BBy Lillian Isley-Greene
BU News Service
BOSTON — State Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton, doesn’t have an office, yet. What he does have is a desk in Meeting Room B1.
Committee assignments were announced Thursday, and with them will come offices. Until then, freshman House members have all shared this chamber, a mid-sized room in the basement of the Statehouse known as the Bullpen.
Carey points out one desktop computer in a row of six or seven. That’s his Boston office. His district office, he says, is wherever he and aide Kelly O’Reilly happen to be that day. O’Reilly wrote in an email that much of their time is spent speaking with constituents.
Carey has shared the Bullpen with 14 other freshman lawmakers. The office has been roughly assembled into two lines of desks, facing each other. Printed tag plates hang on each monitor. Benches have been shoved aside to line the walls. A full pot of coffee waits on a side table.
Carey and the other first-year legislators were sworn in on Jan. 2. More than a month later, he is learning the ropes. He was assigned Thursday to serve on the joint committees on Education, Mental, Substance Use and Recovery, Election Laws, and Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture
“I’m learning a lot about a lot of new things,” Carey said, whose 2nd Hampshire District covers Easthampton, South Hadley, Hadley and part of Granby.
Carey comes to the position from six years in public service, on both the Easthampton School Committee and City Council. At the same time, he worked as an assistant district attorney in the Northwestern DA’s office, running the area’s Drug Diversion & Treatment Program. He counts this experience as vital to his job as state representative.
“I thought about who I wanted to be in this position,” said Carey, who replaced South Hadley Democrat John Scibak in the seat. “I wanted somebody young, somebody with some new ideas and some fresh energy, but also some experience. I decided that I was the type of person I wanted to see in the position.”
Scibak, who retired, left behind a legacy of fighting for health care, and social issues, and prioritizing education. Carey’s own plans are not much different.
But so far, Carey has been focusing on addressing the specific needs of his constituents and amplifying their voices. One of his first bills filed independently concerns equine dentistry – a niche Carey said he never expected himself entering and an issue Scibak worked on before him.
“That’s what makes the job so interesting,” Carey said, “Working with folks who are experts and are passionate about all these different areas has been really rewarding so far.”
Carey has submitted a total of seven bills as primary sponsor – all affecting specific changes to the law. His list of co-sponsorships – bills submitted by other House members that Carey signed on to – is much longer, and runs the gamut of education, health care, and social concerns.
Working with other legislators, in particular, those serving western Massachusetts, has been important, he said, after just finishing a conference call with other area members in both the House and Senate.
State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said she thinks the delegation from western Massachusetts has already begun to do a good job untangling the more pressing regional issues facing the area. She said she has found Carey to be “generous” and a “team player.”
“We’re absolutely stronger if we work together,” Comerford said. “The more we can figure out the best ways of collaboration, and the best ways of solving problems together I believe the stronger we will be, and actually I believe our constituents will fare better.”
Comerford has expressed her desire to reform Massachusetts’ school funding formula, something Carey says he supports.
“It’s outdated, and everybody knows that, but we need to do more than just talk about how it’s outdated, we need to actually fix it,” Carey said.
Carey’s concern for education comes from his years as a high school English teacher and a paraprofessional working with students with special needs in his years before becoming a lawyer, he said. Students from Granby were in the Statehouse last Thursday to lobby for funding reform and were slated to meet with Carey.
Much of Carey’s pre-political work has addressed the drug problem in the Pioneer Valley, heading up the district attorney’s Drug Diversion and Treatment Program where he said he worked one-on-one with people struggling with addiction.
Carey said he doesn’t want to see the opioid epidemic forgotten, adding there is still a long way to go in the way the treatment and recovery side is supported.
“There’s a lot of gaps where we lose folks and understanding that relapse is very often a part of recovery,” Carey said. “We need to make sure that we’re still supporting those people as much as we can.”
Jeff Harness, Director of Community Health and Government Relations at Cooley Dickinson Health Care in Northampton agreed, citing transportation issues, patients being unable to get to appointments, and high deductibles and co-pays as other barriers.
“Access to health care is an ongoing challenge.” Harness said. “Massachusetts is ahead of other states on this certainly … there is still work to do to ensure that everybody has access to the care they need.
Harness met with lawmakers on Feb. 8 to lay out Cooley Dickinson’s hopes and concerns for the coming year. These including staffing, and patient reimbursement from insurance providers.
“Rep. Carey was there, and was eager to learn,” Harness said.
The freshman lawmaker, whose grandfather once held the same House seat, agrees. He looks to make himself as available to his constituents as often as possible, shifting his district hours from time to time, location to location, in an effort to make sure everyone has a moment to speak to him. He prefers this to a traditional office, he said.
Western Massachusetts is underrepresented in Boston, Carey said, and he sees it as his job to ensure his constituents receive fair treatment. It is his constituents’ passion for issues that have inspired him thus far, he said, and he wants to serve all of them.
“We’ve got four towns, and if someone in those four towns needs us, we’re here for them,” Carey said.
Carey is holding district office hours this month at the Granby Council on Aging on Feb. 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. and in the Easthampton Municipal Building on Feb. 25 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.
This story was previously published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.