By Emma Lyons
Arts & Features Editor
State Rep. Jack Lewis (D-Framingham/Ashland) visited campus to speak to political science students in the Alumni Room about his career Nov. 14.
Lewis said he grew up in Ohio where his father was a factory worker and his mother was a preschool teacher. He knew from a young age he wanted to find a job where he would be able to help people, but he didn’t have a specific career in mind.
He said he began looking into career opportunities in government when he was in high school because it was “the most logical place to get involved where [he] could bring about policy changes or support candidates that have values I cared about.”
Lewis said he first got involved in election campaigning through volunteering in Tim Hagan’s gubernatorial campaign in 2002.
Hagan was the husband of Lewis’ idol at the time, Kate Mulgrew. “I remember it like it was yesterday - coming down the stairs for breakfast and my mom reading the paper being like, ‘Yeah, Jack, that lady you’re obsessed with on TV, her husband is running for governor. I bet if you volunteer for his campaign, you’ll get to meet her.’
“I got to meet Kate Mulgrew within a couple of days, and I became a very, very active volunteer,” he said.
Though they ultimately lost, Lewis said he was impressed by how the campaign trusted him to complete tasks as a 16-year-old. “I’d never experienced that before - where somebody treated me like a real person and expected things from me and then used the things I put together in a productive way.”
His involvement in Hagan’s campaign shaped his political views. “Tim Hagan was a progressive Democrat and so - while I came to meet Kate Mulgrew - I left with his politics.
“I joke that had he been a conservative Republican, who knows where my politics would have gone,” he said.
As he was graduating high school, Lewis said the events of 9/11 guided him to an interest in pursuing foreign service work. This led him to attend the University of Utah with majors in political science, Middle Eastern studies, and international studies.
“I was able to explore going to college - something that extended family really didn’t have the opportunity to do,” he said.
While in college, Lewis said he studied abroad in Egypt and Morocco and did a volunteer service summer in Ghana.
After graduating, he attended a “very progressive” small seminary, a theological school that prepared students for the ministry, in St. Louis, Missouri.
He was able to study abroad and traveled to India and Venezuela studying liberation theology.
He said it was during this time that he had “finally come out to [himself] as a gay man.”
This caused personal complications for him as he was “spending all this time in a country where [he] can’t truly be [himself].”
After graduating from seminary school, he said he did a nationwide search for jobs, but struggled finding churches that would hire him due to his sexuality.
He said he spoke to a lot of congregations that claimed to be progressive, but brought up uncomfortable questions when they learned he had a husband.
“I had experienced some discrimination in my life, but not to the extent that I felt during that hiring process,” he said.
He found a church in Wellesley that hired him and he served in the congregation focusing on social justice programs and religious education. He said this “scratched a lot of itches” because he could work with the things he cared the most about.
Within the first few weeks working in the church, Lewis said he received calls from parents of LGBT+ children who had recently come out, and they were looking for help supporting their children.
These conversations led to him creating Out MetroWest, an organization that provides support to LGBT+ youth, which Lewis said he ran while still keeping his job in the congregation.
“The organization got so large that it was, to some extent, as active as a lot of the church programs,” Lewis said. This led to the decision to separate the organization from the church and become a non-profit organization, causing Lewis to leave his job in the congregation to work for the organization full time as the executive director.
While still working for Out MetroWest, he said he also became involved in local election campaigns.
He said he always knew he wanted to run for office, but had doubts of pursuing it because of the low chances of winning the election. “Most people who run don’t get elected, so I need a job to do that’s going to be fulfilling because, even if someday I run for something, I probably can lose.”
In the summer of 2015, Lewis said he decided he was going to run for office. He had intended to run for city council or the select board, but became interested in running for state representative after Thompson McAndrew announced he was not running for reelection as a state representative.
He said he had several meetings with elected officials he knew to talk about the potential of running for office and “all those meetings ended off with the person being like, ‘Oh, no, you’re running.’”
Lewis said he dedicated nine months to his campaign and won the first race by 64 votes in the Democratic primary.
Lewis said state representatives are “expected to do and be involved in everything,” but there is an additional expectation to find areas of interest to actually contribute to.
“I take a lead on some environmental things, definitely some LGBT issues, animal welfare - that’s probably my main portfolio,” he said. He also works as the co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, which he said was “an honor to be elected by my peers to lead that.”
He said a lot of his energy is spent managing his colleagues in the House Progressive Caucus and identifying priority bills. He added over the last four years, about 70% of their priority bills have become laws.
Lewis said he also served for two years on a “relatively new” committee on export development. “Its purpose is to help to support Massachusetts' international exports and trade.”
Lewis said he has also had the opportunity to become involved with international work around human rights, LGBT+ rights, and women’s rights.
He said during the pandemic he had a lot of involvement with international governments.
“A lot of the work I do, especially during the pandemic, is not known to my constituents,” Lewis said.
For example, Lewis facilitated conversations to connect doctors in Framingham to doctors from Wuhan, China in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic to speak about what methods were working and which weren’t.
“It wasn’t a conversation that anybody was looking to see on the front page of a paper - I certainly didn’t post it on social media - but those were vital conversations that folks wanted and I think were helpful,” he said.
Lewis said it is difficult to keep everyone happy while working as a state representative. “It’s impossible to keep everyone happy. Even the people who liked me have been irritated with me at least once over the last six years.”