Barrett sworn in, pays tribute to Cariddi

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BOSTON — Just in time for the last formal session of 2017, the Massachusetts House on Wednesday welcomed two new members, restoring the chamber to a complete 160-member roster of representatives.

John Barrett III, of North Adams, and Andres Vargas, of Haverhill, both of whom won special elections last week, were sworn in by Gov. Charlie Baker in the House Chamber early Wednesday afternoon.

Barrett fills the seat previously held by the late Rep. Gailanne Cariddi in Western Massachusetts. Cariddi died in June after a private battle with cancer.

Vargas won the seat vacated in July by former Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey.

Before administering the oath of office, Baker said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito like when people with experience in local government are elected to the Statehouse, because they bring an understanding of how state-level decisions impact cities and towns. Barrett was the longtime mayor of North Adams and Vargas was a Haverhill city councilor.

Speaking from the podium on the House floor, Barrett talked about Cariddi and how, when she came to him to express interest in running for North Adams City Council, he "couldn't get her there soon enough."

"She loved you, and you all loved her," Barrett told the House. "And when she died, part of this legislative session died with her. Her legacy will live on because she embodies everything that is good about this profession."

Barrett served as mayor of North Adams for more than 25 years, leaving office in 2009, after he was not elected to a 14th consecutive term.

Vargas told his new colleagues about his advocacy work as a teenager and how lawmakers took him seriously, even though he was a high school student, an experience he said led him to public service. He pointed to the opioid epidemic and civics education as two of his early priorities.

"We had good news that the overdose rates in Massachusetts are down by 10 percent, but I think there's a lot more work to do, so I'm looking forward to tackling the opioid crisis, working together with colleagues here in the House, but also jumping on legislation that first got me started in politics, which was civics education legislation," Vargas said. "That's something that I started when I was 16 and in high school, so it'd be great to kind of close the circle on that and pass some legislation that ensures that every student in the commonwealth has access to civics education before they go on to college or to do something else."

While attending Boston University, Vargas interned in Dempsey's office and the office of Sen. Sonia Chang-D az of Boston. He also worked as a communications intern in the Obama White House. Vargas was elected in 2015 to the Haverhill City Council, the body where Dempsey got his political start in 1988.


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