My farewell speech from last Tuesday.

Posted by Jay R. Kaufman on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

My farewell speech on the House floor Tuesday, December 4, 2018 reminiscing on twenty-four years of service.

Kaufman Farewell Address

While it seems like just yesterday, it was 24 years ago that I stood in this historic chamber with my right hand raised to take the oath of office as a State Representative.  True confession time.  Some of the words of that oath never made it past the huge lump in my throat.  Like all of you, I had a profound sense of the privilege and responsibility given to me by my neighbors and now my constituents.  I was oh so mindful of history, the chain of those who served here before me.  I was keenly aware of the challenges that were – indeed are – all about us.  And my heart was filled to overflowing, feeling the presence of my wife Cathy – the love of my life, my best friend, and the first person to encourage my pursuit of this position – and our two sons who stood with me, Noah on my right, Kenneth on my left, as I was sworn in for the first time.

Cathy, Noah and Kenneth I’m so grateful that you are here with me today.  You have kept me centered and anchored, inspired and motivated, moved and moving. Noah and Kenneth, I’m so proud of the intelligent, diligent, compassionate and loving men you have become.  I love the wonderful young women – Hatsy and Sara – you’ve brought into our family, and am grateful beyond words for the grandchildren Lyle and Nathaniel – who have filled places in our hearts we didn’t even know were there.  I love you.

But enough private speaking in public and on to the public speaking.

As I anticipated this last chance to speak, my thoughts went quickly from some singular moments and ways in which we were able to do good to the unfinished work that still lies ahead.  I’d like to offer a few thoughts on a few of the challenges and opportunities at this critical moment in our nation’s political history.

When I was first elected, Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes was in wide circulation and a widely-shared vision for our public life.  In our more tribal, zero-sum world of today, defeat and demean sometimes seems to get more traction than getting to yes.  That makes me sad.  That makes me mad.  And that makes me fear for this fragile experiment in democracy of which we are a part.

Happily I have had the privilege of serving in the Massachusetts legislature which has largely escaped the madness that is our nation’s capital.  But we don’t live in a vacuum and, while there is much we have done, there are plenty of warning signs and plenty of reasons to think and act boldly, not just to revitalize our democracy but to tackle the major adaptive challenges of our day.

Some wonderful things have happened in this Chamber on our watch.  You can now marry the person you love thanks to our Supreme Judicial Court, heartwarming lobbying by loving couples who helped overcome resistance to change, and smart, strategic political actions and votes by many of us serving in the House and Senate. That happened on our watch and, in part, because of us.  And today equal marriage is the law not just here, but in states across the country and in many countries around the world.  I’ll never forget the planning, the debate, the tears of joy when we voted, and then the joy of witnessing friends’ and neighbors’ weddings that they, a few years earlier, could not have imagined.  I don’t think there is another example in history of a major social institution, like marriage and the family, being redefined so boldly and so quickly.  It usually takes generations and centuries.  What an honor to have been part of this.

A few years later, we went on to expand protections to transgender individuals who had seen their rights denied, adding another wonderful chapter to the Massachusetts story of expanding civil rights and rejecting uncivil wrongs.

But even as we celebrate those breakthroughs, we must be mindful that prejudice and hatred are not dead and there are those who would exploit our differences to create divisions.  As a Jew whose family tree has ugly scars where limbs ought to be, I’m scared by the palpable rise of anti-semitism in the world, in the country and in this Commonwealth.  When candidates for high office can make offhand remarks about lynchings, and when the offender-in-chief resides in the White House, we know to be vigilant and that there’s still critical work to be done!

We passed landmark health reform legislation that held out the promise of universal, affordable healthcare.  That, in turn, led the nation to adopt a similar law.  And now the unfinished agenda is to fight those who would turn the clock back, and then take more steps to realize the promise of good, affordable healthcare for all as a right.  We still have to control costs, to fight the scourge of opiates and eradicate the medical practices and social conditions that created and sustain the opiate crisis, and we know that family wealth and zip code are still reliable predictors of health outcomes.  All that leaves us with work to do.

We just passed a law addressing the need for civics education in our schools.  Horace Mann served in this Chamber and is widely regarded as the father of public education.  It is worth reminding ourselves that he invented public education precisely because democracy demands an informed, engaged citizenry.  He saw that we have a shared interest in preparing the next generation of voters and leaders.  There is plenty of evidence that we have fallen very short in this regard, and our new law is an important step on the road back to where we need to be.  Now it remains for those of you returning here to build on that law.  The future of our experiment with democracy depends on it.

