In Updates from Jo, The People's Blog

This month, my team and I are celebrating five years of service to the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district — that’s 175,000 people in 25 remarkable communities within three counties in central and western Massachusetts.

To mark this milestone, we’ve compiled the 10 things we like most about our service to you:

    1. Policy
    2. Funding
    3. Committees, Commissions, Caucuses
    4. Welcoming our district to the State House
    5. Bringing state officials to our district 
    6. Making government accessible, accountable, and transparent 
    7. Providing meaningful help to our people and communities 
    8. Launching the next generation of leaders
    9. Educating and advocating for what matters most 
    10. Celebrating our region 

It turns out that it’s really hard to distill five years of work. While this reflection is most certainly incomplete, it is, nonetheless, rendered with love for everyone whose labor and participation is captured below and for everyone not captured below whose impact is nonetheless felt. (We just couldn’t include everything.)

And, while my job is to let you know what my team and I have been doing on your behalf, no one in government does anything alone. Zero. Nothing. It’s all about collaboration, relationships, partnerships — here at home and in Boston. I tip my hat to amazing House partners, Senate colleagues, and to everyone who has compelled us to fight smarter and harder by your example.

Finally, for this five-year piece, the team focused on what we accomplished — and ways that we could characterize the impact you helped make possible. But, of course, there were setbacks, losses, and disappointments, side by side with the wins. Along the way in our newsletters, we’ve endeavored to tell you about it. Warts and all.

We signed up to solve big problems, offer meaningful relief for constituents, and bring home justice for our region. With you, we’ve tried to do just that. And there’s so much more work ahead.

Read on!

#1 Policy

As a legislative office, one of our primary responsibilities is filing, fighting for, and passing legislation. The most visible way this happens is when the House and Senate pass bills that I have filed, which are then signed by the Governor.

This also happens in indirect ways. For example, each year we pass a fiscal year budget. In addition to allocating billions of dollars for thousands of state programs, the budget also includes numerous policy directives that have the force of law. Policies can also pass as part of other legislative vehicles, like omnibus bills, which include multiple policy changes on a given issue. Another option is to work with the Governor to directly implement provisions through regulation.

Over the last five years, we have pursued each of these avenues. Think of us strategizing all the time — looking for our next move.

Testifying before the Education Committee on the THRIVE Act

Bills that I have filed with great House partners, which have become law include legislation to:

  • Require a study on funding for school districts with low or declining enrollments.
  • Dissolve the Hampshire Council of Governments, absolve municipalities from liabilities, and ensure the security of retiree pensions and health care.
  • Examine the restoration of passenger rail from Boston to Greenfield and beyond, along the Route 2 Corridor. (That study is up and running, and already demonstrating the value of restoring passenger rail along Route 2.)
  • Establish a healthy soils program to support farmers in healthy soil practices which increase carbon sequestration, crop yield, and the nutritional value of crops.
  • Update the state building code standards to include a “net zero” energy efficiency rule that requires buildings to use more clean renewable resources than their total energy usage.
  • Expand access to telemedicine in rural areas.
  • Examine and report on racial and ethnic disparities in COVID’s impact in Massachusetts.
  • Create a Foster Parents Bill of Rights.
  • Create a Healthy and Green Public Schools initiative that includes an assessment of elementary and secondary school buildings on their energy efficiency, building conditions, safety, and public health and requires a plan to green and increase the health of all public schools
  • Establish a Grid Modernization Advisory Council and require utilities to submit strategic plans for increased adoption of renewable energy to the Council.
  • Expand rooftop solar panels and solar net metering where there is more than one building on a single property.

Two additional bills I filed passed the legislature but unfortunately were vetoed by Governor Charlie Baker last session. One imposed a five-year moratorium on new prison construction and the other strengthened and transformed the way local and regional public health operate in the Commonwealth. I’m fighting this session to get both of them passed (again) and signed into law.

