Tuesday, May 22, 2007

AP: Barrios to Leave Senate

The Associated Press is reporting that state Senator Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge) has been offered the presidency of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. He will confirm whether he plans to accept the job later today, but at this point his departure from the Senate seems likely. Barrios' office had previously denied rumors that he was leaving the Senate.

The article describes the Foundation as such:

Since its creation in 2001, the foundation has issued grants totaling $19 million to 199 organizations. It also was key player in developing the Massachusetts universal health care law enacted last year.

The foundation is governed by its own 17-member board of directors. Although it operates separately from Blue Cross Blue Shield, the corporation contributed an initial endowment of $55 million to the foundation.
Interestingly enough, the chairman of the foundation's board is former Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Phil Johnston.

Update: The Cambridge Chronicle has the official word from Barrios, saying he'll accept the offer. The Chronicle also notes that Cambridge City Councilors Marjorie Decker and Anthony Galluccio had both planned to run for this seat last year when Barrios was running for Middlesex County DA. After Barrios changed his mind and ran instead for reelection, both of them dropped out, but now they might be interested again in replacing the Senator. One complication, however, would be that a special election would likely be around the same time as the Cambridge City elections. It could be potentially difficult for either of them to run for both offices at the same time.

Update 2: I have the text of the letter Senator Barrios has sent to his supporters in the full post. He writes that he will not step down until July, after the Senate budget season and the Constitutional Convention.
Dear friend,

I have been honored to represent you in the state legislature, and I wanted you to know personally about my decision to leave the Senate for an important, new opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people who need a strong voice.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, one of the largest private health philanthropies in the state, has named me to serve as its president. Through grants and policy initiatives, the Foundation works to broaden health coverage and reduce barriers to health care for uninsured, vulnerable and low-income individuals and families. The Foundation played a leading role in the development of the state's universal health care plan, which has become a model for the nation.

I am humbled by the opportunity to lead this prestigious Foundation as we continue working to make universal health care a reality. The Foundation has been a leader in health care policy, and I am excited to join the team at this important time. The implementation of the Commonwealth's new health care law remains a daunting, but exciting, job of the Foundation. The next challenge will be to answer the question, "After these reforms, who has been left out?" We will need to work hard to increase enrollment in low-income communities, improve the delivery of culturally competent care, and address disturbing trends in health disparities based on race, ethnic background and economic class.

It has been a pleasure to serve on the Foundation board since its inception in 2001, along with the national health care advocacy organization Families U.S.A. and other, local efforts to expand access to quality health care. I believe the challenge of public service is to find the highest, best use of one's abilities to serve the common good. Today, the changed politics and policy landscape of health care -- with so much progress being made and so much work yet to be done -- make this arena an amazing, productive place for me to devote my (admittedly frenetic) energies.

Health care has always been a priority for me. The very first bill I sponsored in the legislature expanded emergency room care by requiring hospitals to provide interpreter services for people who don't speak English. In the Senate, I served as vice chair of the Health Care Committee, focusing on disparities between rich and poor in health access and outcomes, pushing for more affordable prescription drugs and fighting for environmental justice. I'm proud to lead efforts in the Senate on a measure to address health care disparities.

I also chaired the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and made this area my other primary focus. With your support, we've made great progress: Creating a state witness protection program, redesigning the state's fire code, serving on an oversight commission to reform the correction system, instituting a ban on assault weapons and passing the first-of-its kind grant program to stop youth violence.

I was drawn to politics ten years ago, in part, because I felt important viewpoints were missing from the debate on Beacon Hill. For those who have known me, the voices I have most passionately sought to represent are the voices of poor and working people of whatever color, nation of origin or creed. For them, state government has a unique ability to make a positive difference in their lives. Public safety, credit and consumer issues, housing, and education are all areas in which those who are less well-off rely on effective and compassionate leadership in state government. Of these issues, none is impacted more by competent state policy than health care. My new role will enable me to focus on ensuring that all individuals and families in Massachusetts have the peace of mind of knowing that they can get high-quality, affordable health care for themselves and their loved ones.

Of course, there are important things left undone. I will not leave until after the Constitutional Convention concludes and the Senate budget process is completed in June. I anticipate a July end date for my term of service, and have so informed Senate President Therese Murray.

A special election will be held to select a new Senator to represent you. In the meantime, my office will remain open and ready to serve you. Please do not hesitate to call with any questions or concerns about state government.

It truly has been a privilege to work for you in the state legislature. I will never forget the opportunity you gave me to serve. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.