Q&A with Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III



Joseph P. Kennedy III is the congressman for the 4th district of Massachusetts.

Emma Kahn, News Editor

What issues are closest to your heart and why?

I think broadly speaking, the role of our government is to try to make sure that every person in this country gets to make the most of what they got, so that means that they have a chance to succeed, it means that they’ve got a chance to provide for themselves and their families, and it means that the government’s going to step up and protect them. Our government should be providing a framework by which everybody can actually succeed. People start off at different levels of opportunities. I think that means government has to take an active role in our community and our society around providing those opportunities when necessary, particularly on education. Also, some of those bedrock issues, health care in particular. I focus on Medicaid, which is healthcare for working families, and mental health. One in five Americans struggle with some kind of mental, behavioral illness, and we’re seeing an addiction epidemic, especially with regards to opioids and prescription drugs, so it’s been a main area of focus of mine.

What ideas do you have and changes have you made regarding education?

I believe that the federal government has an important role to play in our education system. That is not necessarily a belief shared across the political spectrum. There is a strong ideological narrative there from our conservative colleagues that education is a local issue and should be handled locally and that the federal government should get out of it. Yes, I believe that there should be some local customization to that, but I do believe that if we want to make sure that success is something that every American deserves to have a shot at, for states and communities that aren’t making that investment, the federal government should be making sure that they are. One of the areas that I’ve done a fair amount of work on is looking at the economic consequences of education. The fastest growing jobs in our country are STEM jobs science, technology, engineering and math. I want to make sure that all communities have access to it. We certainly have represented some affluent communities that make a major investment in education, Brookline in particular. In underserved communities, particularly for women, minorities and lower income families, they don’t. So trying to make sure that those communities and those students have access to those educational opportunities, those careers.

Especially in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, we’ve seen a lot of teenagers and young people rising up and making political change. What advice do you have for young people who want to get involved in politics, or who just want to make the world a better place?

Keep going and don’t let any adult tell you otherwise. Your voice matters, probably more than you think. There’s issues that end up being issues for parents, for an older generation, that kids just are blind to, and I think that’s an enormous testament to our children. A number of these social issues, particularly when it comes to tolerance, LGBT issues, kids are totally fine with, it’s adults that are making it an issue. Our country has become, certainly over the course of our history, a kinder, fairer, more tolerant, open society because of that generational acceptance. We’ve got to keep pushing. We have seen, particularly when it comes to the issue of guns in schools, a loud cry by our students saying that this is not a responsibility that should have to be shouldered by them. Keep your voices raised until your government addresses them.

What personal connections do you have to Brookline? How do you feel that your interactions and connections with our community affect your work as a congressman?

I used to live in Brookline! [Also,] my family has, older generations of my family have a long, deep connection with Brookline. My grandfather was born on Abbotsford Road, and his brother was obviously born on Beals street. It’s a wonderful community, and I was thrilled to be able to be a member of it. My wife and I still go to Coolidge Corner for most things that we need. You will see us at Zaftigs more often than we will admit. I think any successful congressman or woman is using the needs, hopes, fears, aspirations and anxieties of their community to guide their work, and I think you can only do that effectively if you are out and about in your community. I want to make sure that I am doing my best to respond to people’s concerns. If you’re not, Brookline will ensure that they find a congressman who is.

What motivates you to do the work that you do?

What motivates me is a combination [of things,] and they’re related, for good and for bad: The work matters, our policies matter, and it can be sometimes extremely disappointing and frustrating that they can be so consequential because you see the ramifications of some bad government policies, or an inability to enact good government policy. But, it means that when you do do something right or do something well, that there’s an awful lot of people that can benefit from that. I have seen and I know that the work is important, and it’s important for folks that are aware of it, and it’s important for a lot of folks who aren’t, but the consequences of what we do will have an important impact on their lives. What led me to that was some of the experiences that I’ve had in working in development at the United Nations to the Peace Corps, particularly in the Dominican Republic. There was nothing that the people there could ever do to get themselves to a high school like Brookline, and their own futures were going to be limited because they weren’t going to have a set of skills that Brookline students will have when they come out and graduate, and how that then cascades going forward in an increasingly globally competitive environment, if you don’t have the skills necessary in order to compete, your own prosperity is going to be limited.