Amongst the roar and rumpus of the presidential horse race, state governance and local issues are too often overlooked. But two Tufts alumni, Dan Winslow, A80, and Carl Sciortino, Jr., A00, are upholding the traditions of active citizenship in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
“We are the elephants in the room,” said Winslow, Representative for the 9th Norfolk district and member of the Tisch College Board of Advisors, referring not only to Jumbo pride, but also his status as one of the few elected Republicans in the state.
“I sometimes say it as a joke, but really it’s true,” said Sciortino, Representative for the 34th Middlesex district, which includes the Tufts Medford campus, “at the state level we work on pot holes, global warming, and everything in between.”
Sciortino was first elected in 2004. He defeated the incumbent, Vincent Ciampa, by just 93 votes in the Democratic primary, after a campaign that focused heavily on same-sex marriage. Winslow came to office in 2010, having served for three years as chief legal counsel to then-governor Mitt Romney.
“There are far more options for people to be engaged in the Massachusetts Republican party,” said Winslow. “Democratic incumbents have such a lock, and it’s so hard to dislodge someone from the same party, there’s a dearth of participation.”
“We can be fearless,” Winslow continued. “The party leader won’t take away your office, and you don’t have to worry about getting put in a grade C parking spot, because you’re already there. It’s empowering because we can be fearless and put ideas on the table. For example, I support the medical use of marijuana, which is on the ballot this year. And I revel in snapping at ankles. I’ve been a Republican in Massachusetts my whole life, I’m used to adversity and I thrive on it.”
For Sciortino, preserving marriage equality was a key issue in his first years in the state house. A biology major at Tufts with experience in community health organizations, he serves on the Joint Committee on Public Health. In the wake of the recession and slow recovery, Sciortino has been looking ahead to the future of the Commonwealth.
“The biggest challenge facing Massachusetts this year is transportation,” said Sciortino, “and figuring out how to pay for the infrastructure people and the economy need. Revenues are a part of that question – we’re looking at a $20 billion deficit over the next 20 years – so there’s no way to be honest without talking about new revenues.”
Sciortino cites the planned extension of the T system’s green line from its current termination at the Cambridge Lechmere stop through Somerville up to Tufts as a key project.
“We’ve had to fight for the green line every step of the way,” he said. “But we’ll break ground this fall and construction won’t stop until 2018 or 2020. We’re in a debate that’s really critical over what the state’s share of that funding will be. And nationally, whoever controls federal spending impacts transportation locally. Elections have consequences, at every level.”
Both Sciortino and Winslow said their time at Tufts led directly to their political careers.
“Tufts was a microcosm of the world,” said Winslow. “As a student, I helped get the blue emergency lights on campus, and worked with others to get the campus center going. I learned the skillset of engaged politics, understanding how to solve problems, and respectfully disagree in a vociferous debate. Practicing that in the context of a university community, I’ve carried it through life, and we need more of it in government.”
“Tufts culture is such a key difference,” Winslow continued. “You’re treated as an adult and given the opportunity to act. You’re not babysat, so you develop a sense of self, both inward and outward focus. Tisch College provides the laboratory for engagement, so I always tell students, go to community events, join organizations, work on campaigns. Find your passion and make that your work. That’s how you leave the world somehow better than when you arrived.”
For Sciortino, the level of involvement on campus is something to be treasured.
“As a student, I don’t think I fully realized just how encouraged and accessible opportunities to make a positive difference in the community were, because active citizenship is so prevalent on campus,” he said. “So it became really important to me to figure out how to do it once I was out of school, where it’s harder.”
“The great thing about the legislature is that there is a sense of collegiality and common purpose,” Sciortino continued. “I love being able to stand two seats from Rep. Winslow and have a debate where we’re both speaking from our core values, and our beliefs and principles. One wins and one loses, that’s democracy.”
Originally published November 2012