Q&A: Rep. Sanchez on Fighting for Healthcare, Chairing a Powerful Committee and More

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State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez recently sat down with Jamaica Plain News to talk about a range of topics -- how his mother inspired him, his proudest moments as a legislator, his Democratic opponent this fall, chairing the House Committee of Ways and Means and more.

State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-15th Suffolk 

Rep. Sanchez, D-15th Suffolk, was first elected in 2003, and was named chairman of the House Committee of Ways and Means in 2017. He is being challenged by Democrat Nika Elugardo this September.

The following is a condensed transcript of Jamaica Plain News' interview with Rep. Sanchez.

Q: When someone thinks of State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez – what do you want them to think of?

Sanchez: I want them to think about someone who’s grounded in this community with a family who has a history of work, hard work, struggle and involvement that’s led to powerful changes in this community and city.

I’ve devoted my life based on the model that I had with my mother. She was a community activist and I saw how she struggled and that she did everything for myself or my sister. At the same time she educated herself at Boston State College, worked as a receptionist at Nurtury day care and organized women in our community to challenge the status quo, which led to great success; Like that more Boston Public Housing stock was maintained and not given away to the institutions, therefore guaranteeing public housing for many people today. So that’s the example I had all of my life and I try to live every day – to organize, work with stakeholders to find progressive solutions to challenges we face every single day and stand up for rights. My record shows it.

This particular session was an extremely progressive session for things we’ve been talking about for a long time. Beyond that, our accomplishments have been profound -- health insurance for all in Massachusetts, we have a booming economy with so many people working. In this district we’ve built hundreds of units of housing, found resources like for the Hyde Square Task Force to do work with kids and keep them engaged in the system. For the elderly we have a system that housed people in the nursing system and built a public healthcare system where folks who are aging can stay in the comfort of their homes and keep quality services that preserve their life. We raised the minimum wage to $15. We are the only state that avoided a sales tax repeal that was going to cost us $1.5 billion, and we will guarantee paid family leave.

We made our already strongest in the nation language on gun ownership a lot stronger by passing a bill that creates an Extreme Protection Risk Order where courts can hear from a close family member, or an individual, or a gun owner can report to a court if a person is a danger to themselves or others. These are things people thought we’d never be able to do and we walked across the line and ideologies and found solutions in a very progressive and aggressive way.

Q: You’re the rep for 15th Suffolk District – it’s an oddly chopped district that includes Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, a little bit of Roslindale and a little bit of Brookline. How do you pay attention to all of those varied places?

Sanchez: I don’t sleep. I don’t sleep. I make time for my kids and my family. I’m constantly going to community meetings and meeting with community leaders and meeting with individuals who have concerns, because at this job it’s a lot about being on the ground. That’s what informs me in public policy. I learn from experiences that people have on a day-to-day basis and try to spend my time at places that need my attention.

I have a great staff and work with community organizers on how to address issues. I spend a lot of time at Bromley-Heath (editor's note: now known as Mildred C. Hailey Apartments)… It’s what I’ve known it as my entire life. It’s hard to switch names. I worked with Mildred Hailey. We’ve brought resources there and have a daily presence there. We’re constantly organizing, and we’ve had significant horrible issues that have happened there. The tenants are making sure they work with young people and troubled individuals who are suffering from substance abuse and other things who are trying to tackle bigger picture issues.

One thing I’ve learned is that I’m committed to MassHealth. MassHealth services one-third of the population in Massachusetts. Two million people -- the frail, elderly, the working poor. That program is an economic development project for so many people in this community. And I’ve committed myself to healthcare from the time we wrote the containment law in 2012 that we established a benchmark where health care companies couldn’t grow above a certain point every year. And at the same time, we’re the envy of the world in terms of services provided to people year-after-year. Not only do we have big hospitals, but our safety net infrastructure is second to none. Go up and down Columbus Avenue -- from the South End Community Center, the Whittier Street Health Center -- despite its challenges recently – the Martha Eliot Health Center, the Brookside Community Health Center.

I think the district is great for a rep like me. It provides me with the true example of what this city is about, and what this country is about. This district is a microcosm of the country and the state. We have poor, middle class, we have wealthy, and we have diversity – not only in race and ethnicity, but also economics.

Q: Do you think it would be better if the district were more contained to only two specific neighborhoods to give that are a greater focus by the representative?

Sanchez: I think the district is great for a rep like me. It provides me with the true example of what this city is about, and what this country is about. This district is a microcosm of the country and the state. We have poor, middle class, we have wealthy, and we have diversity – not only in race and ethnicity, but also economics. And I think it’s given me so much in terms of understanding, hearing ideas and putting to test ideas that people have from a larger scale down to ground and vice versa. It’s an incredible place. And we have the great infrastructure of the park system around us. There’s so much here. I’m proud of my district.

Q: You were previously the chair of the Health Care Financing Committee and co-chaired the Joint Committee on Public Health. You’ve proposed legislation to help eliminate racial and ethnic disparities, to conduct a review of fetal and infant mortality. Those aren’t topics that grab headlines, but they’re important. What drives you to have a focus on health care?

