By Trevor Ballantyne
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in The Metro West Daily News.
Weeks after MetroWest residents hit the polls in record numbers to re-elect U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives voted the congresswoman to the sixth-most powerful leadership position in the legislative body.
In her new role as vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, the representative for Massachusetts’ 5th Congressional District says she aims to be a unifier among colleagues, despite a political atmosphere fraught with tension.
“We are in a time of divisive rhetoric and dangerous policies coming from the (Trump) administration,” Clark, 55, acknowledged last Friday. “I hope the House can be a place where we start to change that.”
For the first time since 2009, Democrats will control the House of Representatives, with California Rep. Nancy Pelosi expected to become House speaker for a second time.
“We have a tremendously diverse caucus,” Clark said, “and my goal is to make sure that we are using the talents and the voices we have to help set common goals.”
U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, who represents the neighboring 4th Congressional District, expressed confidence in Clark’s leadership.
“She is as decent a person as they come,” Kennedy said, “but what’s most important is Katherine’s record.”
Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Clark attended St. Lawrence University in upstate New York before earning a law degree at Cornell University. In 1990, she worked as a clerk for a federal judge in Colorado before becoming the top prosecutor in the state’s Attorney General’s office. Prior to joining Congress in 2013, Clark served on the Melrose School Committee and was elected to the state Legislature both as a senator and representative.
“This is an elected official and a leader who has a long record of looking out for the most vulnerable and making sure the law applies equally and fairly across our communities,” Kennedy said.
Earlier this year, Clark grabbed headlines for her line of questioning in a hearing related to U.S. Housing Secretary Ben Carson’s purchase of a $31,000 dining set, as well as her sharp rebuke of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her department’s funding of private schools.
With Democratic control of Congress solidified, Clark said she looks forward to recalibrating her party’s strategy away from defense into one that produces results and thinks many of her colleagues’ goals align with those of her constituents.
“The issues that we are debating and that really drove the midterm elections are the same issues that I hear about at home,” said Clark, whose district includes Framingham, Natick, Ashland, Holliston, Wayland, Weston, Sherborn and most of Sudbury.
In addition to conversations about housing costs and access to health care, Clark said she knows transportation is a major issue and plays a key role in keeping the MetroWest economy vibrant and moving forward.
Clark said her position on the Subcommittee for Transportation becomes even more effective with her new role, and plans to use her clout as a way to help improve transportation infrastructure in the commonwealth — and especially for her constituents.
“We need to make sure that priorities for public transportation are part of the state’s plans,” Clark said. “MetroWest is a huge economic driver for the entire state and we need to recognize that.”
Of course, with the excitement of her new position and the ability to serve her constituents more effectively, Clark also recognizes that she will be operating within a polarized and divisive political atmosphere. But she said the Democratic Party is committed to fostering cooperation with its Republican colleagues.
“We need to make sure that we are effective at leading, and that means we will continue to build coalitions and work across the aisle,” Clark said. “I am hoping we will have greater opportunities to move forward with a unified Congress.”