“Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

-- Helen Keller

 

Chris Hendricks, the soon to be elected state rep from the North End, is a man to be inspired by.

An alcoholic in his twenties, he got his act together, went to law school and now has done what many thought impossible. Taken out a long-term SouthCoast state legislator in a Democratic primary.

Now, in his mid-thirties he’s about to embark on a career in elected service in an era when many are cynical about all politicians.

At his interview with The Standard-Times editorial board this summer, this son of New Bedford was refreshingly upbeat and serious. He was unabashed about his progressive beliefs saying he believes in things like universal pre-K, wider vocational training at an early age and solving the problems of escalating health care and public college costs.

He talked about folks waiting months for a CT scan and about the crushing financial burden of college for young people. He said he wanted to do something about stuff like that and he also talked about what he sees as the false populism of Donald Trump. He said he wants to deliver on the things the president only talks about.

Direct about his alcoholism, Hendricks spoke frankly about what it was like to give up his job as a bartender so he could get sober and how he was lucky that he could go live for free at his mother’s house while he did that.

For the last year-and-a-half, Hendricks went door-to-door in the North End and the town of Acushnet and talked to folks about what thought he could do as a state legislator. By the time the September primary came around, he was on his third visit to some houses.

The man Hendricks defeated, Bob Koczera, is as affable and well-intentioned a lawmaker as you’re ever likely to meet. Koczera worked hard for his district and did much the same thing as Hendricks when he first won office 30 years ago. But 30 years is a long time and it’s not difficult to argue that greater New Bedford needed some energetic new blood up in Boston.

The one weak note about Hendricks’ campaign may have been some last minute mailings and advertising he did raising questions about Koczera’s connections to allegedly corrupt House leaders. It’s a charge that gets made about state legislators but the darted messages Hendricks sent out didn’t offer any proof.

Political consultants will tell you that negative advertising works and it probably does. But it wasn’t worthy of a guy with as much potential as Chris.

When Hendricks heads to Boston he’ll be faced with the Catch 22 that all new legislators face when they arrive on Beacon Hill. Do you go along to get along, which is the way politics often works and is probably necessary to get anything done for your district? Or do you cut a reform figure and get consigned to a back bench where no one ever pays attention to anything you do or say, no matter how worthy.

For many legislators, there’s probably a middle way. You don’t have to step on the tiger’s tail unnecessarily and if you pick and choose carefully enough, you can take some stands on principles and still get some things done here and there.

Since he finished law school, Hendricks has been doing legal work on workers’ compensation cases. It’s been a good fit for him, he explained, reflecting his desire to do something to help working people. There’s something to be said for a guy who goes up against big insurance companies that don’t want to pay when a nurse’s aid needs surgery for a herniated disc.

The start of a political career is a tricky time for a young man. It’s a difficult business to get right, and the country itself is as divided as it’s been in a long time. There will be a right way and a wrong way to swim in the waters of the state capitol and Chris Hendricks will need all of his wits as well as our the region’s backing to succeed.

Hendricks says a prime driver in his reason to run for office this year was his concern about this divisive “national populism” President Trump is flooding the country with. He believes it is a dangerous time for the nation and he’s put himself forward because he wants to do something about it.

At a young age, Chris Hendricks has already faced one of the toughest of battles. That challenge, and his middle class New Bedford roots, have instilled in him an empathy for working people and their everyday problems. It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do with that gift as he heads up to Boston.