Editor’s note: The following is one of a series of articles on some of the public officials who represent this area. In these profiles, local leaders look back on 2013, and discuss their plans for 2014.
WEST NEWBURY — State Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, journeyed to Beacon Hill a year ago to join what might be called an endangered species: the Republican Party in Massachusetts.
The prosperous businessman was the only GOP freshman state representative of 16; he joined a body that has 130 Democrats and 30 Republicans in the House.
Despite being part of the minority party, he recalls he was pleasantly surprised in his early weeks.
“There was very little bickering,” said Mirra during a recent interview. “Democrats were helpful, and we all work together. It’s not like what you hear about Washington; at the Statehouse, members of both parties cooperate.”
Mirra, who runs a local family-owned construction company, was assigned to the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business and the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.
“I don’t chair a committee because Democratic leaders give out those assignments,” said Mirra, who had little political experience when he ran a year ago. “But I was pleased with what I got.
“Because of my background in business and in construction, I can use my experience on matters regarding building and utilities.”
One of his activities in his freshman year has been to determine how the state can save money on construction projects, especially schools.
“We all want to pay less, but it’s complicated,” he said. “We’re studying regulations and practices that make it expensive to build anything here.”
He said that most state contracts call for a “prevailing wage.” That might be quite high in Boston but it should be less in Essex County, he said.
The representative is working on mitigating unduly high wages.
Another initiative that Mirra has pursued is the rollback of taxes. With its tiny tribe of Republicans, the GOP was successful in convincing Democrats to roll back a technology tax that could have put levies on the use of computers and business software.
“People were concerned about an increase in the gas tax, but this tech tax was under the radar. It passed and it was a mistake,” said Mirra.
“If Massachusetts was seen as a state intent on taxing technology and its applications, we could lose firms to New Hampshire, or earn a national reputation as a state to avoid.
“The Democrats listened; the tax was rescinded.”
It appears that Mirra has done some independent thinking on what it means to be a Republican.
He said that one of the biggest problem in this state and others is the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots.
And he doesn’t think his party is doing enough about it.
“As a party, the Republicans don’t talk about it much, but we should,” said Mirra, whose Georgetown company employs about 130.
“There are opportunities out there; we need to talk about programs to encourage workers to seek out jobs and make something of them.”
Mirra, whose government salary is $61,000 per year, said that since getting involved in government, he has worked with Democrats from Dorchester and Roxbury to develop better employment opportunities.
“We’ve been able to put about a dozen people to work in good construction jobs,” said Mirra, who is still an active executive in his company.
“I will be working on a mentoring program with some inner-city ministers; we want under-employed to seek jobs and encourage them to start a carpentry business or a roofing operation,” he said.
Mirra succeeded Democrat Harriett Stanley, who held the post for 18 years. His 2nd Essex District is composed of West Newbury, Newbury, Georgetown, Groveland, Merrimac and parts of Boxford and Haverhill.
Perhaps because his district is so spread out, he said constituent services take much of his time.
The most common concern those visiting his branch offices is in regard to unemployment checks, how to get them on time and make sure that they are processed correctly.
But nothing is daunting Mirra these days. At mid-term, he said he would definitely consider another run for the Statehouse.