenico and State Representative Marjorie Decker.

The campaign has hosted a number of events to raise awareness about the policy’s harmful effects. On October 26th, the Campaign held a “Caps and Mittens” event at the State House, where they collected hundreds of donated winter caps and mittens for children and families in need. Besides not getting a welfare benefit of $100 a month, children who are excluded by the Cap on Kids also do not receive the $300 per year clothing allowance that is paid for other children in the family when receiving welfare benefits. With winter approaching, the need for winter coats, hats, and gloves is an additional cost that is often out of reach for low-income families. All donated items were given to Cradles to Crayons and the Home for Little Wanderers to be distributed to children and families in need.

On Monday, October 30, State Representative Carlos Gonzalez, a co-sponsor of the Bill to Lift the Cap on Kids, joined with other bill co-sponsors Representative Jose Tosado and Representative Bud Williams to host a Speak Out! Event in Springfield against the Cap on Kids.  Campaign members and representatives from local organizations participated in the event. Leaders worked with families affected by the Cap on Kids to open up dialogue about the harmful effects on children.

Earlier this year, in May, the Campaign hosted “Diaper Day” at the State House, which raised awareness of the Cap on Kid’s harmful effects, and also resulted in the donation of over 9,000 diapers to be dispersed among low-income families. For many families living under the cap, diapers can be a difficult expense as well.

The Campaign’s efforts are critical. Massachusetts is one of only 17 states that still has a Cap on Kids. Massachusetts welfare benefits generally go up by about $100 a month as family size increases. Currently, the basic grant for a family of two with no income is $478 a month, and for a family of three, it is $578 a month. However, if a family of three has a child excluded by the Cap on Kids, they receive only $478 a month— a cut of 17 percent.

There is no evidence that welfare recipients have additional children to get a small increase in their families’ grants.  Lifting the Cap on Kids would mean an additional $100 per month for families currently “under the family cap,” and it could make a difference in helping them pay for basic necessities, including diapers, winter clothes, and supplies..

The statewide coalition working to Lift the Cap on Kids has the support of over 100 agencies and organizations in Massachusetts. With the support of these organizations and citizens of the Commonwealth, the Campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids can change the lives of thousands of children and families.

 

Laurie Hernandez Raises Donations for Cure Alzheimer’s Fund to Help Find a Cure for the Disease

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Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez with Barbara Chambers of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund

On Sunday, October 22nd, Olympic gold and silver medalist Laurie Hernandez was in Methuen, Massachusetts at Interstate Gymnastics and Dance, helping to raise donations for Wellesley-based nonprofit Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.

The event was a part of an ongoing series with Hernandez called Gymnastic Funtastic with Laurie Hernandez.  Young gymnasts from across the region raised donations for Cure Alzheimer’s Fund in order to win special prizes with the Dancing with the Stars champion, which included the opportunity to attend a clinic with Hernandez, take a selfie with her, and get her autograph. At a Q&A session, the participants all had the chance to hear her describe the road to the Olympics and how she deals with injury and adversity.

At the event, Hernandez was joined by her mother Wanda Hernandez, who spoke of the importance of raising money to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  In November 2016, just a few months after she won gold and silver at the Rio Olympic Games, Laurie’s grandmother Brunhilda Hernandez passed away from the disease.  Since then, she has spoken publicly about the sadness she experienced because of her grandmother’s death and over the past year, Hernandez has dedicated herself to bringing awareness to the disease.

Barbara Chambers, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund’s Senior Engagement Officer for Marketing & Communications, was on hand to greet Hernandez as well as spend a few minutes talking about the disease and Cure Alzheimer’s Fund’s work providing research dollars to scientists searching for a cure to the young men and women who helped to raise money for the organization.  Just last week, the fund was named by Good Housekeeping Magazine as one of the best charities to give to right now. In total, $8,000 was raised for the organization at the Gymnastic Funtastic event.

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is a non-profit dedicated to funding the most promising research to prevent, slow or reverse Alzheimer’s disease. Since its founding in 2004, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has contributed over $55 million to research, and its funded initiatives have been responsible for several key breakthroughs – including the groundbreaking “Alzheimer’s in a Dish” study. Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has received a perfect score of 100 percent regarding its overall financial health from Charity Navigator and a four star rating from the organization for five consecutive years. With 100 percent of funds raised going directly to research, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has been able to support some of the best scientific minds in the field of Alzheimer’s research. For more information, please visit http://www.curealz.org/.

A Faith That Does Justice Hosts Inaugural Community Meeting

What is the best way to bring together individuals that live in the same region, but whose lives seem worlds apart?  What can those who have means and influence do to help marginalized populations in their own neighborhoods?  How can people of faith and/or good will assist immigrant communities living in anxiety because of the current political climate?  These were the fundamental questions that nonprofit, A Faith That Does Justice (AFTDJ), addressed at its first Community Meeting on Tuesday, October 10th.

AFTDJ 1Held at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in downtown Boston, AFTDJ brought together more than 150 individuals interested in learning more about the immigrant experience and the damage that has been wrought on immigrant communities facing draconian policies.

Marjean Perhot, Director of Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services and Attorney Jeannie Kain, past Chair of the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), filled in as panelists for Ambassador Ruben Zamora, who was unable to participate in the meeting.  AFTDJ’s founder, Fr. Peter Gyves, MD SJ, conducted a panel discussion with Perhot and Kain, who described the difficult circumstances that so many refugees find themselves in and highlighted ways the people in the room could help.

In addition to Perhot and Kain, attendees heard from AFTDJ volunteer Alba, who described her own harrowing experiences, which led to her immigrating to the United States, and the challenges she has faced since. For many in the room, it was the first time they had interacted directly with an individual who lived such an experience.

Founded by Fr. Peter W. Gyves, a Jesuit priest and doctor who was inspired by the example of the Jesuit priests he observed in El Salvador, AFTDJ seeks to build solidarity in three ways – by hosting workshops that allow people of different faiths to explore their common goals in human rights and social justice; by sponsoring community meetings that will bring speakers to Boston to highlight the challenges facing the poor and vulnerable around the world; and by pursuing a Faith in Action component, one element of which will be English as a Second Language classes.

Fr. Gyves, who is bilingual, is a pediatrician who once worked in poor communities in El Salvador. Two years ago, he piloted the AFTDJ program in Barrio Logan, San Diego. The program focuses on faith lived in action on behalf of the most vulnerable among us. He took this approach to two groups, one that spoke English and the other Spanish. Both urged him to bring the groups together, which he did in January 2015.  From there, the idea of A Faith That Does Justice was born. Fr. Gyves then moved the program to Boston in September 2016 in order to reach out to its diverse population of people, many of whom have recently arrived in the United States.  While drawing on the Catholic Social Justice Tradition, AFTDJ will pursue an ecumenical approach in fulfilling its mission.

AFTDJ’s next Community Meeting will be on December 12th, and will feature MacArthur Fellows Rosanne Haggerty, President and CEO of Community Solutions, and Rev. Bryan Hehir, former advisor to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, discussing housing and homelessness.

If you are interested in learning more about A Faith That Does Justice, please visit their Website at http://www.faith-justice.org/, their Facebook page or follow them at Twitter.

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.