created at: 2012-07-02With healthcare in the news, I thought I’d switch things up a bit and talk to State Representative Jon Hecht about the role Massachusetts has played and will continue to play on the issue. Hecht has spent much of his pre-political career working on human rights overseas, and he now represents the 29th Middlesex District for our state.

Many people see Massachusetts and its health care system as a test-case for the rest of the country. There has been a lot of talk about the costs of the plan becoming unwieldy. Do you think the decision in our state has been the right one, or are we in over our heads?

We’re definitely not in over our heads. The first step was making sure everyone had coverage. As a result of the health care reforms we adopted in 2006, 98% of Massachusetts residents have health insurance. That’s the best in the country. It was the right thing to do. It’s making a lot of people’s lives better.

The issue now is the cost of health care. There’s been a lot of analysis showing the 2006 reforms have not been an independent cost driver. That is, the total amount we’re spending on health care statewide isn’t appreciably higher today because of the 2006 reforms. But there’s no doubt we have to address the spiraling cost of care. We’re aiming to pass a major bill by the end of July that improves transparency and creates incentives to make our health care system more cost-effective. That’s Step Two in health care reform. The rest of the country is still fighting about Step One.

Judaism is not very big on gambling; it also makes a virtue of supporting the elderly. Have you found that your Judaism informs your politics?

Absolutely, but in an indirect way. I grew up in a not-very-observant household, but my mindset, in the most general sense, is the spirit of Tikkun Olam. My parents, whom I learned from, also lived by this spirit. My mom was a public school teacher. My dad was on the local School Committee and active in a lot of other community organizations. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, the issues of the day were civil rights and the Vietnam War. I was taught to get involved and try to make the world a better place. My approach to my work today as a legislator is a reflection of the values I was taught back then.

You have such a worldly background. What attracted you to working in local politics after spending so much time working in international affairs?

I think on some level it was a case of opposites attracting. After spending more than 15 years focusing on the other side of the globe, I wanted to do more locally. Also, having kids in the local schools makes one want to be more involved. At another level, the values and spirit of the work I did overseas on human rights are consistent with the work I’m doing in Massachusetts. The issues depend on the context — here it’s same-sex marriage, rights of the transgendered, equitable taxes, access to mental health services — but it’s still human rights and social justice.

You and your wife have raised a family in Watertown, home of Russo’s, the Armenian stores, the Deluxe Town Diner, and the Blue Huron Path. Not to get you in trouble, but do you have a favorite local attraction?

Well, if I’m allowed two — certainly the Armenian groceries in East Watertown. Having spent time overseas, I love that powerful sense of another culture. And the second has to be the paths along the Charles between Watertown Square and Bridge Street, where the river narrows. When you’re there you can really imagine what the area was like 300, 400 years ago. I love the natural beauty and that continuity with history.


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Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!

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