Before she was a congresswoman, Katherine Clark was a school committee member in Melrose, a position she called the “toughest job in politics.” The congresswoman described that role as an ideal opportunity to learn the importance of process and making sure people felt heard. These lessons helped her develop into one of our nation’s most prominent political leaders representing, as she noted, “the best district in the country.”
It was a fitting way to kick off my one-on-one conversation with the member of Congress who just so happens to be my representative. My conversation with Congresswoman Clark was the second event in the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Government Affairs Speakers Series, graciously hosted by Takeda Pharmaceutical Company in Kendall Square. With no shortage of topics to discuss, everyone in the room, myself included, were eager to hear the congresswoman’s perspective on the political landscape down in Washington.
Representative Clark, now the second-highest ranking woman in the Democratic Caucus, is not the only high-profile Bay Stater in national politics. In addition, Representative Neal chairs Ways and Means, Representative McGovern chairs the Rules Committee and Elizabeth Warren is seeking the Democratic nomination for President. Representative Clark is proud to represent and share stories about Massachusetts, with our comprehensive health care coverage, leadership in innovation, support for the arts and K-12 education. Our experience can show the rest of the country how policies can benefit not only people, but also the economy. Massachusetts’ prevailing attitude of not resting on our laurels is very important for leadership and ensuring that legislation is not static, so that it can get revisited when new challenges arise.
Representative Clark played a leadership role in flipping the House of Representatives in the 2018 mid-term elections. According to Representative Clark, frustration with the candidates who were running, and the way things were going in D.C., sparked an awakening in people who were not previously politically involved. They felt compelled to run for office to be the change they sought. Success, she said, came from finding individuals who authentically understood the constituency’s challenges. The 116th United States Congress has been in session for nearly four months, but Representative Clark said she still gets excited looking out from the floor at what she called a “beautiful mosaic” of representation that reflects America.
Representative Clark’s desire to enhance representation and opportunity goes well beyond politics, though. She spoke about the need to improve workplace protection, early education, child care, paid family leave and workforce readiness as more than social issues; they are also economic issues. Reframing issues in this manner, or looking at them through numerous lenses, as the congresswoman called it, was an overarching theme in her commentary. Each of these issues affect women and low-income individuals at disproportionate levels, but Representative Clark believes that by looking at each of them through numerous lenses and building support from more audiences as a result, progress – long overdue progress – can be made.
Given that the conversation took place in “the cradle of innovation in the country,” as Representative Clark described it, research and development was bound to come up. Supporting National Institute of Health (NIH) funding is one of the true bipartisan areas of agreement, Representative Clark told the audience. While more work is needed, there is an understanding that cutting NIH funding would stop the pipeline of invaluable research and discovery. Were this to happen, the effects might not emerge for 10 or 15 years, but they would certainly be inevitable. It would be devastating here in Cambridge and it would be a loss for the national economy. The United States is a leader in innovation, but other countries are making investments of their own to court U.S. companies with highly-desirable space for research. Without enough support and NIH funding, we risk losing a vital part of our economy.
On behalf of the Chamber, I would like to thank Representative Clark, as well as her staff, for a spirited conversation. I am also grateful to our attendees. There was so much more we could have discussed, but we’ll leave that for another time. The Chamber’s Government Affairs Speaker Series will return in June with a soon-to-be announced guest. We hope to see you there!
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