The torch has passed: Joe Kearns Goodwin launches bid for state senate

Disclaimer: proceed at your own risk.  The following observation of an emerging political figure is through the eyes of one who has known him affectionately since he was a little boy. Notwithstanding the personal connection, I really do see him as a potentially great voice of the next generation.

Joey Goodwin, oops, he is now Joe Goodwin, the son of historian and biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin and Richard Goodwin (speechwriter to JFK, LBJ and RFK), is running for the open 3rd Middlesex Massachusetts Senate seat,  being vacated by Susan Fargo. So progressive values are in his DNA.

A child of privilege, Goodwin went to Concord public schools and Harvard College and attends Harvard Law School.  But well before his ripe old age of 34 he showed a serious   interest in public service, working in Washington for the late liberal Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who died in 2002. In Massachusetts, he took a semester off from Harvard to help run State Representative Cory Atkins’ campaign, and later worked for gubernatorial candidate Steve Pagliucca.

He could easily have gone into some cushy job and glided through life very comfortably. But that was not in his character. When the nation was hit by the 9/11 attacks, he didn’t bluster or wring his hands.  The very next day  he joined the Army. 

As his website explains it, “he was commissioned as a second lieutenant combat arms officer and joined the 1st Armored Division in Iraq. He spent more than a year leading a platoon of thirty soldiers patrolling the streets of Baghdad, rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, and working to contain the growing violence.  He received a Bronze Star for his exemplary performance in combat.”

In the war, he told his campaign kickoff gathering,  all the things that divide us at home – race, ethnicity, socio-economic status – were irrelevant.   It was as representative of America as any group can be. “The inner city kid from Chicago was probably not going hang out with the gruff sergeant from Quincy, but over there we were all brothers.  We were able to emerge from a year of often intense combat without any casualties because we were able to come together as a community. We had each other’s backs. And that’s what this state and this country need right now.  We can achieve so much more by working together than we ever could in pockets of isolation.  From Malden to Chelmsford, from Lexington to Bedford, we need to act with one voice.” 

That voice, he says, need to speak out on spiralling health care costs,  jobs, protecting workers and seniors, finding creative ways to raise revenues.  On all issues, he looks back to the days after 9/11, “whether black or white, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, they learned that, if they all moved in one direction, they could accomplish great things.” 

When Joe came home, he worked for General Electric on renewable energy, but in 2008 was recalled to active service in Afghanistan.  For a year he was special advisor to the NATO Director of Strategic Communications, investigating civilian casualties and working on solutions to prevent repeat tragedies. 

The theme of community is central to his core and to his campaign. “If we had been asked to do more in the wake of 9/11,” he said, “we could have had a Manhattan Project for renewable energy, so we wouldn’t have to depend on foreign oil, and, if we had not put two wars on credit cards, we wouldn’t have ended up where we are now.”

Harvard moral philosophy professor Michael Sandel warns how market values are driving out civic values from our culture.  Tom Friedman unhappily writes “we are losing the places and institutions that used to bring people together from different walks of life.” Political life has become increasingly toxic and polarized. From international forums, to the halls of Congress, to state houses, we are also losing the people who can move beyond the rhetoric and walk the walk.  Joe Goodwin has that spirit of community, understands what is necessary to negotiate our differences and has the skills to lead.

Joe has “the touch.”   His opening speech was delivered flawlessly. He has the warmth and earnestness to persuade people to embrace causes larger than their narrow interests.  “I won’t let you down,” he told supporters at an ice cream social Saturday at the home of State Representative Cory Atkins. 

He’ll be running against a pro, Mike Barrett of Lexington, who served three terms in the state House of Representatives, four terms in the Senate and left politics after a failed bid for governor.  Barrett has Barney Frank’s endorsement, who served with him in the Massachusetts legislature.

Other Democrats include Mara Dolan of Concord, Joe Mullin of Weston and Alex Buck of Chelmsford. Republicans running include Concord Selectman Greg Howes and Sandi Martinez of Chelmsford, who has run before.

But Joe Kearns Goodwin, in his first race,  will certainly be competitive. And I, for one, am certainly reassured to know that this young man could be a stand-out leader in the emerging generation. If I lived in his district, I’d be voting for him.

I’d be pleased to read your comments below.

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