BY ALLYSON HUNTOON ’19
“It’s the best job in the world,” said Representative John Scibak (D) of South Hadley, “but you need to understand what it entails.” Scibak currently represents Hampshire County’s Second District, which includes the towns of South Hadley, Granby, Hadley and Easthampton in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The House is composed of 160 members elected from districts within the state’s 12 counties. Representatives serve two-year terms, with all seats up for election every two years. The next general election is Nov. 6, 2018.
An hour after arriving in Florida, greeted by sunny, 80-degree weather, Scibak’s voice sounded steady over the telephone. He explained that he will soon be turning 65 years old, and after driving approximately 276,000 miles to and from Boston over his 16-year tenure, he will not be running for re-election this year. He currently lives in South Hadley and will be retiring to Florida when his term ends.
“I think it’s time for someone else with other talents to serve the district,” said Scibak, who was first elected in 2002 to represent the district in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Scibak is currently chairperson of the Joint Committee on Higher Education and has dedicated much of his career in the House to legislation concerning the wellbeing of children, greater access to healthcare and rights for people with disabilities.
“I have hearing loss in both ears,” he said. “With some colleagues, we were able to get legislation through that mandated insurance coverage of hearing aids for children.” The state of Massachusetts requires that every newborn is screened for hearing loss, but until this bill was passed, parents could find out that their child had hearing loss, but there was no guarantee that there would be insurance coverage for hearing aids, according to Scibak.
His wife, Patricia, is an attorney who worked for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. She and Scibak have done extensive work with the issue of shaken baby syndrome in Massachusetts.
Representative Scibak, who has a Ph.D. in developmental disabilities, said that when a baby is shaken, it can result in permanent brain damage and disabilities, “So we got legislation that mandated and provided support for shaken baby prevention training for every mom and partner, saying ‘never, ever shake a baby.’” The legislation had lasting effects. “For very little cost, we were able to prevent some pretty serious disabilities,” he said.
The race for Scibak’s seat has already begun. He said that he has spoken to one candidate who has announced that they are running, and several others are considering it. Scibak hopes to see candidates run who understand the three main components of the job: the state budget, legislation and constituent services.
Francesca Eremeeva ’20, a Massachusetts native, hopes that candidates will care deeply about the people of the district. “I want someone who understands the very different and unique needs of their constituents,” she said.
Scibak also prioritizes the constituency. “We get calls [from constituents] on a daily basis,” he said, “some of whom have difficulty navigating solutions to their problems or are not having people pay attention [to them].”
Scibak tries to help people who have lost their health insurance or are having difficulties with government agencies. Above all, he said, he hopes the next person who represents the district will, “treat the constituents with respect and provide the customer service that I think they’re entitled to.”
Scibak is willing to speak with anyone who is interested in running and will answer questions regarding the job description.
“It’s a great job,” he said, “but it’s also a job that really is 24/7... You miss a lot of meals with your family.”
Eremeeva wants candidates to be willing to make that commitment to their constituents. “The towns [in the district] are very different and need help with a variety of issues ranging from road renovation to school funding,” she said, “The next representative must be conscious of this and act.”