Much as the incivility and the failures of informed civic engagement threaten democracy, the large and growing wealth and income divide, the shrinking middle class, and decreasing social and economic mobility threaten both our economy and our democracy.  This house divided cannot stand.  You know that, for much of the past five plus years, I have had a singular focus on passing the Fair Share Amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution as one critical and powerful step.  On two occasions, we and our Senate colleagues met in this chamber in Constitutional Convention and seven out of ten of us voted in favor of the reform proposal brought to us through the hard work of the Raise Up Coalition.  Sadly, the State Supreme Judicial Court knocked the measure off the ballot.  That same measure, had it been a legislative rather than citizen initiative, could not have been challenged and would have been passed by the Commonwealth’s voters and by about the same 70% margin that it got in here.  The unfinished work is for the legislature to now follow up on the two votes already taken.  A new Fair Share bill should be introduced in January and get a Constitutional Convention vote in the first six months of 2019.  With a similar follow-through in 2021, our constituents can then vote on it in 2022.  That will represent a major critical step to make our tax system more fair and to make our revenue and economy more sustainable. Most of you know that I have had a countdown timer on my iPhone for the past four years in anticipation of a successful Fair Share vote this past November 6th.  While I’m extremely disappointed that this success was denied us, ever the optimist, my iPhone is now programmed to count down to November 8, 2022, 1435 days from today.  It’s not too soon to get started, and I’m counting on you to get it done.

There is so much more I could say about other missions accomplished and missions left to be accomplished, but I want to use the few moments left to me to reflect not on what we have done and can do, but on how we do it.  As many of you know, together with colleagues of both parties from across the country, I have launched a new non-profit organization to provide leadership training, mentoring and support for those working in the public square – legislators, city councilors, school committee members, citizen activists and others.

In addition to the courses I’ve taken, reading I’ve done, and experiences I’ve had leading training programs both here and abroad, I take a great deal of knowledge and experience with me from 24 years in this House.  Specifically, I’ve served under four Speakers and want to acknowledge each for some of the leadership lessons they have helped me learn.

Speaker Robert DeLeo, you have allowed me to serve as the House chair of the Committee on Revenue for the entire time you have served as Speaker, this despite the fact that I’ve not mastered the art of going along to get along.  You and I have not always agreed.  Indeed, we have frequently disagreed on taxes in particular, the very subject matter you charged me to address.  And yet, despite our differences and despite the fact that some of your team members could not understand why you stuck with me, you did.  I hope that in some small way I have repaid your faith in me.

Speaker Sal DiMasi.  I’m so honored that you chose today for your return to the State House.  That you are here at all is testimony to the strength of the human will and that you are here with all you humor, insight, and compassion intact is evidence of the strength of yours. Two of the great accomplishments I referenced earlier – the health care law and equal marriage – happened on your watch and, in no small measure, because of your leadership.   You empowered those around you – chairs and rank and file members alike – to take on responsibility.  We are a dramatically better Commonwealth for the passion and talent you brought to this Chamber and to the Speaker’s office.  You also gave me my first chairmanship, a new platform from which to try to make my contributions.  For your contributions and for those you empowered me to make, I am deeply grateful.

Speaker Tom Finneran. We owe you a great deal for the state’s rainy day fund and the discipline you brought to how we navigate economic cycles.  And, as I’ve told you, in many ways, my work in leadership education can be traced back to your years in the Speaker’s office. I was deeply impressed by much I saw, your keen mind and passion for public service high on that list.  I cherished the intellectual challenge of discussing policy matters with you.  I knew I had to be prepared and strive to keep up with your mental agility and communication skills.  But I also found the concentration of power and authority in your office that began on your watch disconcerting and disturbing.  I began to read and take courses on leadership, in part to reconcile my competing sentiments.  This, in turn, led to a deeper understanding of what it takes and what it means to exercise leadership, particularly in times of stress and change.  I take your many strengths and that understanding with me into the work ahead.

Speaker Charlie Flaherty.  I think back to my first year and a half here.  We came into the Chamber and the committee reports on any bills that might come up were on our desks.  We could read about the issues and what supporters and opponents had to say about actions we might take.  We wouldn’t think of voting on a bill that hadn’t been explained by its sponsor or the chair of the committee of jurisdiction, and it was expected that we would consider every amendment, whether to a bill or to the budget, offered by a member.  We had lots of debate and lots of opportunity to enhance our debating and political skills. House sessions were much longer than they are today and the outcome of votes less predictable. I treasure the memory of taking to the floor during my first budget debate in 1995 to propose an amendment that I knew you wouldn’t like.  Indeed when I told you of my plan to do so, not out of disrespect for you but out of respect for the constituents who had sent me here, you encouraged me to speak and warned me that I would lose.  Fair enough!  When the measure lost by only a few votes, you called me up to the rostrum, congratulated me on a good presentation, and then let me know that had my position prevailed, there would have been an immediate motion for reconsideration and I would have lost the vote second time around.  Again, fair enough!  You were coaching this novice on the realities of the institution.  But first you were affirming that each member of this institution had a responsibility and an opportunity to engage. You set the bar high, demanding a lot of yourself and a lot of us, and presiding as the first among equals.  As I move on to encourage and empower better public sector leadership, I take with me your example, the encouragement and empowerment of those first years here, not to mention your friendship since then.

I have had the privilege of being a part of historic moments and doing much good work.  There is an abundance of challenges – opportunities for yet more good work – that I wish I could have addressed.  And there are examples and models of leadership qualities to guide this Chamber in the years ahead. To you, my partners in this chamber and in this noble undertaking, I’m so grateful for our time together and for the skill and will to serve that brings you here. I hope that, in some small way, I was able to not just serve with you but to serve you. In turn, I thank you for the countless ways you have made me a better legislator, a better public servant, and more hopeful for our democracy.  I wish you much joy and much success as you face the Commonwealth’s important and unfinished business.