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Credit: Kathleen Dooher

Summer Elective

A run for state office by a student committed to public service

On a Saturday in mid-July, HLS student Joe Kearns Goodwin ’13 wakes up at 4:30 a.m. thinking about the day ahead. (In April, when he first decided to run to be the state senator representing Massachusetts’ 3rd Middlesex District, after the incumbent announced her retirement, and before he’d hired a campaign manager, he used to wake up an hour and a half earlier.)

The campaigning begins at 8 a.m. with one of Goodwin’s Cup O’ Joe events, in a café in Waltham. Potential voters stop by for coffee and a chat with the candidate. One person worries about the future of nearby Hanscom Air Force Base. Another wants to know Goodwin’s thoughts on how to push towns and states to mitigate climate change. A third, a former teacher, is concerned about the lack of adequate teacher training in the schools. For Goodwin, it’s a chance for real back-and-forth conversation, not a soliloquy, though in each case he ties his answer in with his own experience—serving in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11, working for General Electric in their renewable energy division and observing his brother’s work as a teacher at Concord-Carlisle public high school, which Goodwin himself attended.

In his campaign office—a storefront right next to the Waltham café—Goodwin describes how he grew up in a family that lived and breathed politics: His father, Richard Goodwin ’58, worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations; his mother, Doris Kearns Goodwin, is a presidential historian. “Growing up in a family like mine,” he says, “it’s hard not to feel that a life in public service is as vital as a life could be.” Still, he says, it wasn’t until he started law school that he got the idea of running for office.

“So many of the cases I’ve read at law school are focused on state legislation and the ripple effect it can have on other sectors of society. Everything at the federal level is so gummed up; many of the things we need to accomplish are going to have to happen at the state level,” he says. For Goodwin, issues central to his campaign include improving the public education system (from pre-K to college-level and beyond) and reforming the revenue system for municipalities. He is also concerned about making it easier for veterans to access the military benefits they’ve earned.

Later in the day, Goodwin meets up with Alan Khazei ’87, former U.S. Senate candidate, at a local nonprofit called More Than Words. Khazei, founder of City Year and Be the Change, has just endorsed Goodwin’s campaign and he’s picked the bookstore as the place for their first event—so the candidate and volunteers can work at the store and learn about its mission to improve the lives and skills of the at-risk youth who run the business. Goodwin; his wife, Victoria Bonney; and about 30 volunteers and campaign workers sort through the hundreds of books they’ve collected for the store, designating them for sale or recycle.

Khazei first got a sense of Goodwin and his work when Goodwin was chief of staff for the campaign of Stephen Pagliuca, one of Khazei’s rivals in the runoff for Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat. When Khazei heard Goodwin was running for state Senate, he approached him to ask how he could help. “When someone like him comes along, you’ve got to get behind him,” says Khazei. “He’s passionate, he cares about the right things, and I admire that he put his life on the line.”

The candidate has several events ahead before ending his day, almost 18 hours after it began. Goodwin calls campaigning “an exhausting but energizing process. You can see why this process is important as a forge to make people into effective legislators—the more you get out there, the more you’re able to understand different perspectives on the issues.”

Coda: As the Bulletin went to press in September, Goodwin lost the Democratic primary by 300 votes. That week, law school classes were “the 50-meter target,” he said. But “looking ahead,” he added, “I know I want to stay involved in the governmental process.”