Cong. Lori Trahan: up close and personable by Marjorie Arons-Barron

Newly elected Massachusetts 3rd district Congresswoman Lori Trahan has a warm smile and comes across as intelligent, charming, and poised.  As a former chief of staff to Congressman Marty Meehan, Trahan also brings a dimension of Capitol Hill experience not typical of your usual breathless freshman Congressperson.  She spoke yesterday for the first time to The New England Council, the region’s leading business-oriented organization.

Trahan succeeds Congresswoman Niki Tsongas in the House of Representatives and in a much-coveted seat on the Armed Services Committee, with jurisdiction over national defense and cyber security. This is of no small interest to the Massachusetts companies large and small that do business with the federal government. The military impact on this state is significant, contributing $13 billion a year to the state economy and supporting some 60,000 jobs.

Trahan says she is committed to helping young people develop the technical, analytic and social skills to benefit from the opportunities generated.  This means encouraging collaboration between community colleges and corporations to prepare students for the proverbial good jobs at good wages, but also addressing the ever-burgeoning student debt load (an aggregate $1.5 trillion in debt), which has tripled since the Great Recession.

Right now, however, the focus in Washington is the impasse between the President and Democrats over Donald Trump’s holding hostage some 800,000 furloughed government workers to leverage Democratic approval of his $5.7 billion demand for  a wall on the Mexican border. I asked Trahan whether differences among newly elected Democrats, some 40 of whom tipped Republican districts blue, and Democrats from safe seats where they are free to take more aggressive left-wing positions could weaken the strategy for dealing with the President.  For Trahan, “The more diversity, the better the outcome.” But, quoting Nancy Pelosi, Trahan noted that “diversity is our strength, but our unity is our power.”

Trahan’s life story comprises a range of experiences that make her relatable, starting with federal workers struggling to survive during the government shutdown. Her father was an iron worker and her mother, a domestic. Her family lived paycheck to paycheck.Her grandparents were immigrants, and she was the first in her family to graduate from college, which she attended thanks to a volleyball scholarship. After graduating, she worked in government but moved into the private sector, where she worked for a marketing software company and then led a small, women-owned consulting firm. She said she was inspired to run for Congress by her two daughters – Grace, 8 years old, and Caroline, who proudly tells all she is precisely 4 3/4 –  for whom she wanted to set an example.

As Trahan returns to Washington for her first meeting of the Armed Services Committee, she conveys seriousness of purpose and readiness for the challenges ahead.  Despite this  newcomer’s being listed as 427th in seniority, Lori Trahan is, as pundits like to say, one to watch.