Sanchez: The way my district looks, given what I have around me, we’re in a healthcare town in my district, in terms of infrastructure, services people receive, and where people work. Remember look statewide – healthcare is 12% of our economy. We have a lot of people who have committed their lives to healthcare. Also academia. We have a lot of people in this world. That’s frankly where I’ve learned a lot. In those committees I’ve been given a broader look at what challenges people face.

In Boston we have big academic centers. In Lawrence, Brockton – their community hospitals don’t have the services we have out here. From talking to them and understanding their challenges that community centers have – we crafted a bill that assesses hospitals to support that infrastructure -- over $300 million going to community health centers and community centers that are struggling when MassHealth reorganizes itself. MassHealth touches one-third of the population, and services have been based on a system that was a misincentive. What they’re doing now is integrating services to provide folks with more attention based on individual and with community based partners, not just in an ivory tower of a medical center. It has community based care and that’s relevant to people. Those are big deals.

State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-15th Suffolk, was first elected to the State House in 2003.

I have a race. And I’m raising money. Simply beecause people contribute I don’t ask what their motives are, I work with everybody.

Q: With being the Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means comes a lot of power to help legislation move forward or stay in the committee it’s in. Thus people want your ear and that often means campaign donations

According to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the last four year’s of your campaign account ended with:

2017 year end: $80,755

2016 year end: $52,557

2015 year end: $53,970

2014 year end: $22,100

So your campaign jumped more in 2017 than it normally would – and that’s not a bad thing. Do you feel that more people are donating to your campaign because of your chairmanship? And how does that affect your chairmanship?

Sanchez: I have a race. And I’m raising money. Simply. Because people contribute I don’t ask what their motives are, I work with everybody. Everybody. And my record proves that during my entire career. At the end of the day my heart is based in this community with my family and in the work I do to improve conditions for people who don’t have a voice. That’s what I’ve done every single day.

Q: You were chosen to be the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means by Speaker DeLeo. How do you work with him as the chair of that committee?

Sanchez: The same way I worked with him in the Public Health Committee when he was Ways and Means. We have a sense of what’s going in our community and I listen to my community in everything I do. And that impacts ideas.

I use the example of criminal justice reform. We spent over a year working with The Council of State Governments to talk about challenges of reentry programs when they get out of the sheriff’s department. They made recommendations and the speaker was committed to them, and at the same time he knew that wasn’t the only thing we needed to do because he was listening to us and committed to doing it. And as a result we passed a criminal justice reform package that did things that no one else would do. Ideas like expungement, CORI reform, diversion and bail reform. We did something to make sure municipal police training is funded, reworked child court in how they deal with diversion and substance abuse and all the challenges. And the state police -- they asked for classes and we created a commission to see how they’re spending money and we embedded someone from the inspector general’s office in their office to see how they’re doing.

Those are just a few provisions, and there are a lot more. We were proud we could work together and get something passed that is making things that are helping people. It stems from conversations with Speaker DeLeo and other people. I’m not the only one. (The State House) building is not a monolith. The legislature was built as a deliberative body. And we have conversations. Is it difficult? Yes. But we worked deliberatively because that’s our role. And there are a lot of subject areas that we work on a daily basis. It could be the environment, animal welfare, voting rights -- all these issues, all these subject ideas that people have --- a lot of them are great ideas and at the same time we have to figure out how do you get it done?

Those things also depend upon what’s going on in the broader world. Things can move quicker and then all of a sudden things switch. We were made to be deliberate and our founding fathers formed this body so we can talk about things, and if they didn’t get it right this legislature wouldn’t exist for 386 sessions and this structure is the oldest in the the world. There isn’t a constitution older than the Massachusetts constitution.

Q: You have an opponent in September: Nika Elugardo. Have you met her and what are your thoughts on her?

Sanchez: I met her and we shook hands a few months ago.

Q: What else would you like someone to know that we didn’t talk about?

Sanchez: Number one – that I care. I’m committed. This is the community I’ve had my greatest personal trials as a child, but also where I’ve seen my greatest successes in how people can make a difference in a community and serve as an example for a populace. As a city, state and country.

Healthcare reform and successful healthcare delivery happened here. And (in this conversation) I’ve spent a lot of time talking about healthcare. Let’s talk about rights. I got into this as well because I always felt that being a Latino male and growing up in Boston, I found the chips were stacked against me and I know other people felt that way. People from the African American community, the LGBT+ community – and this is where I’ve committed my life to searching for equality for people. When I first ran – that one vote (same-sex marriage) sent shockwaves, not just around Boston, but around the world. And then in a shorter amount of time we were able to talk about transgender nondiscrimination. We were able to establish commissions on LGBT+ youth. We were able to ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy – it’s unfounded, biased and discriminatory.

And at the same time we focus on women’s rights. When the federal administration is moving away from coverage to women – we stepped up and funded copay for women. We took the cap off if a woman has a child and got pregnant again -- there was a cap that a woman would not receive benefits for having more children. How discriminatory is that? It’s wrong and we lifted the cap as part of the budget.

We passed equity gender pay for workers who are pregnant and I’m committed to fund family planning in case Congress fails to fund it. I could go on and on. I know there are rocks in the community and I try to turn them over because there are things people don’t want to look at – those are things we spend a lot of time on. And I’ve done it in a civil and engaging way every single day of my career in government.