GROTON — After two terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Sheila Harrington feels as though she’s only getting started.
“I really love it,” said Harrington when asked why she decided to seek a third two-year term.
“But otherwise, I feel like I’m in the middle of different things and would like to see them through to fruition,” she said. “Right now, for instance, I’m working really hard on the gas pipeline issue. I’m keeping busy behind the scenes to help mitigate its effects for our citizens and conservation areas.
“Another very important piece of legislation that I want to see through is the Best Interest of the Child,” she said, “which involves reforming the way our workers, employees and attorneys work on child protection cases. Our number one priority should be the best interest of the child. Right now, it’s not. I brought that bill forward and a commission is going to be formed. Court appointed special advocates are doing a good job and I want to bring them out to Middlesex County. I’ve spoken with child advocates for the state and we’re going to work and make it a better bill for the next session.
“Other things that are very important to me include supporting any willing provider who deals primarily with people, especially students in crisis and mental-health situations,” continued Harrington. “A new bill would allow people trying to get those people services to do it as quickly as possible. It will fix it so that if a provider is willing to accept payment terms from an insurance company, they can’t refuse them. It’s really important in the mental-health area to develop a rapport with a service provider. This bill will give more fluidity to people who need services immediately.
“I think in some ways my goals are still very much the same as when I was first elected,” Harrington said. “Sometimes other things get on the front burner though. For example, the gas pipeline being proposed for north central Massachusetts. I couldn’t have predicted that back in 2010.”
Harrington said that one of the things she enjoys about being a representative is the committee work, which at the moment includes her being the ranking member on the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight that oversees government and administration. She is also the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.
“I sit on the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee as well, which I really enjoy,” said Harrington. “It’s a very positive committee because you don’t get much pushback when it comes to helping the veterans.”
An attorney by profession, Harrington keeps in touch with her constituents in the 1st Middlesex District from her offices in Groton.
“What’s of concern to my constituents can be a fluid thing,” said Harrington. “I hear that a lot of people are fed up with what they perceive as inefficiency and corruption in state government. They can’t understand how it could happen in the public sector when it doesn’t happen in the private sector. Another area of concern is jobs. For business owners, what has really caused a lot of anxiety has been the increase in the minimum wage, which makes it harder for business owners, especially those on the border with New Hampshire. Also, the costs associated with Obamacare and other fees have become so cumbersome business owners feel that they’re being forced out of state. Without local businesses, there can be no local jobs. We need to keep focused on that.”
How well her colleagues on Beacon Hill have done in addressing the concerns of residents is another matter, however.
“I don’t think the legislature has gone far enough in that direction,” said Harrington.
“What we learned in the Oversight Committee is that there’s a huge problem with government. Programs like (EBT cards). As long as the card can be used as cash rather than buying the food it was meant for, there’s going to be misuse.
“In the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for example, I think we’ve got a lot of information now and have seen some people resign but we haven’t done enough,” said Harrington. “A lot of times it’s said that to solve the problems we need to hire more people but that isn’t going to fix the system in and of itself.
“I think state spending is out of control,” said Harrington. “I get really annoyed when taxpayers pay into the system but the money isn’t coming back as local aid. This year, the majority party put a rule in place saying that there would be no discussion about local aid amendments. That is a major blockage to people in towns who rely heavily on state funding. I felt that rule had a very detrimental effect on people in the commonwealth.”
Harrington does not like it when fiscal planners set a limit on how much money will be needed to run the state’s affairs. Then when revenue exceeds expectations, the bar is raised so that taxes need not be cut.
On a number of issues both local and statewide, the candidate holds firm opinions.
Regarding a plan by Gov. Deval Patrick to issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, Harrington is cognizant of the unfairness the move represents for those immigrants who have chosen to follow the nation’s laws.
“The illegal alien situation is a difficult one,” said Harrington. “We’re not looking at it from the perspective of those people who were willing to obey our laws and immigration process. We should make it easier for those people who are playing by the rules.”
She does not agree with granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.
Martha Coakley, in her role as the state’s attorney general, has argued that seeking to repeal the casino law passed by the legislature should not be allowed as a ballot question, a move that would have short circuited the will of the people.
“The one thing I can say is not to forget the voice of the people when you have a ballot question,” said Harrington. “That’s the people actually telling you what they want. We don’t have the ability to tell the voters that we won’t listen to them. That’s they’re right.”
Another question to appear on the election ballot seeks repeal of a gas tax tied to inflation.
“I don’t support the automatic gas tax increase,” said Harrington. “That should be done only when we have the need for it. I have significant concerns about a situation where we raise revenues for something and then don’t know where the money goes.”
Harrington recalled the tax on alcohol and how it was supposed to be earmarked to help fund alcohol awareness programs but “not one red cent” ever did.
With recent exposures of incompetence, corruption and cronyism in such departments as the Parole Board, child welfare offices and forensic laboratories, Harrington said she would support audits throughout the state’s bureaucracy designed to root out such abuses.
“There’s a lot more that can be done to correct the problem, but to do it we need a more balanced legislature,” observed Harrington. “We need checks and balances on this stuff.”
“I think people should vote for me because I’m really trying to advocate for my district and the best interests of the state,” said Harrington. “I think I’ve had some accomplishments in crafting legislation. I don’t want to leave the job unfinished. Right now, I’m at a really important halfway point in terms of things I’m trying to accomplish and to bring to a resolution.
“Another thing I’ve been able to do is to work across the aisle, something that has been noticed by others,” said Harrington. “My main objective has been to get things done and that means working with people on both sides of the aisle.”
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 4.