Government and current affairs topic during visit by state rep.


HARVARD — During a recent visit to Harvard Elementary School, state Representative James Eldridge spoke to fifth-graders about government and current affairs — topics they had recently studied in social studies class.

Eldridge, who was elected in 2002, represents the 37th Middlesex District, which includes 40,000 voters in Harvard and five other area towns.

With elections held every two years, Eldridge said, he is often on the road seeking votes.

“I talk to your parents to tell them what I have done,” Eldridge said.

Describing his day, he said that before coming to the school he had called constituents, signed letters and checked messages on his computer, since he gets about 200 e-mails daily though legislative aides help him with it. Later in the day, he said, he would attend a meeting on health care reform at the state house, then an open house at the school that night.

“That gives a sense of what the job is like,” he said. “It’s all geared toward helping people, like teaching is.”

Eldridge, of Acton, took a keen interest in history, politics and “how countries interact” when he was in elementary school, he said. “I had excellent teachers,” he added.

In high school, his basketball coach became one of the coordinators for a senate campaign and Eldridge volunteered.

“I rode my bicycle all over, putting signs on lawns” he said. His candidate won in a close election, and “the volunteers felt like they made a difference,” he said.

Later, he said, he got involved in other initiatives such as Earth Day, affordable housing and overrides votes for education. Eldridge first ran for office during law school. He served on the Planning Board and the Housing Authority in Acton, and said it was a good way to learn about government.

Explaining the concept of overrides, he said tax dollars pay teachers, run schools and buy books. Overrides provide more funds and “your parents pay a little more … to support the schools,” he said.

Rep. Eldridge fielded a few questions from students:

Q: How do you decide which bills to support?

A: I try to pick the most important ones. (Bills Eldridge has filed recently include a recycling bill and a bill to increase school aid.)

Q: Are you going to run for president?

A: My focus is on the state now. You need to be 35 … I’m not old enough yet.

Q: Do you like your job?

A: It’s hectic, but yes, I like it.

Q: Do you support the Physical Education bill?

A: I co-sponsored the bill. It is still in committee. (The bill seeks support for public school P.E. programs via a $1 surcharge on tickets for professional sports events.)

Q: (When you file a bill) Do you strictly follow the constitution?

A: Anyone can file a bill. But if it is not constitutional, it can be thrown out. (Four years ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Court did that to a capital gains bill. But 95 percent of bills passed become law.)

Q: What is your favorite bill?

A: A bill to raise state aid for education.

Q: What was your greatest triumph?

A: Three years ago, Lancaster firefighter Marty McNamara was killed on the job. He had a wife and three children. The town’s volunteer department had no death benefit then. The bill we passed last year established a death benefit. All communities have it now. The McNamara family received $650,000. That was the proudest moment of my career.