In addition, several of my bills passed the Senate in a previous session or this current session but have not yet made it all the way to the Governor. Among these are a bill to allow people to be identified by their preferred gender, including a non-binary designation, on birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and other state documentation; a comprehensive bill to support agriculture and farmers; a bill to establish a Commission on Agriculture Equity; and the “Blue Envelope” bill for drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorder, that authorizes RMV-issued blue envelopes into which the driver would place their license, vehicle registration and insurance information. In the event of a traffic stop, that blue envelope would be handed to the police officer and would alert the officer that the driver has autism spectrum disorder, as well as provide the officer with information about best practices for communication.

A number of our proposed bills have also been implemented directly by state agencies through collaboration with the Governor’s Administration. These include:

  • Improving reimbursement to Community Health Centers for dental care.
  • Reforming the Medicaid “estate recovery” process. (This is the policy that charges the families of deceased MassHealth recipients for the value of medical care received over age 55. MassHealth lowered the interest rate charged on claims and expanded hardship waivers but I’m still fighting to completely eliminate the program in honor of constituent and advocate Joe Tringali.)
  • Updating regulations that have held back the development of birth centers and hindered maternal health equity.
  • Facilitating all-gender restrooms in public buildings by eliminating the need for a special permit.
  • Ending the requirement that health care providers file a report of suspected abuse or neglect when they encounter a newborn that has been exposed to “addictive drugs,” in cases when the birth mother was taking prescribed medications for opioid use disorder.
  • Offering the certified nurses aides (CNAs) licensing exam in multiple languages.

Most recently, Governor Maura Healey announced that her fiscal year 2025 budget will include a major bill I filed in 2023 with Representative Natalie Blais to establish the first-ever disaster relief fund in the Commonwealth. That’s a major win for western Massachusetts communities which have a disproportionately more difficult time repairing and rebuilding after a crisis.

To watch Governor Healey announce the Disaster Relief Fund, please visit here.

Gov. Healey gives 2024 State of the Commonwealth Address

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#2 Funding

In the past five years my team and I have brought $15 million (OK, $14,931,574 to be exact) back to the district in funding earmarked for specific projects — like $275,000 to help Smith Vocational rebuild from a fire, $591,500 to develop and repair affordable housing in Franklin County and the North Quabbin, $200,000 to repair a school roof in Shutesbury, $130,000 to launch a micro transit pilot in Franklin County with the FRTA and FRCOG, and $422,000 for a Safe Havens program for chronically homeless individuals.

My team and I have also joined with House partners to lead on major regional and statewide funding initiatives, like $20 million for farmers and $22.5 million for municipalities in the wake of this summer’s floods and storm damage in 2021, $1.5 million for the WET Center at UMass Amherst to support PFAS testing in the region, $620,570 for UMass Extension, $3.4 million for the Town of Orange to clean up toxic rubble after a major fire, $20 million in additional funding for the Community Preservation Act Trust Fund, $75 million in additional funding this year targeted to small and rural towns for local roads and bridge repair, and $200 million to reform the way we fund public health and to bolster local public health departments, just to name a few.

Sometimes the funding we’ve secured doesn’t result in direct spending, but rather the shifting of liability from our region to the state. In our first year in office, we worked with many different state agencies to ensure that as we wound down and dissolved the Hampshire Council of Governments, the health care benefits and retirement savings of former Hampshire County employees would be protected so that Hampshire County municipalities would not be on the hook for more than $15 million in liabilities.

I also advocate mightily for our region to receive its fair share of state grants and programmatic spending. For example, with Representatives Mindy Domb and Natalie Blais, I worked with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and Senate leadership for a pandemic-related spending differential for pending library projects including those in Amherst and Deerfield, which received $1,694,158 and $471,703, respectively, on top of their original allocations. I also advocated with colleagues to increase the funding available for school building construction, which will offer a boost to Amherst’s school building project.

Here are the grant support letters we’ve written. (Major shout out to District Director Elena Cohen who’s become an absolute pro at working with state agencies and our communities.) It will give you a sense of the state funding we support on behalf of municipalities and organizations in the district.

