Weymouth’s O’Connor stakes out positions ahead of Senate bid
By Evan Lips | November 10, 2015, 5:00 EDT
WEYMOUTH – Patrick O’Connor, a longtime town councilor and aide to Republican state Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), spoke candidly Monday regarding various hot-button policy topics as he gears up a campaign for his boss’s seat, an effort that would keep it in GOP hands.
Moments after Hedlund claimed victory last Tuesday in his bid to become mayor of Weymouth, O’Connor confirmed his plans to run for the Plymouth and Norfolk District seat in the Massachusetts Senate.
On Monday, O’Connor showed he isn’t afraid to talk publicly about his views on controversial issues such as abortion, transgender rights and other emotionally charged matters, including a bill that would legalize doctor-assisted suicide.
“The transgender bill as written is something I think opens the door for individuals who could potentially abuse the bill’s intent,” O’Connor said about a pending measure that would add anti-discrimination protection for transgender people in places of “public accommodation” like locker rooms, changing areas and rest rooms. “We’d be opening this up to abuse, not necessarily from the transgender community, but from people who will definitely use this as an opportunity to do deviant things.”
O’Connor, 31, said his views on abortion are shaped by his mother’s 40-year career as a neonatal intensive care nurse working with premature babies.
“A lot of times I’d talk to my mom about specific children in her care and the families whose lives stopped because of a premature birth through no fault of their own,” O’Connor said. “While I support a woman’s right to choose, I am personally pro-life.”
“The reason I am is because of the circumstances I saw growing up and knowing how hard my mother worked to save these kids,” he said.
O’Connor said he has also paid close attention to the debate surrounding efforts by state Rep. Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton) to push his legislation to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients. O’Connor said he opposes Kafka’s bill, which may put him on the side of the majority in the Bay State. Massachusetts voters defeated a similar proposal when it appeared as a 2012 ballot question.
“I also see a real gray area with the legislation in terms of how it would affect those suffering from mental illness,” O’Connor said. “We need to keep them on the forefront of making sure that as we move forward, they are protected.”
O’Connor, however, stressed that while issues like transgender rights are important, addressing current matters like the state’s opioid drug-abuse epidemic is crucial and more urgent.
“My opinion on a lot of social issues is that we should prioritize them,” he said. “Here in Massachusetts we have a problem where people are dying at an alarming rate from heroin overdoses.”
O’Connor praised Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s efforts to push through legislation aimed at addressing the problem.
“Let’s move on to addressing more tangible things that have direct effects,” O’Connor said. “Issues like addiction and fixing the state’s transportation problems and the problems going on at the Department of Children and Families are things 100 percent of the population will rally behind.”
He caught the “political bug” early on, O’Connor said. He was just 21 when first elected to the Weymouth Town Council. He said his interest in public service was “a seed planted at a young age,” partly by family traditions and partly by a meeting with Hedlund when O’Connor was a teenager.
For much of his working life, he has worked for Hedlund, one of just six Republicans in the 40-member Senate. The district currently includes the towns of Cohasett, Duxbury, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Norwell and Scituate as well as Weymouth.
“I’ve learned that the most important thing about the job is helping constituents,” O’Connor said, reflecting on his eight years with the lawmaker. He recalled how Hedlund directed him and other aides to help district residents “navigate a complicated maze” of mortgage banks during the 2008 recession. “The average everyday assistance we’ve provided constituents with is something you won’t read about in the papers.
“I honestly and truly believe we’ve made this district a better place,” O’Connor said.
Hedlund, the mayor-elect of Weymouth, has yet to formally resign his Senate seat. O’Connor said the swearing-in ceremony for new mayors falls on January 4. Hedlund will need to resign by then as Weymouth bylaws prohibit mayors from holding additional full-time jobs.
Once Hedlund officially resigns, it will be up to Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) to determine when a successor will be elected. Hingham Selectman Paul Gannon, a Democrat, announced in August he would be seeking Hedlund’s seat regardless of whether Hedlund wins the Weymouth mayoral race.
According to the State House News Service, state Rep. James Murphy (D-Weymouth) is “strongly considering” entering the race as well, but hasn’t made a final decision.
This version has been updated to accurately reflect Hingham Selectman Paul Gannon’s August Senate campaign announcement.
Contact Evan Lips at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @evanmlips.