By Alice Ferre
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in South Coast Today.
BOSTON — Christopher Hendricks says his decision to expand his practice of helping working people from the courtroom to the Statehouse is a reflection of times of political upheaval, when the less fortunate are left behind.
“A lot of the Trump administration certainly helped,” Hendricks, a work injury lawyer and the newly elected representative from the 11th Bristol House district said about his motivation to run. “How he and the GOP, how they’re attacking workers’ rights and labor laws, and everything that protects working class people, working families. In my opinion, the GOP has been trying to do that for decades, and it’s just getting to a point where we’re going to need some serious effort to preserve these rights for working people.”
“So, I touched on that a lot during the campaign,” Hendricks said. “You’re going to need some strong leaders, and they have to fight for things, to fight for union rights, to fight for consumer protection and everything that has been degraded.”
Hendricks has been working as an attorney at the Keches Law firm since 2015, in areas such as workers’ compensation, accidental disability retirement and Social Security disability.
“It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me because doing this really is a joy — representing people who can’t work, people who have a lot at stake, people who have a lot in jeopardy,” he said. “It’s kind of rewarding going to court, winning for them and selling their cases and making sure they can pay their mortgage because insurance companies, they don’t play ball.”
The representative-elect won the September Democratic primary, beating 15-term incumbent Robert Koczera by 24 votes.
Hendricks, who will be sworn in in January, said he looks forward to being on the other side of the law — not using it to defend people but drafting it to implement change.
“I’m really, really excited because to work in this capacity is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in government, politics, so the idea of making law is really appealing to me. I’m excited about that and getting down to the nuts and bolts of it.
“I’ve been preparing for it just by staying in tune with everyone,” Hendricks said. “I’ve been doing a lot of neighborhood meetings, staying in touch with people that way and try to stay on top of the issues, make sure I know what each issue entails … so that when I get there in January I’ll be ready to go.”
In his district, which includes all of Acushnet and the majority of New Bedford’s North End, Hendricks said he plans to tackle the opioid crisis by changing mentalities about addiction and enhancing aftercare.
“What I find the most pressing is obviously the opioid crisis,” said Hendricks who is himself a recovering alcoholic. “I think we really need to change the whole idea of recovery and substance abuse and addiction, and take the stigma out of it.”
“I think what we could do is strengthen aftercare,” he said. “Strengthen and reinforce some of the resources people have coming out of detox or coming out of prison. Halfway houses and sober houses are great but if you can’t afford to get in them, then we’re not doing anybody any favors. … Someone dealing with heroin addiction, you can’t expect them to pay rent even if it’s 200, 300 hundred bucks a month.”
Longtime state Rep. Bill Straus, D-Mattapoisett, who met Hendricks during the campaign, said that his future colleague seems to be determined.
“He clearly has stated he has a determination to work on one of the most important issues — facing the opioid use and the price that that has created for thousands and thousands of people,” Straus said. “His statements on (the crisis) reflect not only his awareness of the issue, but the issue that I think people who live in New Bedford, and certainly in his district, are also aware of and needs attention.”
New Bedford conservative radio host Chris McCarthy, one of Hendricks’ friends who helped with his logistics, said that the representative-elect faced “a tough opponent” in the campaign.
“I can tell you that he worked really hard,” McCarthy said. “He did something that nobody else has ever done — to beat (Koczera).”
McCarthy himself ran against Koczera as a Republican in the final election back in 1994.
“I think Chris Hendricks’s main strategy was a young, vibrant guy willing to tackle the opioid crisis in a way that I don’t think anyone else is going to do it — not to take anything away from Bob,” he said.
According to McCarthy, Hendricks’ “secret weapon” during his campaign was his sister, Amanda DiMatteo.
“His sister Mandy was a dynamic force,” he said. “It was the first campaign that she’s ever run, and she was fantastic.”
“She works as an oncology nurse,” he said. “If you want someone running your campaign, which is about schedules and deadlines and about delivering bad information sometimes, I think you want a cancer nurse.”
DiMatteo said that she became Hendricks’ campaign manager after helping him with his first fundraising effort. The campaign focused on change, with a heavy, months-long grassroot operation of knocking on constituents’ doors.
“The biggest message that he wanted was ‘it’s time for a change,’ and he really felt he could do that for his district,” she said.
“Chris definitely worked for six months, every single solitary weekend, ready to shine, knocking on doors,” she said. “That’s really what did it. There was a lot that went behind everything else, but I really truly felt that he had to get his face out there. No one knew who he was, you know, at all. I honestly think that that made the difference.”
Hendricks will be sworn in on Jan. 2. He will work full-time as a representative while taking a few legal cases a year.