I’m proud to be a budget wonk, and years of conversations with colleagues about spending decisions, taxes, and budget line-items helped get me appointed as the Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

My team and I have worked to amend the constitution to make our tax code more progressive, to demystify the budget process for constituents, brought props onto the Senate floor, chaired a Ways and Means budget hearing at UMass Amherst, and pulled more than a few all-nighters in the process.

Debating on the Senate floor

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#3 Committees, Commissions, Caucuses

Every two years, the Senate President appoints Senators to new committee assignments.

This session, I’m:

  • Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education
  • Acting Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Agriculture
  • Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means

And I’m a member of the:

  • Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies
  • Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion
  • Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change
  • Senate Committee on Rules

In my first four years (two sessions), I chaired the Joint Committee on Public Health for the Senate. Last session, I was also the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.

As a Chair, I’m responsible for the bills before my committees. I also have the ability to conduct oversight hearings. In my first four years, I conducted numerous (and sometimes intense) oversight hearings on rural health care, food as medicine, and the COVID response — everything from vaccine development and distribution to the wellbeing of hospitals and our emergency response infrastructure.

A COVID Committee oversight hearing with a not-too-pleased Governor Baker

As Chair, I can also plan committee tours, which we’re doing this session as part of the higher education committee in our visits to most of the public higher education campuses across the state. We’ve also toured farms across the state with the agriculture committee.

Senators also can co-chair commissions like the Racial Inequities in Maternal Health Commission that I had the honor of co-chairing last session, and the Special Commission on Agriculture in the 21st Century that I’m chairing this session.

The Senate President can also ask us to take on discrete responsibilities. For example, in March 2020, the Senate President asked me to lead the Senate’s COVID-19 response. During the summer of 2023, the Senate President appointed me as co-chair of a Senate working group to help identify the next steps to further protect rights and access to reproductive and gender-affirming care.

I can also be appointed to, join, and/or lead caucuses, councils, or task forces, like the legislature’s Food System Caucus, which I co-chair, or the statewide Massachusetts Food Policy Council, which I serve on. More about what I’m doing now, here.

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#4 Welcoming our district to the State House

There is no more effective way to represent our collective interests in the State House than by welcoming the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district to the State House.

Constituent engagement and advocacy drive our region’s priorities. That’s why our team prioritizes constituent access to the State House — for tours, meetings, or testimony — believing as we do that the State House is the People’s House and your powerful voices should be central to all policy and budget matters. With colleagues, I strongly advocated for the legislature’s rules that allow for remote testimony at Committee hearings, so constituents living in western Massachusetts can have equal access to testifying on the issues that matter most to you.

Here are just a few of many pictures to help capture the powerful diversity of constituent participation:

UMass Amherst Civic Engagement and Service-Learning students and faculty with Senator Jo Comerford in Senate President Karen Spilka's office

UMass Amherst students and faculty in the Senate President’s suite

Smith Vocational students in our office

Shawn Robinson, Director of Vocational Services at ServiceNet,
in the State House to receive last year’s district award for Black Excellence on the Hill

Fort River Elementary School students in the building to testify in support of
establishing Indigenous Peoples Day as a state holiday

Human service advocates in our office

Center for New Americans students and faculty in our office

Taking in a beautiful day on the Senate balcony with Pathlight program participants

Western Massachusetts Town Clerks in the Senate chamber

Gun violence prevention advocates in the State House

Climate advocates in the State House

When the pandemic hit, the State House was closed to the public. But it wasn’t closed to 10 bushels of corn from the district — delivered as gifts during a tough time as an important reminder to the Senate about the power of our region’s farms.

Me pushing a hand cart piled with western Massachusetts corn,
delivering it to offices in the State House

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#5 Bringing state officials to our district

I’ve come to believe that the best way to help state colleagues understand the specific strengths and challenges of western Massachusetts is to invite them to our towns and businesses, farms, theaters, schools, manufacturing facilities — to meet and to talk with the people of our district.

