By Susannah Sudborough
BU News Service
BOSTON — For Norman Orrall, the new Massachusetts state representative for the 12th Bristol District, public service is more than just a calling, it is a family tradition. A fifth-generation Lakeville resident, Orrall said that for generations, everyone in his family has served the town or region in some capacity.
“I ran out of [caring] for the people,” he said. “I want to see a brighter future and do my part to make it happen.”
Before Orrall was elected a state representative, he served as the Lakeville town moderator, on the finance committee, on the town planning and master plan committee, and worked on public sector engineering projects for over 20 years.
Chawner Hurd, a former Lakeville selectman who has worked with Orrall for over a decade, says that is in keeping with the Orrall family reputation in the region for being community-oriented and civic-minded.
Hurd describes Orrall as a “classic, old-school New England Republican,” adding that the new legislator is more issue-oriented than partisan. “A kinder, gentler Republican than you often see now.”
Previously, Orrall was the chief of planning and engineering for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, and worked on many Boston roadways, as well as seawalls and piers around the state.
Given his background in civil engineering, Orrall views infrastructure and transportation as his first legislative priority.
“Working on federal and state infrastructure projects, I got to see how they’re built, who is involved, and what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
In particular, Orrall said he is hoping to be an advocate for the South Coast Rail extension.
Although, he said, it is important to him to listen to and address concerns locals may have about the project, “It’s not just about getting it done but doing it right,” he said.
Orrall said he is also very concerned about possible flooding in local ponds and waterways. The Lakeville community faced severe flooding in 2010, and locals, including Orrall, think that current water levels are dangerously high.
Another priority for Orrall is preserving the manufacturing jobs that still exist in the region and bringing jobs that fulfill the economic potential of Bristol County.
“We have so many assets and it’s time we jump on them as a region,” he said.
Still, he said, it is important that any state-created programs have enough flexibility to allow municipalities to implement the programs how they see fit.
“All the communities I serve are looking for different things in terms of economic development,” Orrall said. “I don’t want to push down on them, I want to let them influence up.”
Supporting local agriculture is another priority of Orrall’s. Coming from a family of farmers and being a part-time farmer himself, he said he thinks agriculture is a beloved part of the South Coast that must be protected.
He is also conscious of the prevalence of seniors and their younger caregivers in Bristol County, he said, and is seeking to pass legislation to help make sure seniors are able to stay independent and in their homes and that their caregivers are recognized by the state for the role they play.
Orrall has already acted on many of these issues. Of the six bills he has sponsored so far, two address caring for seniors, one seeks to protect water resources, one is meant to promote manufacturing in Massachusetts, and one supports farm machinery maintenance.
Orrall said his committee appointments will allow him to have additional impact on these issues. He was recently appointed to the Transportation, Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture committees and the House Bonding, Capital Expenditures, and State Assets Committee.
Another asset may be his connection to the previous 12th District representative: his own wife Keiko Orrall. He said she is well-respected in the Legislature and that he thinks it has been a benefit to be associated with her.
“People say ‘well we liked her, so we’ll give you a shot,’” he said.
While he and his wife have different strengths and backgrounds, Orrall said, he hopes to continue her positive reputation.
“We deliver the same hard work, so hopefully the district likes me too.”
Keiko Orrall, who chose not to run for her seat again again in 2018, said she thinks that Norman is already very well-liked in the Legislature.
“It’s not quite like Cheers at the Statehouse,” she said. “But when Norm came in people were like ‘Norm!’”
She said it is helpful to have that kind of likability, believing that reaching across the aisle and working together to build towards solutions is one of the biggest challenges in the Legislature.
“People like him because they see he’s just trying to help,” she said.
Orrall said he is proud of the fact that many of the bills he has introduced have bipartisan support, and that this is an important value given the many challenges he sees ahead for the Legislature and the district.
“I’m learning that there are so many good ways to spend money,” he said. “Even when you’re in a good state like we are now.”
Orrall says he also thinks regulating new technology, such as ride-sharing scooters, can be difficult.
“You don’t want to just react, you want to get ahead.”
Regardless of what challenges lie ahead, Norman Orrall said he will be continuing his family’s generations-old commitment to community service. “He’s stepping up to serve others,” said Keiko. “And that’s something we need more of.”
This article was previously published in the South Coast Today.