Before I was elected to the State House in 2002, I worked as a Legal Aid attorney for Merrimack Valley Legal Services (MVLS), helping working people in Lowell and Lawrence fight evictions, get unemployment benefits, and applying for Social Security Disability. I was proud to receive an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to practice Community Economic Development (CED) law in Lowell and Lawrence, helping low-income people to buy their first homes, start their own businesses, and create their own non-profits to challenge problems in their neighborhoods. I also did work for some of the already-existing non-profit organizations, including Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA), Cambodian Mutual Aid Association, Cambodian American League of Lowell, and Lawrence Community Works.
I had practiced CED law as a student at Boston College Law School, at the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, representing non-profits and community development corporations (CDCs) in Boston – including Viet-AID, Jamaica Plan Neighborhood Development Corporation, and Tent City CDC in the South End. It was an amazing experience to see how the Harvard Law School clinic could help transform neighborhoods in Boston, creating jobs, affordable housing, and safer communities for many people.
I saw the true power of grassroots campaigning while I managed then-State Representative Pam Resor’s re-election campaign in 1998, and then managed her State Senate campaign in 2000. I had previously worked as a legislative aide to former State Senator Bob Durand, whom I had been introduced to while at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School by my basketball coach and political mentor, Arthur Lambert.
When I ran for State Representative in 2002, I decided to run under the Clean Elections law, which I had helped pass as a volunteer in 1998. In many ways the law was designed for a candidate like me, as I made very little money as a Legal Aid lawyer (starting salary: $27k a year). I was up against candidates twice as old as I was, with significantly more financial resources. But being publicly-financed as a candidate, I spent my time talking to voters about their concerns and what issues were most important to them, and didn’t have to concentrate on the needs of special interest groups or wealthy donors. Without the Clean Elections law, I know I wouldn’t have been able to run the kind of grassroots campaign that I did, and I doubt if I would have won the election.
Now with a new opportunity before me, my adrenaline has kicked in. I’m excited to have the opportunity to weigh in on so many national issues that have frustrated me since I first became politically active. Over the past six years, I have watched as President Bush neglected the public interest to start a war that was based on a pattern of lies, and has lost the United States credibility throughout the rest of the world. Our federal government has violated civil liberties here at home, and purposely worked to serve special interests while the middle class, working class, and the poor have lost even more economic security.
Like most of you, I’m tired of just watching the news in frustration, or reading yet another book about how President Bush has sacrificed the lives of too many men and women from my generation in Iraq. Washington conservatism is threatening our country’s future through elitist policies that have only increased healthcare and energy costs, weakened public education, and ignored global warming at the world’s peril.
Fortunately, my work campaigning for Deval Patrick helped restore my faith that a people-powered campaign can work, and that Democrats who stand up for their progressive values and beliefs will find strong support amongst Massachusetts voters. I was one of the first state legislators to endorse Deval Patrick for Governor, and I worked hard as one of his Senate District Coordinators. Alongside DSC member Kate Donaghue, I helped organize door to door campaigning and phone banks in each of the fourteen towns in the Senate District, and it was the most rewarding campaign that I have ever been a part of.
Since I created an Exploratory Committee two weeks ago, I’ve been reaching out to Democratic activists and leaders throughout the 5th Congressional District, and speaking to Democratic gatherings and meetings about my work at the State House, and my positions on federal issues.
It has been rewarding to share my vision for Congressional leadership across the district, but my favorite event so far was a Lawrence Community Works event that celebrated ten women receiving their graduation certificate for an anti-poverty program called the Individual Development Account (IDA) program. I helped to fund this program last year, and it allows poor families to save money that is matched by the state and federal government, and can then be used to buy a home, start a business, or pay college tuition. It was amazing to listen to the graduates talk about how the IDA program had helped transform their lives and restored their faith in other human beings. I even got to speak to the group in Spanish, telling the graduates, “El gobierno puede cambiar la vida de las personas, y ustedes aqui son ejemplos de eso.” I’m working right now on doubling the funding for this innovative, successful state program in the state’s FY08 budget.
Beyond my personal outreach, I am excited and honored to have such a tremendous campaign staff on board with me. Each member of my staff has extensive experience working in grassroots campaigns, and electing progressive politicians – sometimes against the odds. I am busy putting together volunteers for the campaign and fundraising, if the seat should open up.
In the meantime, I would appreciate any and all feedback from bloggers, on the issues you most want to hear about and your experiences about how to run a successful campaign as a progressive without establishment consultants, or anything else that would be helpful. I can be reached at james@RepEldridge.com, and I encourage you to check out my State Representative website, www.RepEldridge.com. I will do my best to respond to your comments on the blogs.
And any suggestions on where a 6’5″ former high school basketball player can buy a great suit will be much appreciated as well – I need to upgrade a bit! I know we, and I mean WE, can win this campaign together, and I sincerely ask for you support, your council, and your help in this endeavor.