There is truly no substitute for being on a boat on the Quabbin Reservoir with Energy and Environment officials while talking about regional equity and the roughly 200 million gallons of water that flow to Boston from our district every day.

EEA, DCR, Fish and Wildlife officials and legislators at the Quabbin Reservoir

And there’s no better way to convey the unique importance and beauty of the Connecticut River than by inviting all the top environmental officials and advocates from around the state for an all-day paddle (from Northfield to Northampton) to raise awareness and deepen our mutual connection to the health of the river in collaboration with the incredible All Out Adventures.

EEA, DCR, Fish and Wildlife, MDAR officials, legislators, and advocates on the Connecticut River

We’ve brought Mass Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt on four separate tours (and counting) that have spanned many miles through Amherst, Ashburnham, Montague, and Northampton where he has experienced the jaw-droppingly beautiful, arts-related innovation happening throughout our district.

Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt (fifth from right)
and colleagues with arts and culture leaders in Ashburnham

Michael (second from right) and colleagues with
arts and culture leaders in Northampton as part of work to re-open the legendary Iron Horse

In July of last year, when we saw fields and fields of our farms underwater, one of our first calls was to the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources Ashley Randle. Commissioner Randle was on the ground with us 12 hours later, one of many delegation tours over the next weeks to urge state and federal officials to grapple with the enormity of the damage.

And we invited Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler to meet with regional superintendents and tour Bridge Street School in Northampton and Pioneer Valley Regional High School in Northfield for discussions on funding and resources for rural schools and school districts with declining enrollment.

Education Secretary Dr. Patrick Tutwiler (center) at Bridge Street School in Northampton

State and federal officials have traveled to the campuses of Greenfield Community College and UMass Amherst to meet students, staff, and faculty and witness their work. We’ve brought officials to tour manufacturing facilities, mill buildings, and downtowns. And we’ve gone deep with state officials in gatherings focused on crucial issues like the need for more affordable housing and more sustained funding for child sexual abuse, community-based crisis response, and maternal health equity.

Housing Chair Lydia Edwards (third from left) in Hadley with affordable
housing advocates, providers, and developers

DPH Commissioner Robbie Goldstein (back row, middle), legislators,
and crisis response teams from Northampton and Amherst

Children and Families Committee Chairs Senator Robyn Kennedy and
Representative Jay Livingstone (first row, middle)
at the Hampshire County Children’s Advocacy Center in Northampton with legislators

Northeast Regional Director for the federal Department of Health and Human Services Everett Handford (second from right) and Women’s Health lead from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health Tina Sang (right),
on a tour of Seven Sisters with Clinical Director, Ginny Miller.

From the Governor, to the Senate President, to the Secretary of Economic Development, I love bringing our state colleagues west to “get a little mud on their boots.” Thank goodness that they’re all so willing.

The Senate President at Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley (front right)

And I’ve been honored to join state and federal officials when they’re in the region — whether in farm fields or in sugar houses.

Governor Healey (front row, far right), Lieutenant Governor Driscoll (front row, fourth from left),
Cabinet members, and legislators in Deerfield

for the announcement of the creation of a Rural Affairs Director position

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#6 Making government accessible, accountable, and transparent

A healthy democracy relies on informed and engaged constituents. My team and I are constantly brainstorming ways we can engage you in the work of our State House — and crack open our work so that you can offer feedback and hold us accountable.

In the past five years, we have sent you:

  • 462 group emails with updates on legislation, opportunities to engage in the legislative progress, and events we are hosting in the community
  • 75 (roughly) monthly newsletters and updates where we recap our work that month, both inside and outside of the State House

We have held:

  • 48 office hours in community centers throughout our district and remotely
  • 28 library visits on a tour of libraries across our district
  • Nine grant workshops with state agency colleagues for municipalities and local organizations to learn about applying for state and federal grants
  • Six town halls, including four virtual town halls where we came to you during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to talk about the work to respond to the crisis. You can find some of the recordings here
  • 21 meetings with municipalities this session alone, with four in the coming months
  • And countless visits to nonprofits and businesses in our district

We have posted:

We also post all our Senate votes and all the letters and testimony we write on our website here. I want you to know every vote I take and every amendment I co-sponsor so that you have the information you deserve.

