Commonwealth Conversations comes to Lowell

Last evening, hosted by State Senator Eileen Donoghue and led by Senate President Stan Rosenberg, nearly one-third of the entire Massachusetts State Senate came to Lowell for the latest Commonwealth Conversations session. Senators present (shown seated at the table in the above photo, from left to right, while being welcomed by UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney) were:

  • Michael Barrett of Lexington
  • Jason Lewis of Winchester
  • Barbara L’Italien of Andover
  • Marc Pacheco of Taunton
  • Senate President Stan Rosenberg of Amherst
  • Michael Rodrigues of Westport
  • Eileen Donoghue of Lowell
  • Bruce Tarr of Gloucester
  • Sal DiDomenico of Everett
  • Jamie Eldridge of Acton
  • John Keenan of Quincy
  • Kathleen O’Connor Ives of Newburyport

Started last legislative session as a way to make state government more responsive and accessible to the people of the Commonwealth, senators have embarked on day-long listening tours in every corner of the state. For instance, yesterday’s tour began at 9 am at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island in Newburyport, then moved to Ipswich for an 11:30 am transportation forum, then to a 2:30 pm session at Lawrence General Hospital, ending at the 6:30 pm town hall forum at UMass Lowell’s University Crossing.

UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney opened last night’s session by welcoming the senators to “our beautiful campus” and stressed the many ways in which the university prepares the next generation for the workforce while conducting cutting edge research. She said that now, especially, “we take great pride and comfort in being part of this great Commonwealth.” Chancellor Moloney then commended State Senator Eileen Donoghue for being a “change leader” during her tenure as the mayor and a councilor in Lowell, and for the fine work she continues to do for the city in the state senate. She thanked Senate President Rosenberg for his leadership “which benefits everyone in this room.” She couldn’t resist adding that although Senators Rosenberg and Donoghue are both graduates of UMass Amherst, she is confident that their favorite hockey team is the UMass Lowell River Hawks (which begins play in the NCAA tournament this Saturday).

Senate President Rosenberg spoke next, explaining to the overflow crowd that this event is part of the “shared leadership model” of the senate and is also part of the process by which senators set their priorities for this legislative session. There are eight of these Commonwealth Conversations in all, then it’s back to the state house to deliberate. He urged those in attendance to visit the Commonwealth Conversations website, particularly the page that reports on how last year’s Commonwealth Conversations influenced the legislative agenda and accomplishments for that session. Senate President Rosenberg concluded by explaining the important new role he has assigned to Senator Donoghue as chair of the Senate’s Committee on Steering and Policy. While this committee has long existed, Senator Rosenberg has invested it with greatly increased authority over the legislative agenda of the senate, particularly in setting priorities and adopting strategies for implementation of those priorities. He closed by thanking Senator Donoghue for taking on this important position.

Speaking next was Senator Bruce Tarr, the Minority Leader of the Senate. He thanked Senator Donoghue for reminding all of her colleagues of how important UMass Lowell is to the Commonwealth, and thanked the senators from the Merrimack Valley for putting together the day’s events. He closed by saying that the Massachusetts State Senate is a model legislative body because it is always respectful, bipartisan, and treats all issues with the seriousness they deserve.

Senator Michael Rodrigues, the inspiration for the Commonwealth Conversations process, then invited members of the audience to come forward and address the senators on issues of importance to them, with each person having two minutes to state their case. From the several hundred in the room, there was no shortage of speakers on issues including education, health care, elder care, the environment, and many others.

As one who takes great pride in Lowell, it was terrific to see so many state senators in the city last night, listening to the concerns of residents living in the region with sincere interest.