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Democratic Aide to Republican Hargraves Seeks boss’s seat

By Mary E. Arata

GROTON — The first declared Democrat in the First Middlesex race just needs to peer over her desk to see the man she wants to replace -Republican 1stMiddlesex Rep. Robert Hargraves of Groton. In need of an aide some 14 months ago, Hargraves hired Jane Morriss of Groton to hold down his statehouse office while he worked the district towns of Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell and Townsend serving his constituents.

This Friday is Morris’ last day working for Hargraves. Then her race begins to try to succeed him in office.

Hargraves announced last October he’ll not seek a 9thtwo-year term in the post he’s held since 1995. Instead, he’s announced his support for Groton/Harvard attorney Sheila Harrington, who faces off against Ayer Selectman Chairman Connie Sullivan as the two Republicans in the field to date.

“I will say nothing negative about her. She knows that,” Hargraves said of Morris, “But I will actively support Sheila Harrington.”

A native of St. John’s, Michigan, Morriss has lived in Groton since 1991. A divorced mother of one, Morris has a 28-year old daughter, Jesse Simmons, who is a graphic designer in New York City seeking her master’s degree in computer animation from Pratt Institute.

Morriss has had a varied work history that leads her to the run. Locally she’s worked at the Groton School, sold cars at Gervais Ford in Ayer, and worked as a newspaper reporter for Nashoba Publications’ Groton Landmark as well as competitor the Groton Herald.

Primarily, though, she has had extensive experience as a newspaper editor for several regional publications including the daily newspapers the New Haven (CT) Register and the Middletown (CT) Press. She’s also served as editor at the weekly newspaper publications the Glastonbury (CT) Citizen and the Clinton County (MI) News.

“With my background in journalism, you never know what kind of situation you’re going to get in,” Morriss said, adding that as result, “I’m a problem solver.”

“It got to the point that you know that you don’t have all of the answers but you can find out all the answers,” she said, “And I’m rather fearless. I’m not scared to ask questions. I’m good at interviewing people and getting information from them.”

She says, however, she’s found with her constituent work in Hargraves’ Office, “generally speaking, people call with questions and they already have the seeds of their deliverance. They’ll tell you what they want to happen.”

She notes that Hargraves service will bring to a close 26 years of continuous Republican representation for the First Middlesex District between Hargraves and the late Gusty Hornblower. The last Democrat was Bruce Weatherbee. She hopes to break the Republican grasp on the district seat.

While Morriss is a proud Democrat, she said a State Representative can opt to go one of two ways in holding the office. “You can make yourself a king or a queen and pretend you know what’s best for your constituents and act accordingly. Or represent what your constituents want and somehow get a measure of their desires,” summarized Morris, “and of course everyone’s a hybrid between those two.”

As to where she rests on that spectrum, Morriss said her goal is to stick to nearly pure representation. “I’m setting up a citizens’ advisory committee to act as my advisors in the field,” Morriss said, “They are people that are going to have their ears to the ground on education, business, job creation – I’m going to have people in the district that I can consult with and discuss the issues.”

She also said it’s important to educate constituents about what’s going on at the Statehouse. “I plan on doing a lot of writing. It’s going to go in the paper,” Morriss said.

As to how she weathered her last 14 months being a philosophically strong Democrat working for a philosophically strong Republican representative, Morriss said, “Believe it or not, it was awesome. And I did tell him this. The job really opened me up. I never, never would have thought about running for office if it wasn’t for Bob Hargraves. In that way, he’s been kind of a mentor.”

But, her service under a Republican convinced her, I can see that the district would be much better served by a Democrat who was tied into the majority party. It’s where the decisions are being made. And not be relegated to the corner where all they do is try to throw monkey wrenches in all the plans the Democrats make,” said Morriss, “Honest to God. Anything that comes out of the governor’s office or the Democratic caucus – that’s all the Republicans do is pan-it. And by ‘pan-it,’ I mean trash it.”

She said job one is job creation. “We cannot have an economic recovery without creating and protecting the jobs we already have.” She said, manning the phones at Hargraves’ office, she’s heard “a lot of calls from those facing foreclosure by companies that are predatory beyond belief. The spinoff is that constituents can’t sell” their homes, she said.

“There are a lot of people that used to make a lot more money than they do now,” said Morriss, “They’re having a lot of trouble adjusting downward right across the board.”

She said the solution will and must come from everyman representatives. “One of the problems we have is that people who get into office are really insolated personally from these types of experiences. Basically speaking, the people running for office are the wealthier individuals – and lawyers,” said Morriss, “These issues are abstract to them. They’re disconnected from reality from many of us who are dependent on employment opportunities. If you’re an attorney, you’re more self actualized.”

She joked that she’s neither wealthy or an attorney and added, “I don’t see anything in the fine print that says you have to be wealthy to run.”

Morriss pulled papers o Feb. 9th, the first day they became available. She publically announced her intentions on Feb. 14 at the Scotch Pine Farm in Pepperell before a Valentine’s Day gathering of First Middlesex Democrats. While she’d been set on a run for several months now, she broke the news to Hargraves a couple of months back and the two reached an understanding – she would not announce for the seat until she was in her final week working for him.

While again restating that he’s not supporting Morriss’ candidacy, he did speak well of Morriss-the-employee, “I found with Jane’s service that a high point was her communications skills. They were excellent, both written and spoken.”

But he didn’t stray much further, “Her function was to man the Boston office.” Are the two parting on good terms? “Yes,” Hargraves answered.

It’s a party-line matter, Morriss concedes, but hopes that if elected she’d like to shepherd in a new approach to local representation, ”

“Bob knew me well enough to know I’ve always been fair and honest. The Democrats don’t have a lock on the Truth and the Republicans don’t have a lock on the Truth,” said Morriss, “We need to come together with open minds. No single person has all the answers. The only way we’re going to solve those problems is if we have a willingness to work together — to reset our course and to rekindle our pride really.”

As Morriss hits the trail, she invites comments and feedback at Jane@JaneMorriss.comand at (978) 272-1088.

On April 27, nomination papers are due. The primaries are Tue., Sept. 14. Election day is Tue., Nov. 2.