And we wrote 32 Dear Jo columns, as well as a handful of other opinion pieces for outlets like Commonwealth Magazine. We’ve also done more Facebook Live videos from the State House than we can count.

Thanks to stellar summer interns — Lila Nields-Duffy and Jasper Graham — and with hefty constituent input, we made a video about the beauty of our region titled Beauty in Community.

My team and I have engaged with constituents on issues ranging from water sewer infrastructure to issues affecting rural public health. We co-hosted a Western Massachusetts Solar Forum to help discuss the future of solar energy in the Commonwealth and co-hosted a regional forum to strengthen the wider health care workforce in western Massachusetts.

DPH Commissioner Robbie Goldstein (second from the right),
UMass Nursing Dean Allison Vorderstrasse (center),
panelists, and legislators at UMass Amherst

We provided updates on opportunities to testify at hearings for a Northern Tier Passenger Rail and shared with you when I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a White House conference on ending hunger in our country.

Legislators in Washington, DC at the
White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health led by Congressman Jim McGovern

Our government works better when we engage with you on the issues that matter most to you. Here are a few ways to keep in touch with me:

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#7 Providing meaningful help to our people and communities

When government isn’t working the way it should and bureaucracy gets in the way (and this happens more than we’d like), our team can, should, and will do everything we can to help. We do this work with steadfast partners in the Administration, in the community, and in the House.

Since 2019, our team has resolved over 2,200 constituent cases for individuals and families in our district. This includes helping:

  • Over 600 individuals secure unemployment benefits;
  • More than 150 people navigate the health care system by liaising with MassHealth, the Health Connector, and, when possible, private insurers;
  • More than 100 people connect with the RMV and resolve tricky issues with licenses, registration, and paperwork; and
  • Dozens of people to maintain or secure SNAP and other benefits with the Department of Transitional Assistance.

The state’s benefit programs — fuel assistance, family and medical leave, aging services, and veteran’s benefits, just to name a few — are scattered throughout many state departments. Through our work, we interface with these offices.

Here’s just one good example of a classic constituent case from Director of Policy and Constituent Services, Rachel Klein:

In early December one of our constituents discovered that a phone call she made to a national insurance company (let’s call them National Insurance Company or “NIC”) had unknowingly enrolled her in their Medicare plan and triggered the cancellation of her family’s existing state Group Insurance Plan (GIC) coverage. The constituent made calls to “NIC,” to the GIC, filed a complaint with the Division of Insurance (DOI), and even secured a health care advocate — trying to resolve the issue and reinstate her GIC Coverage. After being sent in circles, the constituent reached out to our office for help on December 21, needing to be reinstated by December 29 to maintain her family’s coverage.

GIC cancellation would have been detrimental for our constituent and her husband, so we jumped in to help.

  • We went straight to the GIC for assistance, but they could not reinstate the constituent without a letter from NIC. The GIC does not work with NIC, so they could/would not communicate this need directly.
  • We found a contact at NIC and asked them to send the letter proving our constituent has been unenrolled from their program. We kept following up until they sent the right version. (We have become adept at nudging.)
  • After many phone calls with the GIC, we were able to confirm the constituent’s unenrollment from the new Medicare plan and our constituents’ health coverage with GIC was reinstated by December 29.
  • We continue to work with the Division of Insurance to understand how to prevent this situation from happening to any other constituents.

If you or someone you know resides in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district and is experiencing a problem with a state agency or needs help accessing government benefits or services, please always feel free to reach out to our office for help. The fastest way to get help from our constituent services team is to complete and submit this form, but you can also call our district phone at (413) 367-4656 or email Rachel at You can also always reach out to me directly at

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#8 Launching the next generation of leaders

Our team is committed to helping launch the next generation of leaders within our communities.

