Jarrett Barrios, Massachusetts, 1998
Jarrett T. Barrios (D)
Born October 16, 1960
Elected State Representative November 1998
Elected State Senate 2002
Re-elected 2004, 2006
Interview with Jarrett Barrios for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: What is the general theme or message you try to deliver to your constituents and how do you do it?
A: I am sort of a salesman, a street peddler. I go door to door and I sell democracy to my constituents. The way politics works in Cambridge is that it is very hands on, and the way I was elected and the way I continue to function as an elected official is by peddling my ideas face to face. What I tell folks, in terms of how it is translated into a message, if you want to call it that, is – how would I say it – “if you’re are not participating, don’t complain.” (Chuckle.) It’s a sort of in-your-face type of politics. I’ll say, “You know, I really like your opinion about that – have you called your rep. about that? Have you called your city councilor about that?”
It is very important. The direct democracy piece of it crosses political viewpoints. I have a lot of very conservative people who support me because they are very attracted to the idea of being able to call their representative, get a call back, have me come to their door, of really being interested in their opinion, of responding, of basically taking care of business. You might call this like Al D’Amato, who had that reputation of being “Senator Pothole.” That’s one perspective on it – I think all in all that it is the same issue whether it is D’Amato or its me. Its about maintaining a direct link with the person you represent.
How does that translate when I talk to folks? You have a right to have a representative and you have a responsibility to let that representative hear from you. It’s that right you have hand in hand with that responsibility that makes democracy work. It is somewhat of a cerebral message, but it is one that at least in Cambridge, people both appreciate and support. So, that is sort of my shtick.
Q: Why is this important to you politically?
A: It is important to understand that I have a lot of Latinos in my constituency and African Americans who don’t participate in the process. So when I say I’m “selling democracy,” what I’m selling is the importance of participation to a variety of communities in my district. To pull members of my community – the people of color, especially within the Latino community, and me being Latino and one of the few Latinos who is elected in Massachusetts – it is very important.
Actually, it is something I spend a lot of time working on, not just in my district, but I travel around the state talking to Latino organizations in communities where they do not have Latinos who are elected to office. I encourage people to run for office, I encourage people to participate in local government to make their opinion heard, and that is why it has kind of become my mantra. I’m never going to be anything politically, that is my issues are not going to have even a fair hearing, aren’t going to be valued to the degree at which they merit being valued, until the people who benefit from those issues – the immigrants, the minorities, the poor – take the time to make their wishes heard. So, I spend a lot of my time getting them to be themselves and make their voices heard.
Q: Are there other ways you are encouraging participation?
A: We are doing a first-of-its-kind conference soon with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, of which I am a member, and we are doing a campaign training institute for Latinos to get people to think about running for office. We are going to do all of the stuff that it takes to, you know, do a campaign plan. All the kinds of stuff that you maybe would take for granted if you’ve worked in a political office before. But, if you are from a community that doesn’t have a history of running candidates, that doesn’t have a history of elected officials, that certain skill bank doesn’t exist in your community, so were trying to enhance our community’s skills by encouraging this.