In both our district and Boston offices, my team and I host a mix of undergraduate interns and graduate school fellows who provide outstanding contributions to nearly every facet of our work.

Over five years, we have hosted over 116 interns and fellows from nearly 40 different academic institutions.

To learn more about our most recent interns and fellows from Fall 2023, click here.

To apply for an internship with our office, click here.

In addition to the internship and fellowship program, I have had the privilege of visiting schools in our communities to speak with and learn from students, educators, school administrators, and staff — and all who help raise up the young people in our region.

At Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham

At UMass Amherst’s School of Public Policy’s annual semester launch

With UMass Amherst’s MAICEI (Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative) students and faculty

At the Franklin County YMCA

With youth program participants and leaders in Montague

Visiting with future leaders at Warwick Community School

In the welding shop with the extraordinary students of Franklin County Tech

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#9 Educating and advocating for what matters most

I often say that people power is what gets legislation across the finish line. That means that our team focuses on capacity-building teach-ins like the March Academy, which we launched soon after taking office. We advocate for legislation and issues which are important to constituents and to our region by speaking at rallies and events at the State House and in the district. And we plan and host events with thought leaders on critical issues like PFAS, biomass, food security, racial justice, the impact of public higher education, the threat of nuclear weapons, and more.

Speaking at an End of Life Options advocacy day in the State House

Speaking at a prison moratorium advocacy day at the State House

Part of a panel on ending hunger in Massachusetts

At a State House rally for the Indigenous legislative agenda

At a Pride event at the State House

Speaking at a rally for local and regional public health at the State House

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#10 Celebrating our region

I absolutely love participating in regional events to support local nonprofits and strengthen our community — that’s everything — including biking and walking for The Food Bank, paddling with All Out Adventures, cheering participants before walking with my wife at the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage, volunteering with Manna Soup Kitchen and Stone Soup, serving at the Amherst Survival Center Empty Bowl event and the Franklin County Harvest Supper, marching in Pride events, paddling in the River Rat canoe race in Orange and Athol, dancing to support Cutchins Center for Children and Pathlight, helping with river clean ups with the Connecticut River Conservancy, baking pies for a Leyden contest, dressing as Mother Earth (not my best idea) for the annual DoozyDo Parade, and “pony sweating” for TransHealth.

Paddling with All Out Adventures

Cheering participants of the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage

At Franklin County Pride

Getting ready to launch in the River Rat Race in Orange and Athol

Gearing up to serve at the Annual Harvest Supper in Greenfield

Monte as Weird Barbie at the 6:00 a.m. Northampton launch of his annual walk to support The Food Bank.
(One of many splits he did during the 26 miles we walked to Greenfield.)

Getting ready to perform at a fundraiser for Cutchins

At a pony sweat for Transhealth
(I am now devoted to pony sweating)

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And a bonus #11 Celebrating our team

I couldn’t be luckier to serve with the greatest team in the State House — colleagues who love our district. Their vigilance, passion, expertise, kindness, and grit make all the work we do possible.

Please join me in cheering for:

Chief of Staff, Jared Freedman
Legislative Director, Brian Rosman
District Director, Elena Cohen
Policy and Constituent Services Director, Rachel Klein
Director of Communication and Engagement, Katelyn Billings (Who leads our work on newsletters like this one! Thank you, Katelyn!)

One thing to note: Jared, Elena, and Brian have all been on the team for FIVE whopping years (which is like 25 years in legislative time). I leaned on them pretty heavily to help write this summary — just like we lean on the entire team and all our interns and fellows every day to get our work accomplished.

And cheers also for staff who are no longer on the team, but contributed in massive ways while they were on staff:

Sam Hopper
Rani Jacobson
Ania Ruiz Borys
Cameron Lease

In this new year we’re bolstered by what we’ve already accomplished together.

It’s an honor to work with you to make our region and the commonwealth places where every single person is welcome and has the ability to thrive.

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